Celebrate 100 years since Yorke Peninsula secured a place in aviation history

Head to Minlaton on 3rd & 4th August 2019 for a weekend of festivities celebrating Yorke Peninsula's aviation pioneer, Captain Harry Butler, who cemented his name in the history books in 1919 with the historic first airmail flight over water in the Southern Hemisphere.

Captain 'Harry' Butler had an amazing life that spanned from growing up in Minlaton to joining the Royal Flying Corps, becoming a fighter pilot in France, an aviation instructor in England to delivering the first mail over the sea from Adelaide, South Australia to Minlaton, Yorke Peninsula.

Born in 1889 at Yorketown, Henry John Butler grew up on a small farm at Koolywurtie, near Minlaton; and once old enough he used all his savings plus borrowed money to travel to England to join the Royal Flying Corps.

Enlisting in early 1916 as an Air Mechanic, by July of that same year Harry was a fighter pilot flying in France as part of World War 1.  He was also a flight instructor, teaching over 2,000 students.

After World War 1 ended, Captain Harry Butler returned to South Australia, where his daredevil nature and love of flying continued.  He risked life and limb, performing endless aerial stunts to try and capture people's imagination and lift the awareness of aviation and its possibilities for the future.

Harry's greatest achievement came on 6th August 1919 when he finally arrived home to Minlaton with the first mail delivery across the sea from Adelaide, earning a place in the record books for the first airmail delivery over water in the Southern Hemisphere.

He set off in his ‘Red Devil’ Bristol Monoplane from Adelaide facing gale force winds blowing at 110 km per hour with an 18 kg mailbag of letters on board for delivery to Minlaton, 100 km away.

Landing in Minlaton after the successful historic flight Harry arrived to a crowd of over 6,000 people, some who had never seen a plane flying before.

Following this record-breaking mail delivery, Harry continued to thrill many crowds with his aviation displays and was responsible for the first aerial photograph ever taken and published in South Australia over the suburbs of Adelaide. 


Captain Harry Butler's beloved restored Red Devil Bristol Monoplane has pride of place in Minlaton, in a purpose-built hangar. 

The below footage shows the official opening of the memorial in the 1950's with marching bands, girl guides, large crowds, pipe bands, scouts. and an airshow featuring an aerial display with planes flying in loops.


Opening of the Capt. Harry Butler Memorial, Minlaton, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia (PRG 1326/F-5) 



Make the most of the Harry Butler Centenary weekend by planning your visit:

Saturday 3rd August

  • 8.00am – Join the Friends of Walk the Yorke along the 20km long Harry Butler Trail. Book your spot on the walk by calling Pam 0488 544 040. 

  • Browse the PepperTree Markets, held behind the Porter Building in Minlaton’s Main Street

  • Visit Bublacowie Military Museum, located 15km south of Minlaton.  Open Saturday & Sunday, the museum is a wealth of military history and sure to please every visitor

  • 2.00pm – The official unveiling of the Captain Harry Butler Crash Site interpretive signage located at the southern entry to Minlaton

  • Follow the Captain Harry Butler Historic walk around Minlaton

  • 8.00pm - Celebrate 100 Years Of Harry Butler, Minlaton Town Hall
    Hosted by journalist & author Lainie Anderson, the evening will include presentations and discussions on everything Harry Butler, plus book signings by renowned historians, authors and academics.  Bookings essentials, phone 0417 083 889 
    Attendees include:
    Bev McWilliams, author of ‘Born To Fly’
    Minlaton Family History Group, authors of ‘Farmboy To Aeronaut’
    Les Parsons & Dr Samantha Battams, authors of ‘The Red Devil, The Story of South Australian Aviation Pioneer, Caption Harry Butler’
    Professor Peter Monteath, President of the History Council of South Australia

Sunday 4th August (weather permitting)

  • 9.00am - gates open, Airshow at Minlaton Airstrip
  • 10.00am - Cavalcade of vintage cars and motor bikes arrive from Minlaton
  • 12.00noon - Flyover
  • 1.30pm - Arrival of Tiger Moth mail plane and official acceptance speeches
  • Vintage cars and bikes depart
  • 3.00pm - Finish

    Other airshow activities throughout the day will include:
  • Sky Jumpers
  • Rotary engine start up
  • Single plane acrobatics
  • Ag Tractor plane
  • Chainsaw carving
  • Single plane acrobatics
  • Model Planes
  • Crash rescue demonstration
  • James Hart two plane acrobatics
  • Adelaide Biplanes - Experience a joyflight with Adelaide Biplanes in their Great Lakes biplane Joyflights. Bookings essential to avoid disappointment. 
  • Adelaide Skydiving - join an experienced skydiver for a tandem jump, pre-booking required.  
  • Barossa Helicopters - offering scenic helicopter flights from the Minlaton Airstrip as part of Sunday's airshow
  • Kite/model making kits



Visitors to Yorke Peninsula can see Captain Harry Butler’s restored Red Devil Bristol Monoplane in Minlaton, in a display hanger on the edge of town. The Red Devil is believed to be the only genuine one of its kind left in the world.

You can also enjoy stories of Captain Harry Butler and see more of his memorabilia by visiting the Minlaton National Trust Museum in Minlaton’s Main Street.



 c. 1919 - Captain Harry Butler, South Australian aviator, standing in front of his single engined aircraft with his fiancee, Elsa Birch Gibson on his right, and an Air Force Officer. Standing on the far left are two men in suits, and on the far right the wheel and headlight of an automobile can be seen.  (SRG-435-77-33)
1919 - The "Red Devil". a Bristol monoplane owned and flown by Captain Harry Butler. This photograph was probably taken at Dry Creek in 1919 at the time the monoplane was assembled. Captain Harry Butler returned to Australian after receiving the Air Force Cross in World War I. With his monoplane "Red Devil" he made a water crossing from Adelaide to Minlaton in 27 minutes.  (B-13911)
1922 - Men working on a small aircraft described by Searcy as belonging to Harry Butler, the South Australian aviator. A pilot is at the controls as another man waits to push the propeller.  (PRG-280-1-41-19)
c. 1920 - Crowd waiting to greet Captain Harry Butler.  (B-50455)
c. 1920 - Captain Harry Butler's arrival in an aeroplane.  (B-50456)
1919 - Captain Harry Butler taking off in his aircraft, possibly at Minlaton, South Australia.  (PRG-280-1-15-451)
1919 - Captain Harry Butler, a woman and a man in Air Force uniform standing in front of his aircraft, possibly at Minlaton, South Australia.  (PRG-280-1-15-453)
1920 - A crowd of spectators watching Captain Harry Butler climbing into his aeroplane.  (PRG-280-1-20-273)
1920 - Captain Harry Butler and his business partner H.A. (Harry) Kauper in front of the Bristol monoplane the 'Red Devil'.  (PRG-280-1-25-292)
1919 - Bristol monoplane known as the "Red Devil" owned and flown by Captain Harry Butler. Captain Harry Butler returned to Australian after receiving the Air Force Cross in World War I. With his monoplane "Red Devil" he made a water crossing from Adelaide to Minlaton in 27 minutes  (B-13912)




Learn more about Captain Harry Butler, his ‘Red Devil’ Bristol Monoplane and his aviation adventures at yorkepeninsula.com.au/aviation-history-and-captain-harry-butler

Find out more about the 100 year celebrations with the Harry Butler Centenary - a celebration of the historic first airmail flight over water in the Southern Hemisphere.


blog published 12 July 2019


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