The original Qantas Avro Dyak draws
a crowd prior to take-off. (Photo/Qantas)
The second Qantas office in Longreach, circa
During World War 1, large numbers of primitive aircraft took to the
skies over the battlefields of Europe and the Western Desert, initially as
observers, but soon with guns and bombs on board their precarious aerial
fighting platforms. However, one young Australian pilot, Ltn.Paul McGuiness,
stationed somewhere in the Sinai desert, had other ideas for the delicate
Paul and his observer mate, Hudson Wilmot Fysh, realised very quickly that
the planes were perfect as people movers over vast distances. Back in
Australia, with their chests full of medals and the respect of their
countrymen as heroes, the two young men set out to fulfil a grand scheme
dreamed up by McGuiness, who had even written to his mum from under his
dusty tent, outlining his lofty plans to found an airline! He’d seen the
potential of aircraft to convert long distances into short journeys during
his dog-fighting days, and Fysh, who had learnt to fly just as the war
ended, provided the ideal and trustworthy partner in the new venture.
Almost as soon they’d hit home ground, the pair bought an old World War 1
aircraft and set up shop in one of the more inhospitable parts of the world
- the Australian Outback - with the intention of inaugurating the first mail
and passenger service in Queensland. As a result, a mere 20 years after the
Wright brothers’ first flight, the now famous airline, Qantas, was born
aloft by the determined and unyielding efforts of two Australian Flying Corp
lieutenants and their flight sergeant/engineer W. Arthur Baird.
The year was 1922 - ‘Be damned to the doubters!’ bellowed 84 year old
Alexander Kennedy as he soared above central Queensland’s vast outback for
the first time in his long life. With the wind flapping his whiskers, the
venerable Scottish grazier had just become the fledgling Queensland and
Northern Territories Aerial Service’s (Qantas), first ticket-holding
passenger on a regular mail and passenger service between Charleville,
Longreach, Winton and Cloncurry. He roared his now famous utterance over the
bellowing engines’ exhausts and the howl of wind over the struts of the
archaic aircraft as it finally struggled into the sweltering atmosphere.
Alexander Kennedy had a grand sense of vision. He was one of the early
investors in a rag-tag outfit flying hand-me-down war planes held together
by wire, glue, a wing and a prayer - and the hope of the trio of war heroes
determined to make a success of Australian aviation.
Step aboard a giant Qantas jumbo today, settle into a flying armchair with
every convenience at your beck and call, and it’s very difficult to imagine
the dangers endured by these early aerial pioneers and their raw courage -
not only that of the pilots, but of the passengers as well!
Barnstorming provided Qantas’ initial income. The spartan populace of the
more inaccessible regions of Queensland had never seen an aircraft, let
alone flown in one, and willingly parted with the three pounds and three
shillings charge for ten minutes aloft - or five pounds for the extra thrill
of a loop.
The awed populace treated the be-goggled, leather-helmeted pilots (who still
wore their military uniforms) as super- heroes. Local Romeos hit on a novel
innovation for courting the female objects of their desire by sending boxes
of chocolates aloft attached to home made parachutes, which were dropped
gently down onto their palpitating would-be conquests. For the pilots, it
made a pleasant change from dropping bombs on people!
Crashes were not uncommon, nor were forced landings and engine failures in
blinding dust storms and torrential rain. Flat out, the planes could cruise
at no more than the dizzying velocity of 70 mph. A few mph below that and
they stalled and fell out of the sky, resulting in a couple of early
Violent desert storms hurled the frail craft sideways and backwards with the
pilot and passengers, marinated in a film of pure castor oil spewing from
the clamouring engine, hanging on grimly. There were no such niceties as
sick bags - felt hats sometimes provided the necessary receptacle, much to
the chagrin of the pilots, as it was often their headgear that was pressed
It was common practice for the pilots to sleep under the wings of their
aircraft in case the wind changed and the lightweight machines simply blew
over like a child’s kite in a breeze. Itinerant cattle often snacked on the
Almost 100 years later, in celebration of the extraordinary Qantas story, a
multi-million dollar museum has been created by the people of Western
Queensland, headed up by Sir Hudson’s nephew, Frith Fysh and Warwick
Tainton, a serving Qantas captain, as a tribute to their predecessors.
Travellers to Longreach (Queensland’s’ central western capital) can
experience first-hand the original Qantas hangar, dragged out from
Rockhampton a thousand kilometres away by ox-drawn wagon trains. The hangar
is now a feature of the aerodynamic state of the art complex, ‘The Qantas
Outback Founders’ Museum’. The displays are interactive. Activate a sensor
and life-sized figurines of Fysh, McGinness, Baird, Kennedy et.al, come to
life and relate their long-ago experiences. Early replicas of the original
fleet orbit above exhibition rooms and a perfect replica of a Qantas
original aircraft, the Avro Dyak, rotates on a central display surrounded by
However, the museum’s star attraction has to stay parked outside the
wing-shaped complex. It is just a little too large and has its own
particular story to tell. 23 years ago, a Boeing 747 emerged - pristine -
from Boeing’s construction hangars in Seattle, USA. Back then, she was the
biggest and the most sophisticated mass people mover humans had yet to
invent. Now she is a high tech dinosaur. Having clocked up countless
millions of kilometers, 5 million passengers and the equivalent of 100 trips
to the moon and back, VH-EBQ (the ‘City of Bunbury’) was showing her age.
The hierarchy of Qantas Airlines decided that after 92,000 flying hours,
although still a fine and serviceable aircraft with a fair shelf life
remaining, the peripatetic aircraft was to be retired. The bean-counters
decreed that modern aircraft were cheaper and cleaner to run - when it comes
to the airline business there’s little room for sentiment!
She would be consigned to the aviation’s equivalent of Boot Hill - the
barren wastelands of the Mojave Desert USA - where unwanted aircraft endure
the ultimate indignity of being dismembered for parts or sold off to the
highest bidder. The remaining gutted hulk is then melted down and morphed
into saucepans or rolls of tin foil.
But - there are rare instances in history when incidents of great moment
collide. This was just such a serendipitous happening for EBQ - the Founders
heard of her impending demise! Fate decreed that EBQ would enjoy a dignified
end. She was to flown back to the country of her founding fathers. To her
genesis, Longreach, the birthplace of the Queensland and Northern Territory
Ariel Service, reputedly the safest airline in the world.
On a fine morning, at exactly 11.32 a.m. the ‘City of Bunbury’ appeared and
seemed to crawl across the sky performing - as if supported by invisible
wires - a fly-past in honour of the occasion. An enormous shadow fleetingly
turned day into night as she flew gracefully along the length of the tarmac
and then, with a sharp banking turn, over-flew the Thomson River. With the
elegance of a pelican alighting on a placid lake, she approached the strip.
The 2 kilometre long tarmac must have looked a very small target from the
flight deck. A final bellicose roar as reverse thrust was applied, and she
was down and safe with a comfortable few metres to spare at the end of the
tarmac. Cheers went up from the assembled throng and no time was wasted in
cracking the first magnums of champers!
Captain Tainton and his fellow members breathed a collective sigh of relief.
From the second she touched down she ceased to be the property of Qantas
Airlines and was now theirs. The exercise had involved some very astute
bargaining with Qantas management to reach this breathtaking moment.
Her great engines finally silenced, the ‘City of Bunbury’ was now the star
attraction for the museum and is parked for perpetuity adjacent to the
original hanger and the new complex. As the brakes were applied, the giant
plane momentarily dipped her nose as if in deference to her founders’
As always someone has to have the last word. A grazier’s wife, peering up at
the six-story tail fin, quipped with the laconic humour that typifies the
West, ‘Well, at least Longreach has finally got some decent undercover