Our Christchurch timeline is a neat guide to Today in history. I noticed that today – Monday 20 June – in 1928 the Canterbury Aero Club was formed. It mentions “The first pilot trained by the club was a woman, Aroha Clifford. She may have been New Zealand’s first woman pilot.”
I had never heard of Aroha Clifford before so I did a search using The Source. Papers Past reveals an astonishing story as it unfolds in articles from the late 1920s and early 1930s – her keen pursuit of flight, and her father’s desire to keep her on the ground.
The NZ Truth article Eve takes to the air reports “… to Miss Aroha Clifford, daughter of Mr Walter Clifford, and niece of Sir George, goes the honor of being the first-aero, club trained woman to pilot a ‘plane solo”. The New Zealand Film Archive has newsreel footage of Aroha and mentions “Clifford had plans to fly from England to Australia and bought an Avro Avian in England for that very purpose. However, because of her father’s opposition she was forced to abandon this ambition”.
The book Silver Wings: New Zealand women in aviation features more information on Aroha.
The tragic coda to the story is it seems Aroha died in childbirth, and her son died in a farming accident at the age of two.
I’m feeling quite moved by these little glimpses into her life and it makes me think: Have you discovered any unsung heroes or heroines of New Zealand’s past – maybe in your own whanau?
Search Digital NZ for more on Aroha Clifford.