A Melbourne based writer who is a travel junkie, dedicated foodie and emerging photographer.
Michael Smith tells the story of his record breaking flight
I already knew of Michael Smith before I saw this movie. He is legend in Melbourne's inner west as the man who rescued the Sun Theatre in Yarraville - which was in a sadly dilapidated state when he bought it in the 1990s - and painstakingly restored it to be not just a functional cinema, but also a social hub which has retained much of its charm from a bygone era.
Voyage of the Southern Sun is a documentary about a totally different adventure by Smith - a circumnavigation flight in a tiny seaplane, which took place over seven months in 2015. The circumnavigation, the first ever solo flight in a flying boat or amphibious class aeroplane, landed Smith with many awards, most notably the Australian Geographic Adventurer of the Year 2016.
Michael Smith approaches New York City in his tiny Searey seaplane
Smith had a dream of following the 1938 Qantas flying boat route from Sydney to London; his initial goal was limited to this journey, and he did not set out to make a circumnavigation. Smith comes across as a self-effacing individual, in that he set off on his voyage without fanfare or media attention; as he says, "it was to be a personal journey".
Smith's vision was to retrace the route of the Qantas flying boats
To complete his journey, Smith flies a two-seater single-engine plane - a 'Searey' - which is capable of landing on land or water and even, as we see in the film, landing on water and taxiing up the boat ramp onto land! This amphibious option not only gave Smith greater flexibility in terms of landing locations, but also gave him some sense of what it would have been like to have flown in the grand flying boats from a past era.
The format of the film is a combination of footage from a presentation Smith did for a group at Sun Theatre after his voyage, a one-on-one interview, and 'real time' footage from wing-mounted cameras. The result is in part a 'boy's own' adventure, in part a stunning travelogue, and in part a story of perseverance, determination and survival. As a side story, Smith visits a number of cinemas in out-of-the-way places, for personal research he was conducting on the community value of cinemas.
Departing Sligo, Ireland (image credit: A Fenton)
Smith is a 'visual flight rated' (VFR) pilot, which means he is trained to operate his aircraft in weather conditions generally clear enough to allow him to see where the aircraft is going. (Pilots can otherwise be 'instrument rated', meaning they have the necessary skills to fly "blind" in any conditions using only their instruments.) This is a significant point as it means Smith flies his plane 'low and slow' (as he puts it) - providing the most glorious shots of scenery, as he soars over stunning landscapes, from fields, to glaciers, to major world cities.
It is also his VFR status that is almost Smith's undoing, with one particularly hairy moment as he navigates his way through fog and low cloud into Canada.
After a marathon journey spanning 210 days, 25 countries, 80 stops, and 480 hours ﬂying, Smith finally makes it back home - bringing the Searey into land just a couple of kilometres down the road from the Sun Theatre at beachside Williamstown.
A thoroughly enjoyable film with wide appeal
I'm sure I'm not the only one to shed a tear or two at the end of this film. It's not going to spoil anything - as the success of his trip is well documented - to say it is an emotional celebration at the end of his long and successful flight.
Films of this nature run the risk of being dull - too long, too full of commentary. But this is certainly not my takeaway from Voyage. On the contrary, I found it tight, well edited, engaging and absorbing. Overall, it is compelling viewing and a great yarn.
You can see the official trailer for the film here:
Anyone with an interest in travel, adventure or stories about people who live their dreams will love this film. Highly recommended.
Enjoy a very special afternoon with Australian Geographic's Adventurer of the Year, Michael Smith, who will be at The Windsor for a Q&A screening of his new film Voyage of the Southern Sun on Sunday, 25 June 3.30pm. Click here to buy tickets.
The book, and DVD and BluRay versions of the movie are available for pre-order now (shipping in October 2017). Click here to place your order.