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Published December 19th 2015
A South Australian great, still flying high
Captain Harry Butler was a man who always attracted a crowd. The son of a Yorke Peninsula farmer, Harry was known as a pioneer, an aviator, a distinguished serviceman and a daredevil at various times during his short but illustrious life. Sadly his life ended at age 34, but his legacy lives on with the unveiling of a life sized bronzed statue of Butler in his hometown of Minlaton.
Opened in October 2015 by the Harry Butler Committee after six years of fundraising, the bronzed statue sits alongside some newly laid memorial pavers, the Captain Harry Butler Memorial, and pleasant parkland settings within the Harry Butler precinct of Minlaton.
Harry Butler's story is one of great joy for the townsfolk of Minlaton. Harry was born in Yorketown in 1899 and was educated at Koolywurtie School near Minlaton. His early appreciation of mechanics extended to an understanding of the emerging attraction of aviation which Harry demonstrated through the building of model aircraft.
World War One came and this was Harry's formal calling to the field of aviation. Harry passed his Australian flying exams and waited for his call to action. Frustrated at the delays, Harry went to England and joined the Royal Flying Corps, and soon worked his way through the ranks as an air mechanic, a pilot, an Officer, Flight Commander and finally the chief fighting instructor at the Yorkshire School of Aerial Fighting. His services were recognised with the awarding of the Air Force Cross in 1918.
Harry returned home in 1919 and set out to lead South Australia through the early days of an emerging aviation industry. In August that year Harry became the first man to fly across the Gulf St Vincent to Minlaton. Alongside Harry was the first bag of airmail to be carried across water in the Southern Hemisphere. Shortly after the celebrations had died down, Harry turned around and flew back to Adelaide with a bag full of return letters.
From 1919 to 1921 Harry was remembered for his stunt pilot exploits in his famous 'Red Devil' monoplane, for taking the first aerial photograph of Adelaide, and for his involvement in the establishment of one of Adelaide's first aerodromes at Hendon. In early 1922 Harry was involved in a crash with one of his planes, and suffered serious injuries. Despite not being able to fly anymore, Harry was not to be beaten and he established the Harry Butler Aviation and Motor Engineering Garage which he operated until he died suddenly on 30 July 1924, most likely as a result of his injuries.
The Minlaton District Council erected the initial memorial to Captain Harry Butler in 1958, which included his famous 'Red Devil' monoplane. The building has been improved over time to resemble an aircraft hanger, and has been complemented with the addition of a playground, gardens and a shelter. A bit further along the Main Road is a huge mural portraying Harry's life, while nearby is the Captain Harry Butler Museum. And finally, to complete the Harry Butler precinct, the life sized statue of Harry has arrived to add life to the story of Harry and his glorious 34 years.