JCU lecturer Chrystopher Spicer publishes book about Australia's legendary aviator Jessie 'Chubbie' Miller

@JCU JCU lecturer Chrystopher Spicer publishes book about Australia's legendary aviator Jessie 'Chubbie' Miller

JCU lecturer Chrystopher Spicer publishes book (now a film) about Australia's legendary aviator, Jessie "Chubbie" Miller

Above: Chrystopher Spicer

The crew behind the film - Chrystopher Spicer is on far left. Director Andrew Lancaster is third from left at back (in glasses)


by Chrystopher J. Spicer

New book published by McFarland.

Australian pioneer aviatrix Jessie Keith “Chubbie” Miller made a significant contribution to international aviation history. The first woman to travel from England to Australia in the air, with her close friend Bill Lancaster in 1928, Jessie Miller was also the first woman to fly more than 8000 miles (much further that Amelia Earhart at the time), to cross the equator in the air, to cross the South China and Timor Seas in the air, and to traverse the Australian continent by air from north to south.

Born in Southern Cross, Western Australia, Jessie left for England in her late twenties, where she met pilot Bill Lancaster and together they planned to fly out to Australia in a small Avro Avian biplane. After sandstorms, cholera, plane crashes, killing snakes in the air, meeting the King of Afghanistan and being praised by Mussolini, they arrived in Australia in early 1928 to claim the record for the first pair to fly that immense distance in a light plane and for Jessie as the first woman to complete that journey by air. Later, Jessie became the first woman to pilot a plane across the treacherous Bass Strait between the Australian mainland and the island of Tasmania.

Miller soon moved to the United States, where she quickly became a popular member of a group of female pioneer aviators that included Amelia Earhart, Bobbi Trout, “Pancho” Barnes and Louise Thaden, joining them for the first Women’s National Air Derby, often known as the “Powder Puff Derby,” across the U.S. in 1929. As a competitor in international air races and a charter member of the first organization for women flyers, the Ninety-Nines, she quickly became famous. Amongst many achievements, she was the first woman pilot to hold the unaccompanied solo transcontinental speed record across the United States in both directions, the first woman to gain a Canadian commercial pilot’s license, the first woman to fly solo from the east coast of the United States to Cuba and, later, the first woman to pilot a plane from England into West Africa.

However, Miller’s career was interrupted when she was involved in Lancaster’s sensational Miami trial for the murder of her lover, Haden Clarke, for which he was controversially acquitted. A few years later, Lancaster mysteriously disappeared while flying across the Sahara Desert, and some thirty years went by until his body and plane were unexpectedly discovered in the desert, along with his journal. Jessie and many others wondered if it would finally reveal who killed Haden Clarke.

Compiled after years of research and based on Jessie Miller’s own words and writing, this is the first book to focus on the flying career of this pioneer aviatrix, whose important place in aviation history has up until now been largely forgotten. Jessie flew into airspace where no woman and very few men had ever flown before, and so she left behind an important legacy as an international pioneer of flight. As the first aviatrix from the Southern hemisphere to become famous in the Northern hemisphere, she was the first woman to truly unite the world of flight.

In terms of how this book came about, Chrystopher describes it:

Well, it started many years ago when I was in Ohio doing some research on the actor Clark Gable for one of my books. I was having dinner with friends and someone asked me if I'd ever heard the story of an Australian aviatrix who had landed in a field outside of a small town called Xenia during an air race in 1929. I had no idea any Australian woman was flying in the US that early, and so I began to investigate the life of Jessie Keith "Chubbie" Miller, friend of Amelia Earhart, founding member of the Ninety Nines - the very first (and still existing) organisation for women pilots, and the first woman to travel from England to Australia in the air. In short, she was the first woman from the Southern hemisphere to break records and compete in air races in the Northern hemisphere.

I wrote about her in my earlier book, Great Australian World Firsts, but due to lack of interest from Australia publishers I'd given up on publishing an entire book about Jessie until I was asked by director Andrew Lancaster to become involved in the making of the film The Lost Aviator in 2014, about the mysterious disappearance of Jessie Miller's friend Bill Lancaster. As a result of that work, I was able to take the project to an American publisher and now I've finally had the chance to give this remarkable woman her own voice in this new book, The Flying Adventures of Jessie Keith "Chubbie" Miller.

Chrystopher J. Spicer has written extensively about Australian and American film and cultural history in such acclaimed books as Clark Gable: Biography (McFarland, 2002), and Great Australian World Firsts (Allen & Unwin, 2012). In 2015, he contributed to Andrew Lancaster’s film about Bill Lancaster and Jessie Miller, The Lost Aviator. He teaches creative and academic writing at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia.


Link to book page: http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/book-2.php?id=978-1-4766-6531-3

Link to publisher: http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/

Link to film about Jessie Keith Miller and Bill Lancaster: http://www.thelostaviator.com/

For further information about the book, contact the author at:  chrystopher.spicer@jcu.edu.au