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Aviation engineer a trailblazing woman

MEN’S WORK: Connie Jordan, who worked for a time at the North Coast Girls College, now Ballina Manor, was Qantas’ first female licensed ground engineer. She is pictured working on an engine of a Qantas DC-3. Mary Thurston has supplied the image to researcher Colin Lock.
MEN’S WORK: Connie Jordan, who worked for a time at the North Coast Girls College, now Ballina Manor, was Qantas’ first female licensed ground engineer. She is pictured working on an engine of a Qantas DC-3. Mary Thurston has supplied the image to researcher Colin Lock.

THE year 1928 was a significant one for Ballina's connection with two pieces of national aviation history.

That was the year Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and his crew, in aircraft the Southern Cross, made landfall to the south of Ballina on the inaugural trans-Pacific flight.

Qantas's mystery woman

On that very day, there is every chance a woman named Connie Jordan could have told her music class about Smithy and the significance of that moment.

Connie was at that time a relieving teacher at the North Coast Girls College in Norton St, Ballina, which is now Ballina Manor. But she went on to be Qantas' first licensed female ground engineer.

Colin Lock, who had a 45-year career with Qantas, now volunteers at the Qantas Heritage Collection at Sydney's Kingsford Smith Airport.

He has researched Connie for a 30,000-word manuscript, which he hopes will one day become a book, and said she was a pioneering woman in aviation history.

He retold a story about how the men at the Qantas base at Archerfield in Brisbane went on strike because they didn't want a woman as their boss.

But they were reportedly told that until "you lazy buggers get off your backside" and complete the study Connie had done, she would be the boss. They went back to work.

Mr Lock said Connie "seemed like an enigma to me" and that's why he wanted to record her story.

Constance Frances Caroline Jordan was born in Brisbane in 1908 and went to school at Southport, gaining qualifications particularly in piano.

She was known to be a socialite in Brisbane and after her year-long stint in Ballina was invited back in 1929 and 1930 to dances held at the Broadwater sugar mill's quarters.

In 1932 Connie unsuccessfully applied for a scholarship to obtain a private pilot's licence.

Then in 1935 she joined the Royal Queensland Aero Club (RQAC) at Archerfield, Brisbane, and in 1936 finally qualified as a private pilot. In 1940 she completed a four-month unpaid trial as an aircraft engineer at the RQAC.

Upon completion of the trial period she was taken on at the male rate of pay. But in 1942 the RQAC lost a contract with the RAAF and its engineering section was closed.

As a result, Connie joined Qantas Empire Airways at Archerfield.

That year, through study and examinations, she became Qantas' first female licensed ground engineer.

This qualification enabled her to certify her own and other unlicensed engineers' work and certify the airworthiness of aircraft.

She was posted to Cloncurry for two years, returning to Archerfield about 1944, where she was in charge of testing overhauled engines.

About this time she purchased a 1937 MGTA, which she serviced and maintained.

She began racing the car and is credited as being the first female in Queensland to race against men.

As work in Qantas' Brisbane workshops began to diminish, Connie moved to the Rose Bay flying boat base in Sydney in 1952.

In 1953 she was supposed to be part of an all-female crew to enter the London to Christchurch air race, but they couldn't find a sponsor.

Connie married Paavo Karhula on the last day of 1953 and resigned from Qantas in 1954, returning to Southport where Paavo had a surveying business.

She died in 1978.

Mr Lock said Connie maintained her femininity, even wearing lipstick to work.

PHOTO: Few clues to the woman’s identity.
PHOTO: Few clues to the woman’s identity.

Qantas's mystery woman

QANTAS researcher Colin Lock would like to find out who this young woman is.

He thought she could be a student of Connie Jordan, a former teacher at the North Coast Girls College, which is now Ballina Manor, but managers at the manor said the brickwork in the photo was different.

The only clue Mr Lock has is that the photo was printed by Mitchell Print Ballina. Email him at cflock48@bigpond.net.au.

Topics:  aviation ballina engineer



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