1977: Jean Batten Came Home
December 20, 2018
Kiwi aviatrix Jean Batten climbed the hypergamy ladder to super celebrity in the mid to late 1930s. She never cashed in, dying poor and forgotten from an infected dog bite.
At the age of 18 Batten abandoned her former life after the famous Charles Kingsford Smith took her up in his plane. The attention, the alpha man, the adrenaline, the dopamine, the serotonin….she was hooked.
“Raising money by taking advantage of her relationships with men was a theme that continued throughout her flying career.”- Nzhistory.net
“What Jean ruthlessly kept secret was that her rise to aviation celebrity was mostly funded by a series of men who wanted to marry her”- MOTAT display panel
Hers were the times of high Physical Culture in New Zealand and her own personal crisis was welcomed in as a big part of it along with Jack Lovelock’s own. Even today, the broken woman championed as a great hero in our fake plastic amour-propre State.
On her penultimate visit to New Zealand in 1977 Batten was the guest of honour to Auckland’s MOTAT that April. Here she opened the Aviation Pioneers Pavilion*. If she had a quiet moment, it reminds me a lot of Captain America visiting his own museum and looking back on a past long ago. What might have been had another path been taken? And where was the real person under all this propaganda and public property persona? In 1980, Jean visited New Zealand once more on a book tour but within 2 years she would be buried and forgotten in a Spanish mass grave.
Why didn’t she cash in while her sexual market value was through the roof? Never mind internationally, she could have had any man in New Zealand. The War took her plane away then Batten spent the next 20 years living with her mother. After the old lady finally let go in 1966 the envelope had closed for the 57yo. Jean must have really hated her. In my opinion the two women were as fused as can be, co-dependent and thwarted from growing and having a life of their own. Batten was the meal ticket and no man or family of her own could be allowed to take that away.
Batten on her book tour beside John Royds at Greymouth Aero Club, March 1980. She has two and a half years to live.
* The aviation displays have been moved to another area of MOTAT within the last few years. Now there are cars and old communications equipment in this place including some fun retro video games. But on the edge of the building, under the vegetation, there is still the 1977 time capsule Batten helped place.
Image ref. Cigarette card, Digital NZ; Alexander Turnbull Library collection
Image ref. West Coast New Zealand History archive