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Eric Charles Hey (1916–2009)

by Malcolm Brown

Eric Hey always liked to move fast, even as an eight-year-old when he was noted "furiously peddling" a borrowed pushbike. The spirit never left him, taking him to cars, motorbikes, planes and to his most glorious hour, flying Spitfires in World War II.

The reconnaissance work was dangerous, as indicated in his log book entry for May 27, 1944: "Spezia (Italy) 3 hr 10 min flight duration … bounced by a fighter – came out of the sun; missed [me] & [he] turned, but I had gone, rapidly." Hey survived the war, which took him over the skies of Malta, Italy, Palestine, the South Pacific – at Moratai and Labuan – and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Eric Charles Hey, who has died at 92, was born in Bega, the son of a plumber, John Hey, and Kazia Hey. He showed natural aptitude as a student, excelling in mathematics and spelling from kindergarten. When he was six, the family moved to Mittagong, where he developed a love of the outdoors.

Leaving school at 14 to help support the family during the Great Depression, he worked as a labourer building roads until, realising there was no future for him there, he joined the railways. He became a senior porter at Cootamundra, where he played in the front row for the town's first grade rugby league team.

Hey then met Coryl Maher and, motivated by a desire to win her affections, went back to study.

In 1940, he began a correspondence course for a diploma of mechanical engineering. He married Coryl in June 1941, and was called up for military service. Hey earned his RAAF wings in 1942.

Posted to Britain, he completed his training as an aerial reconnaissance pilot in Dyce, Scotland, with the highest pass ever recorded.

Hey then took to the skies. In one action, to photograph the German battle fleet off Greece, he had to fly at 16,000 metres over the top of an extensive cumulous cloud formation. Over Palestine, his Harvard single-engined aircraft stalled and he had to crash-land. During leave in Palestine, he passed London University entrance examinations.

Back in Australia, Hey joined the rush of returned servicemen to study for degrees.

Given the choice between medicine and dentistry, he chose the latter,went to the University of Sydney and drove taxis part-time to support himself.

After graduating, Hey rejoined the RAAF in 1950 on a short service commission as a senior dental officer at Richmond. In 1952, he began a private practice in Coogee. Ten years later he went to London, practised in Earls Court and gained a Licentiate of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons.

Resuming his Coogee practice in 1965, he later became secretary, then president of the Eastern Suburbs Dental Association.

Hey, restlessly energetic, took an interest in jewellery and became a fellow of the Gemmological Association of Australia, based at the University of Sydney. He became so skilled at cutting the stones that he was invited back to the university as an honorary lecturer.

He gained the international amateur radio operator's licence. He also pioneered the use of solar energy for household needs, building a rock pit at his home in Coogee, into which he channelled the sun's energy so well that he was able to heat his home for an entire winter for just $7.80. His feat was noted in the Sydney media.

Hey's interest in the bush took him into fossicking for gold, going with a friend, Bill Knight, QC, to the Sofala goldfields in the state's central west, where he put to use a tumbling vibrating sluice he had developed.

Coryl died in 1987. Hey started suffering from macular degeneration, which cost him most of his sight by 2005. He used his peripheral vision and an electronic aid to edit a book he wrote on his life.

Eric Hey is survived by four children, Lorraine, Christopher, Peter and Virginia, and 21 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. A son, Graham, predeceased him.

Original publication

Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Hey, Eric Charles (1916–2009)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 26 May 2024.

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