It’s someone we know and love, who’s crossed the world time and again in the name of adventure but many of us don’t recognise him for the adventurous parts of his life. Now, Dick Smith has been named in the 50 greatest explorers Australia has ever had, and he’s the oldest on the list. The accolades have poured in for the adventurer since he was named in the Trailblazers exhibition’s top 50 adventurers of all time by the Australian Museum.
His travels speak for themselves with the business leader and philanthropist having reached and discovered the most extraordinary parts of the world, starting as long ago at 1964 when he sailed with a group of Rover scouts to Balls Pyramid in the Pacific Ocean to see it, the highest sea spire in the world. He later climbed it in 1980 when he returned, claiming the land “for Australia” by planting the New South Wales flag.
He’s spent decades in the drivers seats of planes and helicopters, competing and setting records many of us don’t even know exist. In 1976 he competed in the Perth to Sydney air race. On 13 February 1977, a QANTAS aircraft chartered by Smith was the first to carry tourists over Antarctica. In 1982–83 Smith successfully completed the first solo helicopter flight around the world, flying 11,752 km.
In 1978 Smith discovered the wreck of the Kookaburra aircraft, which crash-landed in the Central Australian Desert in 1929, a landmark discovery.
In 1985, Smith organised and led the first of what was to become a major annual motoring event, the B to B Bash, the proceeds of which go to the Children’s Charity, Variety. Smith’s Bourke to Burketown route through remote areas of the Outback raised A$250,000 while a total of over A$200 million has been raised for the charity by the event in the past 30 years.
Smith’s first attempt to reach the North Pole, in 1986, failed. He had to give up just 670 kilometres short of his destination because his navigation equipment was beginning to fail and visibility had dropped to almost zero. Smith made two more attempts to reach the North Pole in his JetRanger Helicopter. The third attempt, in April 1987, was successful with stories of how he had to bring the fuel in in a Twin Otter as there was no fuel anywhere near where he needed it.
In October 1991 Smith was the second person to fly over Mount Everest. Dick and Pip Smith circled the summit, taking photographs. In his own entrepreneurially started magazine, Australian Geographic (January–March 1993) Dick wrote: ‘The experience was unbelievable and I felt privileged to be one of the very few people to obtain permission from the Nepalese government to fly over the summit.”
Smith and his co-pilot John Wallington made the first balloon trip across Australia, in a Cameron-R77 Rozière balloon.
In November 1995 Smith climbed the most remote of the seven summits, Carstensz Pyramid in Irian Jaya with Peter Hillary and Greg Mortimer.
In February 2000, Smith and his co-pilot John Wallington became the first people to successfully complete an east-west crossing of the Tasman Sea by balloon, from New Zealand to Australia against generally-prevailing winds.
On 7 January 2006, Smith flew his Cessna Grand Caravan from Sydney to Hari Hari on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island to mark the 75th anniversary of the first solo trans-Tasman flight by Guy Menzies in 1931.
On Tuesday 26 August 2008 Smith, with his wife Pip, completed a two and a half year drive around the world. The journey of 40,361 kilometres was made by road vehicle.
And these, the most prominent of his journeys are surely not all of them.