Richard Harold Smith AC (born 18 March 1944) is an Australian entrepreneur, businessman, record-breaking aviator, philanthropist, and political activist. He is the founder of Dick Smith Electronics, Dick Smith Foods and Australian Geographic, and was selected as the 1986 Australian of the Year. In 2010 he founded the media production company Smith&Nasht with the intention of producing films about global issues. In 2015 he was awarded the Companion of the Order of Australia, and is a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.
Smith's father was a salesman and sometime manager at Angus & Robertson's bookstore who started a business that failed when Smith was 17, and his mother a housewife. His maternal grandfather was pictorialist photographer Harold Cazneaux.
As a child, Smith was considered academically hopeless and, having a speech defect, called himself 'Dick Miff'. From his home in East Roseville, Smith attended Primary School at Roseville Public School at which, for the Fifth Grade, he ranked academically 45th in a class of 47. He attended North Sydney Technical High School, left briefly at 15 to start an apprenticeship but went back after just four weeks and went on to complete his Leaving Certificate in 1961, though managing only 7% after three years of French.
In 1968, with a A$610 investment by him and his then fiancée Pip,:203 Smith founded Dick Smith Car Radios, a small taxi radio repair business in the Sydney suburb of Neutral Bay, New South Wales, then later expanded into the car radio business at Gore Hill, naming himself the "Car-Radio 'Nut'". This business later became electronics retailer Dick Smith Electronics which grew rapidly in the late-1970s, particularly through sales of Citizens Band radios and then personal computers, with annual sales of about A$17 million by 1978.:176
Smith took the business into Asia in 1978, opening a store in Ashley Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong's tourist shopping hub, and publishing an international catalogue edition until the store closed in 1980. That year, stores were also opened in Northern California and Los Angeles.
In 1982, he sold the business to Woolworths for A$25 million. Though Smith retained no shares nor role in the company thereafter, the business continued to trade with his name prominently displayed in every aspect of its operations until closure of its then hundreds of stores in Australia and New Zealand by May 2016.
In 1986, Smith founded Australian Geographic Pty Ltd, which published the Australian Geographic magazine, a National Geographic-style magazine focusing on Australia. Smith did not want to greatly expand Australian Geographic, but his friend and CEO Ike Bain persuaded him to change his mind and soon it was a successful business.
Smith founded Dick Smith Foods in 1999, marketed as a crusade against foreign ownership of Australian food producers, particularly Arnott's Biscuits, which in 1997 became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Campbell Soup Company. Dick Smith Foods only sells foods produced in Australia by Australian-owned companies.
Dick Smith Foods' products are often named to parody the items they compete with – for example, in competition with Redheads matches, Smith sells near-identically packaged matches called "Dickheads" with the text on the rear stating "We would have to be complete dickheads to let most of our famous Australian brands be taken over by foreign companies. Brands such as Vegemite, Aeroplane Jelly, Arnott's, Speedo and Redhead Matches are in overseas hands. This means the profit and wealth created goes overseas and robs our children and grandchildren of a future." A chocolate biscuit called "Temptin'" competed directly with the established favourite Arnott's Tim Tam. In 2003 Arnott's took legal action against Dick Smith Foods, resulting in an out-of-court settlement that required the "p" in the Temptin' logo to be increased in size.
In 1964, Smith sailed with a group of Rover Scouts to Balls Pyramid in the Pacific Ocean – the highest sea spire in the world. He and the group failed to climb the Pyramid; however in 1980 Smith returned, climbed to the top, and, together with Hugh Ward and John Worrall, formally claimed the land for Australia by unfurling the New South Wales state flag.:173
On 13 February 1977, a QANTAS aircraft chartered by Smith was the first to carry tourists over Antarctica. In August the same year, Smith chartered another jumbo, this time to take paying passengers on a 10-hour, 5,000 km flight over the Red Centre of the Outback in search of Lasseter's fabled but lost reef of gold. The search, attended by Lasseter's son Bob and Aboriginal tracker and artist Nosepeg Tjunkata Tjupurrula, found nothing.
At the age of 34 he purchased his first helicopter, a Bell Jetranger II, and, on 23 February 1979 obtained his licence to fly it. In January 1980, with Rick Howell co-piloting the Jetranger, he made a record-setting flight from Sydney to Lord Howe Island and return, 1,185 km.:163 The helicopter opened new opportunities for exploring places otherwise inaccessible.
In 1982–83 Smith successfully completed the first solo helicopter flight around the world. His flight began in Fort Worth, Texas, on 5 August 1982, in a newly purchased Bell Jetranger 206B. On 19 August, the 50th anniversary of James Mollison's solo crossing of the Atlantic, he arrived at Balmoral Castle, United Kingdom where he met Prince Charles. From there he flew to London, where, later that day, the first stage of his flight ended, after 11,752 km. The second stage of his flight started in London on 13 September, and finished in Sydney, Australia, 3 October 1982, 23,092 km later. On 25 May 1983 the final stage of the flight started. Not being granted permission to land in USSR, he arranged to land on a ship to refuel. His journey ended on 22 July 1983, the 50th anniversary of Wiley Post's solo aeroplane flight around the world on 22 July 1933.
Smith made the first-ever helicopter flight to the North Pole, upon his third attempt in his Jetranger helicopter. In 1986, he had to give up just 670 kilometres short of his destination because his navigation equipment was beginning to fail and visibility had dropped to almost zero. He failed once more, before his successful flight on 28 April 1987. The flight was made possible by having fuel delivered in a DHC-6 Twin Otter for refuelling in parts of the Arctic Circle.
In 1988/89 Smith flew a Twin Otter aircraft VH-SHW (registered after his hero, polar explorer Sir Hubert Wilkins) following meridians of longitude around the world, landing at both the North and South Poles, making him the first person to complete such a circumnavigation. The flight followed a South-North-South track, (keeping broadly between 80 and 150 degrees E, heading south, and 60 and 100 degrees W, heading north) departing Sydney, Australia, on 1 November 1988, and returning on 28 May 1989.
In August and again in October 1989, Smith, piloting his own helicopter, initiated and conducted searches in remote tracts of the Simpson Desert for the first stage of the Redstone Sparta rocket which had carried Australia's first satellite into orbit, making the nation only the fourth to succeed in doing so, on 29 November 1967. His search was ultimately successful, the relic recovered in an elaborate 22-person overland expedition the following year and placed on display in Woomera.:76–80
In October 1991 Smith was the second person to fly over Mount Everest. Dick and Pip Smith circled the summit, taking photographs. In Australian Geographic (January–March 1993) Dick wrote: 'The experience was unbelievable and I felt privileged to be one of the very few people to obtain permission from the Nepalese government to fly over the summit."
In 1992 Smith made another helicopter flight around the world, this time with his wife Pip. He bought a twin-engine Sikorsky S-76 helicopter. At their journey's end, Dick and Pip had completed the first east to west (i.e. against prevailing winds) helicopter flight around the globe, flown more than 39,607 nautical miles (73,352 kilometres) in the process and taken more than 10,700 photographs as a record of what the planet looked like in the last decade of the 20th century. He said, "I hope that many of the areas will be photographed again in 10 years' time from exactly the same positions".
In 1994, Smith, accompanied by Director-General Peter K N Lok of the Civil Aviation Department, piloted the inaugural helicopter flight onto the helipad atop the Peninsula Hotel, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong.
In February 2000, Smith and his co-pilot John Wallington became the first people to successfully complete an east-west crossing of the Tasman Sea by balloon, from New Zealand to Australia against generally prevailing winds.
On 7 January 2006, Smith flew his Cessna Grand Caravan from Sydney to Hari Hari on the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island to mark the 75th anniversary of the first solo trans-Tasman flight by Guy Menzies in 1931.
On Tuesday 26 August 2008 Smith, with his wife Pip, completed a two and a half year drive around the world. The journey of 40,361 kilometres was made by road vehicle.
Smith has been a vocal advocate for the civil aviation industry in Australia, having been appointed by Prime Minister Bob Hawke to be Chairman of the Board of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) from February 1990 to February 1992. He also served as Deputy-Chairman and Chairman of the Board of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA, the CAA's regulatory successor after the 1995 de-merger of the government's aviation operations including air traffic control) from 1997 until his resignation in 1999. During his CAA tenure, a comprehensive reform plan (including the Class G Demonstration airspace reform) was devised to streamline bureaucracy and reduce costs but, facing opposition from the incumbent commercial operators, particularly Qantas and Ansett, it were never implemented. Smith claimed this was because there was resistance to increased competition in the market. Smith faced the same obstacles as head of CASA and left, concluding that his work there had failed.
Smith has campaigned ever since for the reigning in of over-regulation of the industry, particularly of flight training operators where layers of compliance costs associated with instructor status, approvals to carry out training and aircraft airworthiness have been blamed for ultimately crippling the Australian aviation industry. In October 2015, he recommended a mass exit from the industry: "I absolutely recommend that people get out of aviation as quickly as they can, sell up their businesses and close down ..."
Smith has also attempted a number of well-publicised practical jokes, including the April Fool's Day attempt to tow a purported iceberg from Antarctica into Sydney Harbour in 1978, a new source of fresh water. Smith appeared in several TV ads on a pogo stick, promoting his business. In the early 1980s, Dick Smith served as the conductor aboard a London double decker bus which jumped 15 motorcycles. The bus, driven by Hans Tholstrup, was a humorous poke at Evel Knievel, who had visited Australia in 1979 and jumped his motorcycle over buses. Dick Smith's presence on the bus was a last-minute decision by himself.
In 1980, Smith provided the research for Kookaburra, the most compelling story in Australia's aviation history, written by Pedr Davis.
In 1983, Smith's The Earth Beneath Me, which described the first two-thirds, from the US to Sydney, of his solo helicopter flight around the world, was published. Two documentaries were also filmed during the flight, and a third one soon after.
In 1984, Smith authored a 79-page booklet arguing the need for an independent committee of review into the Department of Aviation. He urged the establishment of the Aviation Committee of Review Proposal (ACORP).
Smith's Our Fantastic Planet: Circling the globe via the poles, published in 1991, is his account of his Twin Otter circumnavigation.
In his 1992 work, "Dick Smith Solo Around the World", he writes of his round the world flight in his Jetranger helicopter and first successful helicopter flight to the North Pole.
In 1997, Smith covered his latest helicopter circumnavigation of the world, this time east to west in a Sikorsky, in his Above the World: A Pictorial Circumnavigation.
In June 2011, his polemic challenging the growth is good principle, Dick Smith's Population Crisis: The dangers of unsustainable growth for Australia was published.
In December 2015, Smith's book, Balls Pyramid: Climbing the World's Tallest Sea Stack, a comprehensive and detailed history of climbs, including his own, on this remote and uniquely spectacular 562 metres (1,844 ft) tall volcanic remnant 20 km south-west of Lord Howe Island, was published.
|“||I began as a Cub at eight and went right through to Rovers at age 23. I was very much a loner and Scouting gave me mateship, taught me organisation and how to motivate people. That's why I was able to be the success I am.||”|
|— Dick Smith|
Smith was awarded Australian of the Year in 1986. At Smith's Australian of the Year Presentation he suggested that publisher Rupert Murdoch might like to take a year off, come back to Australia and share some of his expertise by heading the Treasury or the Reserve Bank.
In 1992 Smith received the United States' Lindbergh award. The Award, "is given annually to individuals whose work over many years has made significant contributions toward the Lindbergh's concept of balancing technology and nature."
The Bulletin magazine, then Australia's longest running, named Smith on its 2006 list of 100 Most Influential Australians, ahead of Shane Warne, Peter Weir, Bill Wentworth, Patrick White and Gough Whitlam.
The Explorers Club awarded Smith the Lowell Thomas Award in 2008 for outstanding exploration, themed that year "Exploring Earth From Above". He was one of six awardees including legendary aviator Chuck Yeager.
In 2010, Smith was the Patron for the 100th Anniversary of the Wireless Institute of Australia, including being the major speaker at the annual general meeting in Canberra on 27 May 2010. The next day, he hosted AGM attendees at his country property, "Bowylie", near Gundaroo, New South Wales, formerly the home of actress Maud Jeffries. On 29 June 2010 Smith accepted the commission of Rear Admiral of the Lake Eyre Yacht Club.
In December 2011, Smith was appointed as a Consulting Professor in the Department of Biology, School of Humanities and Sciences of Stanford University California by Dean, Richard P. Saller. This was made in recognition of his many years of work in relation to environmental issues including his 2011 book, Dick Smith's Population Crisis.
In May 2013, a newly identified 20 million-year-old koala relative was named Litokoala dicksmithi in honour of Smith. Lead author of the research paper, Karen Black, explained she chose to recognise Smith "for his long-term financial support of Australian scientific endeavour and in particular fossil research at Riversleigh."
On 16 November 2013, Dick Smith was inducted into the Australian Aviation Hall of Fame.
In 2015, Smith was advanced to a Companion of the Order of Australia "for eminent service to the community as a benefactor of a range of not-for-profit and conservation organisations, through support for major fundraising initiatives for humanitarian and social welfare programs, to medical research and the visual arts, and to aviation."
Beginning with his first charter in February 1977, Smith's Antarctic flights (operated by QANTAS) had raised A$70,000 for charities including the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife (then of New South Wales) and Australian Museum over the following year. Many other charities followed Smith's lead in using Antarctic charters as a fundraising tool.
In 1985, Smith organised and led the first of what was to become a major annual motoring event, the B to B Bash, the proceeds of which go to the Children's Charity, Variety. Smith's Bourke to Burketown route through remote areas of the Outback raised A$250,000 while a total of over A$200 million has been raised for the charity by the event in the past 30 years.
By 2005, Smith had made donations totalling at least A$15 million.
Smith was reported, in 2007, to have contributed A$1 million to charities in each of the 24 years since selling his electronics business.
In April 2013, Smith donated A$1 million to the Australian Lions Foundation for their compassionate grants programme.
Through the Dick Smith Foods Foundation, A$1 million was donated to charities in 2014, in the Charity Breakthrough pledge.
Smith donated A$1 million to Rotary Australia World Community Service in his charitable distribution of the A$4,170,412 proceeds of sale of his Cessna Citation CJ3 jet in December 2016. Other substantial donations were made to The Scout Association of Australia, Wild Care Inc. of Tasmania and the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation, among numerous others.
In October 2017, Smith made a A$250,000 donation to the Namatjira Legacy Trust as part of a settlement negotiated by him for transfer from commercial interests of all copyright in the works of Albert Namatjira, to the benefit of Namatjira's descendants and the Aboriginal community at large. Namatjira was a leading Aboriginal artist of the 1950s and the first Australian Aboriginal to be granted citizenship.
Smith has been consistently openly critical of tax evasion by the wealthy and their failure to be active in philanthropy, cajoling billionaires Rupert Murdoch and Harry Triguboff for not doing enough.
Smith is a founder and a patron of the Australian Skeptics. In July 1980, Smith collaborated with renowned sceptic James Randi to test water divining, offering a prize of A$40,000 for a successful demonstration.
Then Prime Minister John Howard appointed Smith founding Chairman of the National Council for the Centenary of Federation in December 1996 and he served till February 2000.
In 2005, Dick Smith gave public support to the asylum seeker Peter Qasim. Qasim was released later in 2005 by the Australian Government after seven years in detention. This support included the offer to visit India seeking evidence of Qasim's claims.
In June 2008, he offered a A$50,000 award for investigative journalism into the Government purchase of Super Seasprite helicopters, after the contract was cancelled at a cost of A$1.1 billion.
In response to a large increase in pertussis cases during a 2008/09 outbreak, Smith funded a national ad in The Australian encouraging parents to "Get The Facts" and derided the Australian Vaccination Network as an anti-vaccination organisation.
In February 2012 Smith expressed himself skeptical of the purported Energy Catalyzer Cold fusion device. On 14 February, he offered the inventor Andrea Rossi US$1 million if he were to repeat the demonstration of 29 March of the year before, this time allowing particular care to be given to a check of the electric wiring of the device, and to the power output. The offer was declined by Rossi before the lapse of the 20 February acceptance deadline that had been set by Smith. Smith subsequently offered US$1 million "to any person or organisation that can come up with a practical device that has an output of at least one kilowatt of useful energy through LENRs (low energy nuclear reactions)." The offer remained open, unclaimed, until January 2013.
In 1989, Smith offered an A$25,000 reward for discovery, dead or alive, of the elusive Australian night parrot. A dead specimen was found the next year by three ornithologists, associated with the Australian Museum, who claimed the prize and efforts to find living specimens were sparked. Eventually, in 2013, the first confirmed sighting in over a century was confirmed.
Smith donated A$60,000 in February 2007 towards a campaign to secure a fair trial for then Australian terrorism suspect David Hicks who had been held in a U.S. military prison in Cuba's Guantanamo Bay for five years. Smith said he wanted Hicks to get "a fair trial, a fair go". Fresh charges, including attempted murder, had been filed against Hicks earlier that month. Hicks pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in March 2007 as part of a plea bargain, and was released from custody in December 2007.
Smith, together with two others, offered to financially assist Australian Greens leader Bob Brown to satisfy a A$240,000 costs order after Brown lost an anti-logging case he brought against Forestry Tasmania. A failure to pay would have resulted in Brown having to declare bankruptcy, and therefore lose his seat in the Senate.
In 2011 Dick Smith expressed support for action on climate change, including the introduction of a carbon tax, and criticized the response to actor Cate Blanchett speaking out on the matter. He stated that "in their editorials [News Limited journalists] say they accept that human-induced climate change is a real danger ... yet their news pages and opinion pieces are full of endless attacks on politicians and others who support putting a price on carbon." In 2013, Smith released a documentary, Ten Bucks a Litre, profiling Australia's current energy sources and future options. Narrated by Smith and featuring him at spectacular mining and power generation locations across the country and abroad, the documentary called for urgent action to replace fossil fuels with renewables.
As chairman of the National Centenary of Federation Council (1996-2000), an appointment made by then Prime Minister John Howard, Smith advocated renaming 26 January, Australia Day (which commemorates the arrival of the first fleet of British settlers in 1788), as "First Fleet Day" in recognition of the fact it was not a day for celebration by all Australians.
In August 2010 Smith announced he would be devoting himself to questions of global population, overpopulation, and alternatives to an endless economic growth economy. He produced and appeared in the feature-length documentary Dick Smith's Population Puzzle broadcast by public network the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, questioning the desirability of Australia's rapid population growth. In the documentary, Smith called the campaign the most important thing he had ever done in his life. It was subsequently distributed on DVD. The same year, he established the production company Smith&Nasht with producer Simon Nasht.
In May 2011, Dick Smith published his book on the subject, Dick Smith's Population Crisis: The dangers of unsustainable growth for Australia. In 2013, Smith&Nasht revisited the topic of overpopulation with the release of an hour-long documentary film called The Vasectomist.
On 6 December 2016, Smith spoke of his support for Pauline Hanson's population policy while emphasising he did not support her racist immigration policy nor any other aspect of her party's platform.
In March 2015, the media announced that Dick Smith had registered The Dick Smith Party, but would not be running as a candidate himself. The party stated it intended to focus on the Senate and would run on a platform of curbing unnecessary regulation and population growth. Smith is opposed to Australia's "ridiculously huge" rates of immigration.
On 15 August 2017, Smith launched his "Fair Go Campaign" to pressure Australia's major political parties to incorporate population policy into their platforms and to radically increase taxation on the rich and corporates. He was reported to have spent A$1 million on promoting the campaign through television advertising. He also pledged to spend another A$2 million on promoting population policy at the next Federal election if no major party would commit to reducing immigration to 70,000 per annum from a level then averaging in excess of 200,000. The Fair Go Campaign called for a more than 50% increase in places for refugees in the annual immigration quota. The campaign quickly matured into a permanent presence as the Dick Smith Fair Go Group which also agitates for economic reforms to tackle income inequality and a return to affordable housing.
I owe a lot to Scouting. It had to be the most fantastic influence on my life. It taught me responsible risk-taking.
The Bell Jetranger III helicopter, Dick Smith Australian Explorer, was flown by Australian businessman and adventurer Dick Smith on the first solo circumnavigation of the world in a rotary wing aircraft in 1982/3.
Note:As posted on balloonflight.com.au
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