I’ve recently been fortunate enough to make a second visit to Pratomagno, Tuscany, Italy.
That’s the mountain where pioneer Australian aviator, Bert Hinkler, lost his life when his tiny monoplane crashed in January 1933 while he was making another attempt on the England-Australia record.
Regular readers will recall that I wrote a biography of the famous flier, Hustling Hinkler (Hachette Australia, 2013). It was a spin-off from that story which took me back to the crash site in 2018.
When I first went to the mountain two years ago, Cesare Ciabatti, the owner of an excellent restaurant, da Giocondo, which now sits close to the top of the peak, told me that he would love to be able to give visitors a booklet about Hinkler’s long connection with the area.
That connection has been fostered through an impressive display Cesare maintains on his bar wall, and also through Hinkler memorials nearby that are linked by a walking track, the Hinkler Ring, initiated by Carlo Palazzini and friends in the Club Alpino Italiano (Arezzo).
After I returned to Australia, I decided late last year that I would put together a small publication that could be translated into Italian, which Cesare might be able to provide for visitors.
After much liaison with him and with Carlo (who kindly finalised the translation) and with a Brisbane contact, Kevin Lindeberg (who has a much longer attachment to the Hinkler story and to Pratomagno that I do), we produced a foldable double-sided A3 brochure, with text, photos and maps (above).
I arranged for the typesetting and artwork to be done in Australia, and Cesare generously sponsored the printing of the brochure in Italy, in both Italian and English.
Cesare Ciabatti and Carlo Palazzini with the new Bert Hinkler brochure September 2018
I had hoped we might have been able to organise some sort of ‘launch’ of the brochure on Pratomagno, but unfortunately my visit was planned for September, towards the end of the main tourist season, and Cesare needed the brochures several months earlier for his guests.
So I contented myself with a visit to da Giocondo to see the finished product, and a trek around most of the 8 km Hinkler Ring with family in the genial company of Carlo, where once again I was moved by seeing the Hinkler crash-site and memorial.
Carlo Palazzini at 2015 Bert Hinkler Memorial, Pratomagno
This tree on the slopes of Pratomagno may have been the last resting place of Australian pilot Bert Hinkler.
Afterwards I trekked to the top of the peak, which is topped by the giant Croce di Pratomagno (Cross of Pratomagno) and gives 360 degree views, which were spectacular on a warm sunny September day.
The author on his way to the Croce di Pratomagno
We ended a memorable visit appropriately with an excellent meal at da Giocondo, and a local beer. (Yes, I know Chianti is the specialty of Tuscany, but I wanted to try the local brew – it’s called Pratomagno!) Our transport for the day was expertly provided by Andrea from Very Tuscany Tours, and we were glad to see him again after our previous visit to the region.
But wait – there’s more! There’s an intriguing aside to this story that began some months before. When we visited Pratomagno the previous time, good friends from Armidale, New South Wales, Geoff and Judy Hinch, were with us. Sometime after we had returned to Australia, to her surprise and my delight, Judy found three poems about Bert Hinkler in a collection of poems penned on the family farm by her late paternal grandmother, Marion Parsons.
One was written in 1928, when Hinkler made his record-breaking flight from England to Australia; the second was from early 1933, when he had disappeared and was still missing.
The third poem was a tribute to the ‘Women of Strada’, an Italian town not far from Pratomagno. Soon after Hinkler’s body had been found, the women of the town sewed together panels of cloth, cut from whatever material they could find, to create a Union Jack (Hinkler lived in England) that could be draped over his coffin.
The poem concludes:
“Oh splendid Women of Strada
Did you feel when you made that pall
The kinships of wills and mothers
That maketh us sisters all.
And to us the greatest honour
Done for our hero’s sake
Is the flag that the Women of Strada
Tore up their sheets to make.”
Australian newspaper article in 1936, three years after Hinkler’s burial outside Florence
It seemed fitting that I should read that poem in the presence of Cesare and Carlo on the slopes of Pratomagno at the time of my second visit. The poem and its discovery seem to emphasise the significant historical and perhaps emotional connection the two countries have to Bert Hinkler, and why it continues.
Until next time
What writers say:
We occasionally felt that inside the book we read there was a better one – sometimes a thinner one- straining to get out.
~ Kwame Anthony Appiah, Chairperson, Man Booker Prize judging panel, 2018