THE INFINITE AIR
by Fiona Kidman
© March 6, 2016
Dame Fiona Kidman’s captivating novel, ‘The Infinite Air,’ portrays the enigmatic life of the very epitome of aviation, Jean Batten, one of the world’s greatest aviators, with her record-breaking solo flights around the world. This is the incredible story of an icon of the 1930’s, the ‘Garbo of the Skies,’ a fascinating account of worldwide fame, enshrouded and entombed in secrecy. The Second World War ended Jean’s daring flights. She disappeared to the Caribbean, died in obscurity in Majorca, to be buried in a pauper’s grave. This is her winged story of flight.
Flying in the panoramic expanse of the skies, to explore the immensity of the infinite air, Jean would conquer the world at her feet. She and her mother shared destinies inexorably and inextricably linked together. At her birth in 1909, Nellie placed a picture of Louis Blériot above Jean’s baby cot. He flew across the English Channel, in 36 minutes and 30 seconds, the first person to achieve this feat. Louis Blériot epitomized Nellie’s dream of flying, which Jean brought to life, as they weaved their way “Through Difficulties to Greatness.” Jean was determined to fly to Australia faster than anyone else. ‘Once my mind’s set on anything, it’s useless to swerve me from my purpose. I’m going to finish what I set out to do.’
For Jean, there was no turning back. Out in the sky, she was flying to her destiny, overtaken by delirious joy. The sense of speed and power thrilled her. She was enraptured at the pure sensation of flight. Jean did all the aerial tricks and manoeuvres — flying inverted, circling and looping, slow rolling, tossing the plane, diving, twisting and weaving, flinging it against the skies. At five thousand feet in the air, a sense of exhilaration invigorated Jean. She flew to Italy. At Rome, she was the first woman to fly non-stop solo from England. A new record for a world class aviator on a peculiar mission, alone in the sky.
On 8 May 1934, Jean set out to fly to Australia. Success was within her grasp. No turning back. On the far horizon, a small dark cloud arose. Australia! She broke the solo record for women by four and a half days. A telegram from King George VI: “Please convey to Miss Batten the congratulations of the Queen and myself on her wonderful flight. George R. I.” In Sydney, sixteen planes flew out in formation to meet her. She made her first public speech. Jean did the largest live radio station broadcast ever organized from Sydney, with a broadcast to the United States. “I’m living in a dream. But it’s a dream of my own making.”
Brazil conferred on Jean the Order of the Southern Cross, for her record-breaking flight linking England with Brazil in the fastest time in history. France bestowed upon Jean the French Légion d’Honneur, the first British airwoman to be honored. Jean was made a Commander of the British Empire. Louis Blériot who had said, ‘The medals are important, but they are not the journey,’ had died of a heart attack in Paris, aged sixty-four. Jean cried, in bitter heartache. ‘Why him?’
Jean Batten’s Record-breaking Flights were: 1934. England-Australia solo flight (women’s record), 1935. Australia-England solo flight, First woman to make return flight, England-Brazil solo flight (world record), First woman to fly solo across South Atlantic Ocean and make England-South America flight, 1936. England-New Zealand solo flight (world record), First direct flight between England and New Zealand, England-Australia solo flight (world record, established on same flight), 1937. Australia-England solo flight (world record), First person to hold both England-Australia and Australia-England solo records at the same time.
Jean Batten died in Palma, Majorca, in 1982. Bitten by a dog while walking, the wound became infected. She declined medicines until her last hours but it was too late. Jean lay dead. She was buried in a paupers’ common grave. Five years elapsed before the details of her death surfaced in 1987. She had vanished into infinity. ‘I’m young at heart,’ Jean once said, ‘because I’ve never really grown up.” An extremely brave, daring and courageous lady, who inspired others to dream of daring exploits, Jean Batten was one of the greatest aviators of all time.