Lions, wings and wild-weather antics

Di Websdale-Morrisey.jpeg

Looking for a rollicking good read full of romance, catastrophe, aviation escapades and madcap courage? Frankston South resident Di Websdale-Morrissey (not to be confused with Australian novelist Di Morrissey) has written a ripper of a non-fiction tale about an aviation race that took flight on October 20, 1934, from the Royal Air Force Station in Mildenhall, England, and ended two days and 23 hours later (for the winner) in Melbourne. 

Never heard about it? Well, you’re about to because On a Wing and a Prayer: The Race that Stopped the World will hit the bookshops on September 3. So strap yourself in and pull down your oxygen masks because the word ‘turbulence’ is about to take on a whole new meaning. Things are going to get bumpy!

Di explains: “I first heard about the race when I was listening to Radio National in 2015. I remember my hair standing up on end and wondering why I had never heard about it before. There were 20 planes involved, some of them big and some of them tiny. One was so small that the engineer had to curl up in a ball for the whole flight. Over 60,000 people gathered to see the planes take off from Mildenhall in England. The social set arrived in furs and silk slippers and had to walk overland to reach the airport because of the traffic gridlock. There were 40,000 people who came to see the planes arrive in Flemington. People were piled on slippery rooftops to catch a glimpse of these aerial adventurers. 

“There had been a couple of books written about the race previously — the first is now out of print and the second was for a general audience but with an aviation bent. I wanted to write about the race from a human viewpoint. There were so many amazing characters who participated in this race fraught with challenges, and their human stories were worth telling. My favourite character was a former lion-training American named Roscoe Turner. He was a great self-promoter and was constantly trying to get money to support his endeavours. He bought a lion cub and named it Gilmore after the American company Gilmore Oil. That cub sat in the plane with Roscoe wearing a parachute! And then of course there was the rescue of the winning plane caught in a fierce thunderstorm by the people of Albury.” 

But you’ll have to read the book to find out more.

Di had written three chapters of the book when she signed her contract with Text Publishing and it took a further nine months of writing from 8am until 4pm every day to complete the task. This is the fifth book for an author who grew up and got married in the Diamond Valley and moved to the Mornington Peninsula 10 years ago after her husband passed away. She continues: “My husband and I had made a day trip to Mount Eliza and we turned to each other and said: ‘We are going to live here one day’. And now I do! My house is big enough for all the kids and grandchildren to stay.”

Pull up your chair with On a Wing and a Prayer: The Race that Stopped the World this spring to explore a wonderful and wild story packed full of aviation adventure and the human spirit. 


Di Websdale-Morrissey will be in conversation at Farrell’s Bookshop in Mornington at 7pm on Tuesday September 17.


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