Mary Garden author of ‘Sundowners of the Skies’

By Sonia Isaacs Clark

MALENY author Mary Garden published ‘Sundowner of the Skies’ in 2019. It is a bravely written yet compelling memoir and biography of her late father, the New Zealand aviator Oscar Garden. The book has gone on to receive rave reviews both in Australia and overseas and was shortlisted for the 2020 NSW Premier’s History Award.

This month a second edition with a new cover, additional information, logbook extracts and photos has been released by New Holland.
We caught up with Mary to find out more.

Q: What prompted you to release a second edition?
My book had sold out quickly but with COVID disrupting things my publisher was initially reluctant to do a reprint. Ironically, there was renewed interest in my book, especially in New Zealand, when my younger sister published her own book on our father, and ongoing interest after it was short-listed for the NSW Premier’s History Award 2020. Fortunately, my publisher decided to not only do a reprint but a new edition.

Q: How did you feel about the award shortlisting?
It was tremendously exciting and very unexpected. It was a huge honour, especially to be alongside two eminent historians whose books were published by Yale University and Columbia University. Interestingly, the flaws of my father appealed to the judges. One of the judges later told me: “I admired the way you went above and beyond the typical [aviation] biography and painted a rounded, though difficult, figure of your father”.

Q: Where have you sourced the content for the 70 additional pages in this edition?
There are many more photos in the new edition. I sourced these from the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington, New Zealand and the Hocken Collections at the University of Otago. A few of those photos had my father’s surname as Gorgon (instead of Garden) so we had never seen them before. Luckily, I had dad’s logbooks scanned some years ago so was able to use extracts from those for the new edition.

Q: Since publishing your book do you think your dad is still the forgotten aviator?
I knew that dad deserved to be remembered, which is why I wrote the book.
I don’t think he is the forgotten aviator anymore and I am constantly surprised by the ongoing interest in his story. Not that it is a book for just aviation buffs. It has appealed to general readers as it is also a memoir, threaded with my story and my mother’s story, who thankfully was still alive when I began working on it, and she wanted it to be a warts and all account.
Dad was an extraordinary aviator, one of the few to survive that golden age of aviation when intrepid men in tiny biplanes crossed the globe in flights that startled the world.

Q: Tell us about the mural of your dad in the departure lounge of Tauranga Airport in New Zealand?
Since my book was released in 2019, a large mural of my father has been painted by internationally renowned Māori artist Graham Hoete.
He had been commissioned to do a large portrait for the airport and after reading my book knew that he wanted Oscar at the airport. He said he wanted the forgotten aviator to be remembered. The unveiling and the Māori blessing that took place was a very profound experience, with quite a few tears.

Rosetta Books is organising an in-conversation event with Mary as well as former ABC radio presenter and author Mary-Lou Stephens on Saturday, September 11 at 2pm at RSL Maleny. Bookings essential. Tickets are $5 and available through TryBooking or from Rosetta Books Maleny.