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Inducted in 2022

Captain Deborah Jane Lawrie AM


Deborah Jane Lawrie was born in Sydney on the 14th of May, 1953. Her family would later move to Melbourne, where she would graduate in 1974 with a degree in science from the University of Melbourne.

At age 18, Lawrie obtained her private pilot license in 1971. This was quickly followed by her commercial pilot license, which she achieved in 1973. By 1976, Lawrie had already swiftly logged 2600 flying hours and had become a charter pilot and flying instructor.

These years of experience and significant passion for aviation led her husband Peter Wardley to encourage her to apply to Ansett Airlines. However, after sending applications for another two years, Lawrie had still yet to receive any response. After finally reaching the interview stage of application in 1978, she was ultimately rejected. In the mean time, the Ansett pilot training program had continued to accept multiple fellow male flying instructors.

Sensing that there were inequal practices in play, Lawrie (or under her married name, Wardley) decided to take the case to the recently formed Victorian Equal Opportunity Board and dispute Ansett's rejection on the grounds of equal opportunity legislation.

Founder of Ansett Airlines, Reg Ansett denied that these allegations of discrimination were true. However, he nonetheless clarified his own view that women was unsuitable to work as airline pilots. The objections to the employment of women as pilots included 'lack of strength' despite a lack of a strength test for pilots.

In response, public demonstration marches and a 'girl-cot' were organised; Ansett lost more than 50 per cent of its business travel as result of women transferring their travel accounts to Trans Australia Airlines in protest.

After deliberation, it was ruled by the Victorian Equal Opportunity Board that the rejection was discriminatory and thus, illegal. Ansett was ordered to award damages and include Lawrie in their next pilot training program. However, the battle was not over yet.

Lawrie was faced with many hurdles during her time undertaking training. Ansett attempted to claim that she had been at fault for a near-miss incident, though she had been exonerated by an inquiry. While male trainees were assigned to training aircraft, Lawrie was not. While Ansett may have faced defeat in their legal case and was dismissed for a further appeal, such prejudice still existed and created significant barriers for women pilots.

Lawrie became a Member of the Order of Australia in 2019, where she was recognized for her significant service to aviation. Today she is the world's oldest female commercial pilot.

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