Council is seeking community input around the proposed installation of a commissioned sculpture by Victorian artist Alex Sanson. The piece is based on a de Havilland DH-50 aircraft and spans more than five metres high. The work is carefully balanced just above its centre of gravity with a horizontal and vertical freedom of movement to move freely in the wind.

The proposed location for the sculpture, designed to be seen flying amongst the gum trees while driving down Nunn Street, is outside the Sir Edward 'Weary' Dunlop Learning Centre.

About the Project

In 2019 Barry O'Connor and Beverley 'Chick' Walker formed a working group after their discovery of Arthur Baird and his significance in establishing Australia's aviation industry.

The group comprised family members, two councillors and community members. The group resolved to recognise Arthur through contemporary and engaging art, which would complement Benalla Rural City’s arts and culture offering.

In January 2020, the group released an expression of interest for a sculpture design. Three submissions were received with the design by artist Alex Sanson chosen as it best represented Arthur's engineering and aviation achievements.

In November 2020, Council was successful at securing $150,000, as part of the $2.5M Building Works Package, this funding was secured to deliver an art sculpture trail on the shores of Lake Benalla.

The proposed Arthur Baird project fits within the larger concept of delivering an art sculpture trail to the lakeside precinct.

About Arthur Baird

An inductee to the Australian Aviation Hall of Fame, Arthur Baird was born in Benalla in 1889 and was raised and schooled here before moving to Melbourne in 1905 to study engineering.

His family lived, worked, and owned property in Benalla for generations and his grandmother is buried here. From a young age Arthur worked with his father on many business ventures across the Benalla region, including working with farm machinery, a formative experience which sparked his early interest in engineering.

By 1914 Baird had completed an apprenticeship as a fitter and turner with W. Anderson & Sons, a heavy engineering company in Richmond, and in 1916 he enlisted as with the Australian Flying Corps, where he would prove invaluable in the war effort. His ability to solve complex problems with British built aircraft operating in the extreme conditions of the Middle East during World War I earned him a Meritorious Service Award. He would rise to the rank of Flight Sergeant with the No.1 Squadron during his service before returning to Melbourne in 1919.

During the World War II, Baird is credited with modifying an aircraft to fly record breaking distances between Perth and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to ensure that the vital mail link between Australia and England remained open following the fall of Singapore. These “Double Sunrise” flights remain the longest (in terms of airtime) commercial flights in history.

Among his many achievements in the early commercial aviation industry, Arthur Baird is recognised as the first chief engineer of the Australian airline Qantas. In January 1921, Baird became one of the first three employees of Qantas. Soon after joining he oversaw the construction of seven de Havilland DH-50 and one DH-9 aircraft for the company between 1926 and 1929.

As Qantas grew, Baird established, and then supervised, the operation of maintenance facilities at Longreach, Brisbane, Sydney, Singapore, Darwin and Perth, which provided the support infrastructure for the airline’s operations for the first 28 years.

Baird, as Qantas’ Engineering Manager, was deeply invested in the development of apprentices and instilling them with Qantas' renowned safety culture. In his memory, the Arthur Baird Trophy is presented annually to the most outstanding Qantas apprentice.

When Baird retired from Qantas in June 1949, Qantas Chairman and Managing Director, Sir Wilmot Hudson Fysh, KBE DFC. said of Arthur Baird:

“I cannot think of anyone who has done more in laying the foundations of Australian Air Transport Engineering, both in regard to the work he did himself and what he initiated; and also in regard to his choice of staff, the character he put into everything he did, and the principles that he imparted to others.”

Arthur Baird in 1921 also assisted Dr Archibald Michod, the first flying doctor in Queensland, to modify an aircraft to allow patients to be flown to and from Longreach for treatment. Seven years later, he modified a similar aircraft for Dr John Flynn and the Inland Mission, which later became the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Arthur Baird was inducted into the Australian Aviation Hall of Fame in 2013.

About the Sculpture

Based on the de Havilland DH-50 aircraft, the sculpture, constructed entirely of satin finish marine grade stainless steel, is deliberately incomplete, suggestive of the sort of half-built models, parts and prototypes that abound in engineering facilities, referening Baird’s engineering background. The sculpture is particularly designed to suggest a wind tunnel prototype and to work effectively as an airfield windsock.

The overall form is accurately modelled on the DH-50, however the detailing has been streamlined to be suggestive of aviation generally and provide a contemporary and playful sculpture.