The Q.A.N.T.A.S. Founders Outback Museum


On Thursday December 17th 1903 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Wilbur and Orville Wright clawed their way into the sky (albeit not for too long - just 40 metres) aboard the first heavier than air contraption powered by an engine. They created aviation history and subsequently a vast industry in mass transport-and the invention of the fighter aircraft. It hadn't taken the military mind long to realise that the new fangled flying machine would prove a novel and effective way of killing the enemy.

WW 1 proved the theory correct as primitive machines took to the battle fields over Europe and the Western Dessert initially as observers but quickly guns and bombs created an aerial if precarious fighting platform. One young Australian lieutenant Paul McGuiness had other ideas.

It was somewhere in The Sinai Dessert that the young Australian pilot Paul McGuiness and his observer mate Hudson Wilmot Fysh decided that, not only were these skittish and unreliable machines capable of killing, but they could also be used as people movers especially over vast distances. Back in Australia with a chest full of medals and the respect of their countrymen as heroes the young men set out to fulfill a grand scheme dreamed up by McGuiness from under his dusty tent. He even wrote to his mum from the front with his lofty plans to begin an airline. He'd seen the potential of aircraft to convert long distances into short journeys during his dog fighting days. Fysh had learnt to fly just as the war ended so provided the ideal and trustworthy partner.

They bought an old WW1 aircraft and set up shop in what must have been then one of the more inhospitable parts of the world - the Australian Outback.
Their intention, to inaugurate the first mail and passenger service in Outback Queensland.

So twenty years after the Wrights first flight Qantas was born aloft by the determined and unyielding efforts of two Australian Flying Corp lieutenants and their flight sergeant/engineer W. Arthur Baird.

�Be damned to the doubters�, bellowed 84 year old Alexander Kennedy as he soared above central Queenslands� vast outback for the first time in his long life. The year was 1922, the place Western Queensland.

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.

Mr. 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 out 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 is very difficult to imagine the great dangers endured by these early ariel pioneers and raw courage of not only the pilots but 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 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.

The local romeos hit on a novel innovation of courting the female objects of their desire by sending boxes of chocolates aloft attached to home made parachutes to be dropped gently down apon their palpitating conquests.

It made a pleasant change from dropping bombs on people.

Crashes were not uncommon, as were forced landings and engine failures in blinding dust storms and torrential rain. Flat out they could cruise at no more than the dizzying velocity of 70 mph. Not much below that and they stalled and fell out of the sky resulting in a couple of early tragedies.

Violent dessert storms hurled the frail craft sideways and backwards with the pilot and passengers, marinated in a film of pure castor oil that spewed from the clamouring engine, hanging on grimly. There were no such niceties as sick bags but felt hats sometimes provided the necessary receptacle much to the chagrin of the pilots. It was often their head-wear that was pressed into service. It was common 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 wings.

A multi million dollar museum has been created by the people of Western Queensland to celebrate the extraordinary Qantas story headed up by Frith Fysh, nephew of Sir Hudson and a serving Qantas captain Warwick Tainton, as a tribute to their predecessors.

Travelers to Longreach, Queenslands� central Western capital, can experience first hand, the original Qantas hanger dragged out from Rockhampton by ox drawn wagon trains (a thousand kilometre journey) and 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 size figurines of Fysh, McGinness, Baird, Mr. Kennedy et al come to life and relate their experiences from 80 years ago.

Early replicas of the original fleet orbit above exhibition rooms.

A perfect replica of Qantas original aircraft the Avro Dyak rotates as a central display surrounded by priceless relics.

But the museums 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.

Twenty-three years ago a Boeing 747 emerged - pristine - from Boeings construction hangers 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.

Countless millions of kilometers, five million passengers and the equivalent of a hundred trips to the moon and back VH-EBQ was showing her age.

The hierarchy of Qantas Airlines decided that, after ninety two thousand flying hours, and while still a fine and serviceable aircraft with a fair shelf life left, the bean counters decreed that the peripatetic aircraft was to be retired. Modern aircraft are cheaper and cleaner to run and when it comes to the Airline business there is little room for sentiment.

She would be consigned to the aviation@#146;s equivalent of Boot Hill - the barren wastelands of the Mojave Dessert USA - where unwanted aircraft are discarded then endure the ultimate indignity of being dismembered for parts or be sold off to the highest bidder. The remaining gutted hulk then melted down and morphed into saucepans or rolls of tin foil.

But there are rare moments in history when incidents of great moment collide. This was just such a serendipitous moment for EBQ.

The Founders heard of her impending demise.

Fate decreed that EBQ would enjoy a dignified end. She was going 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.

At exactly 11.32am The City Of Bunbury appeared and seemingly crawled 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 two-kilometer 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 few metres comfortably 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 Airlines management to reach this breathtaking moment.

Her great engines finally silenced, The City of Bunbury was now the star attraction for the museum and would be parked for perpetuity adjacent to the original hanger and the new complex. As the brakes were applied The City of Bunbury momentarily dipped her nose as if in deference to her founders memory.

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 parking.