Mr ANDREW HUMPHERSON (Davidson) [4.15 p.m.]: I acknowledge the presence in the gallery of a number of members of the 77th Squadron Association at the invitation of the honourable member for Southern Highlands. I also acknowledge that my father is present as a member of the association. I take this opportunity to speak about a significant contributor, pilot Bobby Gibbes, who is also in the gallery with his wife, Jean, and daughter, Julie. Last week Bobby, who was a Second World War fighter ace, was awarded the Order of Australia, which was much deserved. Bobby was born in 1916 and joined the Royal Australian Air Force in February 1940 as an air cadet and completed his training in August that year. In early 1941 he sailed for the Middle East and was posted to No. 3 Squadron after reaching Egypt; he was to remain with this unit throughout his two-year combat tour in North Africa.
His squadron moved to Syria by July 1941 and began flying P-40B Tomahawks against the Vichy French. Within a week Gibbes shot down a French-built Dewoitine 520 fighter, to achieve his first victory in aerial combat. When the Syrian campaign ended in September, he returned to the Western Desert to take part in the Libyan campaign, where he achieved three additional victories before the year's end. After converting to P-40C Kittyhawks, Gibbes became commander of No. 3 Squadron in February 1942 and soon shot down two more aircraft. In May he had to bail out after being shot down by a Ju-88 rear gunner, when he broke his ankle and fractured his leg upon hitting the ground. With his leg still in a cast, he discharged himself from hospital and returned to command the squadron one month later.
On 21 December 1942 Squadron Leader Gibbes performed an extraordinary deed of heroism when he landed his aircraft in rough terrain deep within enemy territory to pick up a downed pilot. Discarding his parachute to make room in the single-seat cockpit, he lost a wheel on take-off, flew the 190 miles to his home base, and successfully landed. Less than one month later, Squadron Leader Gibbes was shot down some 70 miles behind the lines and evaded capture for three days while walking through the desert to reach Allied patrols. Before his African tour ended in April 1943, he flew 274 operational sorties throughout the Middle East, achieved 12 confirmed and several probable victories, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.
Squadron Leader Gibbes eventually returned to Australia and flew Spitfire Mk. VIIIs in the Southwest Pacific until the end of the war. After flying for various private concerns after the war, he established Gibbes Sepik Airways in January 1948, and began operations out of New Guinea with surplus war aircraft. For the next 10 years his airline played an important role in the exploration and development of the Sepik River and the central highlands of that area.
Bobby Gibbes' family has a long history in Australian politics and war-time events. In 1842 the Gibbes family moved to Kirribilli Point to reside in "Wotonga", the house constructed by Colonel Gibbes on the site where Admiralty House now stands. Later Colonel Gibbes lived at "Yarralumla", the property of his son Augustus. "Yarralumla" was later converted and adapted to be used as the principal residence of the Governor-General of Australia, a high duty it still performs. Bobby's friends, relatives and other people last week celebrated the awarding of his Order of Australia.
But of all the remarkable achievements Bobby Gibbes has racked up in his illustrious career, his marriage to Jean, his commanding officer and managing director, is probably the greatest. On 23 January next year Bobby and Jean notch up 60 years of marriage, and I congratulate them. I also congratulate Bobby on his contribution as a significant aviator in Australian history. I know that he will be joining the members of 77 Squadron who are in the public gallery, a number of whom are his close friends, for a celebration shortly after this private member's statement. I thank all of them, as well as members of the 77 Squadron Association, for their contribution to our country.