Our first visit to the Qantas Museum was in September 2002. After settling into our campsite we registered at the Caravan Park Office for a roast dinner followed by a bush poet. We had two museums to visit in the small town of Longreach. One was the Stockmans’ Hall of Fame and the other the Qantas Founders’ Museum. We opted to see the Qantas Museum first.
The Qantas museum had only been completed in March of that year so the exhibits were new and impressive. An eight-minute video narrated by Michael Caton, a much-loved star of the quirky movie, “The Castle” explained his association with Qantas. His mother had worked at the Longreach Qantas Headquarters in its early days.
It all began in 1919. World War I was over and the Australian Federal Government was offering £10,000 for the first Australians to fly from England to Australia within 30 days.
Former Flying Corps Officers W Hudson Fysh and Paul McGinness were keen to enter. They were promised financial backing from a millionaire grazier but while they were searching for a suitable aircraft the grazier died. So did the money.
Unable to enter the race, the two friends accepted the job of surveying the air race route from Longreach in Queensland to Katherine in the Northern Territory, dropping supplies along the way.
Incredibly, they drove 2,179 kilometres across a practically roadless area in a T-Model Ford. When the tyres became flat they stuffed them with spinifex. The trek completed, Fysh was in Darwin to welcome the winners of the air race, Ross and Keith Smith.
Fysh and McGinnis were both convinced, after their arduous journey, of the need for an air service. McGinnis made an important new friend when he removed the stranded car of a wealthy grazier, Fergus McMaster, from the Cloncurry River. His enthusiasm rubbed off on McMaster who convinced some business partners to invest in the new company.
Arthur Baird became the fourth member of the group. He had known McGinnis and Fysh in Palestine and readily accepted the offer to join. His ability to maintain aeroplane engines was legendary.
Starting with two biplanes in 1921, joy flights were offered with the plan to raise money. If you read my post C for Charleville, you will see reference to the passenger/airmail service which at last gave some financial security to the company.
The first Qantas passenger on a scheduled flight was 84-year-old Alexander Kennedy. He clambered into his seat on the Armstrong Whitworth, accompanied by Fysh and Baird. After three attempts to lift off Fysh taxied back to the hangar, hastily transferred everyone and everything to the other machine called old G-AUDE and tried again. This time they were successful and took off without any further problems.
I was so enamoured of the Qantas Museum that I was somewhat underwhelmed by the Stockmans’ Hall of Fame the next day. Maybe it was the drama of early aviation that captured my imagination.
It was 2017 when we called in again, this time to see the two Boeings, a 707-138B and a 747-200 which had landed in 2006 and 2009 respectively. VH-EBQ is unique in being the only surviving Boeing 747 – 200 with Rolls Royce engines.
Our guide was a rookie – a tour guide in training, but she knew her stuff pretty well. We learnt a few things about planes we didn’t know before. For example, what happens to grey water on a plane? It is expelled into the atmosphere and dissipates.
The 707 was the most unusual aeroplane I had ever seen. It began its career with Qantas but went on to become a luxury charter jet for the rich and famous.
Its interior featured a double bed, a bidet, timber panelling and crystal lamp shades.
On the 747 we examined the complicated flight deck and observed a black box (which is really orange) before going upstairs to the First Class Lounge. Only the photographs on the wall showed what it was like in its heyday with well-dressed groups seated around tables drinking cocktails.
The Avro 504K was the first QANTAS aircraft and was used by the airline for five years. Powered by a 100 h.p. Sunbeam Dyak engine, it was modified to carry up to two passengers as well as the pilot. The original Qantas Avro 504K was sold in 1926. This is a replica built by two Qantas engineers. You would have needed goggles and helmets as your head would be exposed to the elements.
In 1924, the four-passenger DH-50 was the first purpose-designed airliner used by QANTAS which, until then, used converted military aeroplanes. The DH-50 was the first to have a fully-enclosed cabin. Can you imagine the difference that would make to the passengers?
From 1926 to 1929, QANTAS built 7 DH-50s in the now National Heritage Listed Hangar in Longreach. In May 1928, the first DH-50 became the first flying doctor aircraft.
There was so much more to see and talk about at the museum but it was time to move on as we still had a long way to go on our around Australia trek.