Australia: Our national stories
By Dr Robert Lee of the University of Western Sydney
Australian Heritage Commission, 2003
Chapter 8: The Rise of Civil Aviation to 1970
- The Heroic Age of Australian Aviation
- Early Civil Aviation, 1921-1945
- Aircraft Manufacture in Australia
- Airports and Aviation Regulation
- Post-War Civil Aviation, 1945-1970
Photo: A Robertson/Australian Heritage Photographic Library
Despite its isolation and small population, Australia was significant in the origins of aviation, entirely because of the work of the wealthy gentleman-inventor, Lawrence Hargrave (1850-1915) who devoted much of his life to the development of flight. He had engineering experience (in the Pyrmont workshops of the Australasian Steam Navigation Company), as well as artistic talent and serious anthropological research experience in two expeditions to New Guinea. It was an interesting and valuable background for the inventor, responsible for two important steps in aviation. One was his rotary compressed air engine of 1889, which, while it was never sufficiently developed to propel an aircraft, anticipated much future engine development. The other was the box kite. He lifted himself into the air with an arrangement of box kites at his Stanwell Park property (inherited with the nearby coal mines which made his career as an independent inventor possible) in November 1894.
The box kite was the basis of most early German and French aeroplanes. Hargrave refused to patent the concept, believing in the free exchange of ideas, and was honoured for his work with a medal from the very progressive, when it came to aviation, Bavarian government. Indeed, his kites were accepted by the same government for exhibition in its Deutches Museum in Munich, then (and still) one of the world's greatest technological museums. He had rather less success with his many designs for a steam engine to power an aeroplane. After the first flight of the Wright Brothers in North Carolina in December1903, Hargrave realised that his role an inventor was at an end, largely because he was so far from the centres of aircraft development in the United States and Europe.1
Following the Wright brothers' flight, aeroplane manufacture did not rapidly become a commercial reality. It was not until the Wrights' visit to France in 1908 that their invention's significance was really appreciated, and the first man to demonstrate its commercial and military potential was the Frenchman Louis Blériot, who flew across the English Channel from Calais to Dover in 37 minutes on 25 July 1909. The American aviator, C.P. Rogers, flew across the Union from New York to Los Angeles in 1911, but the journey took him seven weeks and he had eighty stops and five major crashes on the way, for a trip that could be done in safety and comfort by train in five days. More encouragingly, the French aviator Roland Garros crossed the Mediterranean flying 512 miles non-stop in 1913.2
Meanwhile, in Australia, the Commonwealth Government was so impressed by Blériot's feat that in 1909 it offered a prize of 5,000 to the Australian inventor of an aeroplane suitable for military purposes. The conditions were rather onerous: it had to carry two persons and be capable of 'poising' in the air. Twenty-one aviators entered but none ever claimed the prize. Ironically, the first Australian to design a successful aeroplane, the young Victorian electrical engineer John Duigan (1882-1951), did not enter due to his accurate perception that the conditions were impossible. In fact 'poising' merely meant that the aircraft could turn within a half-mile circuit, but Duigan discovered this too late. At any rate, he made his first successful flight in an aeroplane of his own design and construction, with a Melbourne-built engine, on his family grazing property near Mia Mia on 16 July 1910. Duigan later went on to be a brave aviator wounded over France in World War I, and to work in quality control for the Royal Australian Air Force in World War II.3 Imported aircraft, built in aeroplane factories established in the United States and Europe, including by the entrepreneurial Wright brothers, were far more effective than amateur-built machines like Duigan's. The first two controlled flights in the country had been made in March 1910 using imported machines, one by the famous American daredevil Harry Houdini. More importantly, a visiting French aviator named Maurice Guilleaux carried Australia's first ever airmail from Melbourne to Sydney in July 1914. This was just three years after the world's first airmail operation, also by a Frenchman in a British possession, out of Allahabad in India.
Other events that month, though, were to have a much greater impact on the aviation industry, for World War I was a great stimulus to aviation, as to so much else. This was especially true of the main combatants, Britain, France and Germany. In Britain, for instance, the aviation industry went from employing a couple of hundred to 350,000 persons between 1914 and 1918, and built over 50,000 aircraft.4 This was extraordinary growth, even more spectacular than the roughly contemporary but more measured growth of the motor industry or even than the railway booms of the 1830s and 1840s. In Australia, the Commonwealth established the Australian Flying Corps, as part of its contribution to the war effort, and the Central Flying School at Point Cook in Victoria to train airmen. These men, or at least those who survived, had acquired the skills needed to fly aeroplanes in the harsh conditions of combat, and formed the core of pilots who established civil aviation in Australia.
They returned with aeroplanes as well as skills, and many set themselves up offering joy flights to the public and generally enjoying a reckless sort of freedom in the new totally unregulated aviation industry. Such activities they called barnstorming. This situation could not last long. An international convention in Paris in October 1919 led to the establishment of some civil regulations for aviation. Australia thus became a signatory to the International Convention for the Regulation of Aerial Navigation which determined the principles of the sovereignty of airspace relating to a country's territory. These regulations included the principle of freedom of safe passage of aircraft and licensing to ensure the quality of aircraft and pilots. The Australian response to the Convention was the Air Navigation Act of 1920, which saw the establishment of a Civil Aviation Branch, overseen by the Controller of Civil Aviation and administered by the Department of Defence. Colonel Horace C Brinsmead MC was appointed Controller of Aviation and the branch was divided into three sections: Superintendent of Aerodromes; Superintendent of Flying; and Superintendent of Aircraft and Engineering. Victoria Barracks at St Kilda in Melbourne became the branch headquarters.
The Act meant the Commonwealth acquired sites for airports and facilities, requiring staff to establish and maintain aerodromes and to clear land for emergency landing sites. The Act also required pilots, engineers and aircraft to be licensed, and proper skills standards set for the new industry. The first Commonwealth licences were awarded in 1921 when there were just 56 aircraft, 104 ground engineers, and 49 pilots licensed. Meanwhile, the Commonwealth was well aware that civil aviation had much to recommend itself to a country with large distances where population was so sparse that railways would never be viable and roads would remain very primitive. Prime Minister Billy Hughes had a populist and technically progressive streak, so offered a sensational prize of 10,000 for the first flight completed from England to Australia in less than thirty days. This was roughly the time the journey took by steamer.
The winners were the South Australian brothers Keith (1890-1955) and Ross Smith (1892-1922). Both had flown in World War I, Ross extensively in the Middle East campaign. Indeed, just as the War ended in November 1918, he was co-pilot on the pioneering British flight of a Handley-Page 0/400 bomber from Cairo to Calcutta, which he then prolonged to Timor in an unsuccessful attempt to be the first to fly through to Australia. A year later, with the incentive of Hughes' prize before them, they flew much the same route in a similar aircraft, a Vickers Vimy, from Hounslow near London to Darwin in 28 days. Both were immediately knighted, although Ross did not live long enough to enjoy either his wealth or status, dying in a plane crash in England in April 1922. Keith went on to be Vickers' Australian representative for the rest of his life, although without great success, as US rather than British civil aircraft would dominate the Australian market.5
The Smiths' England-Australia flight and Ross Smith's subsequent death established the pattern for the heroic age of Australian aviation, stretching through the 1920s and into the early 1930s. Australian aviators' feats at this time had three outstanding characteristics. First, extremely long flights, indeed the longest in the world, were an Australian speciality, since Australia's international and domestic geography demanded them. Second, it was extremely hazardous. All too many of Australia's pioneer aviators died in their machines, pushing them to (and beyond) the limits of mechanical potential and human endurance. And third, there was a strong element of entrepreneurship, and the pioneering flights often brought in considerable funds, often used to fund airlines or further flights. Distance was the key to the relentless pressure on these fliers, and the war experience in the Royal Flying Corps - where death was always an immediate possibility and where so many of their friends had been lost - gave them the psychological qualities to embark on such dangerous and often apparently foolhardy ventures.
The most famous of the aviators of the 1920s was Charles Kingsford Smith (1897-1935), son of a former clerk on the Canadian Pacific Railway. In his teens he trained as an engineer with the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. It was a typical aviator's background, with family interests in technology and transport. Returning from war service, 'Smithy' had a varied and not especially successful career as pilot and businessman. Disappointments were more frequent than successes, including being barred from the 1919 England-Australia race and failing to secure any of the airmail contracts tendered in the 1920s. His response was to form a partnership with the 'reckless and restless' Charles Ulm (1898-1934) to fly demonstration flights. These made their reputations.
Their inspiration was Charles Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic - the first ever - from New York to Paris in May 1927. This turned Lindbergh into a celebrity and probably the most famous man in the world. Smith and Ulm's first demonstration was less adventurous than Lindbergh's: a round-Australia circuit in 10 days 5 hours in June 1927. This success helped them secure New South Wales government as well as considerable private backing for the first ever trans-Pacific flight. In June 1928 they flew from Oakland in California to Brisbane in ten days or just 83 hours 38 minutes flying time. This flight in a three-engine Fokker named Southern Cross was monumental in its impact much as Lindbergh's had been, although it was made by a larger plane with a crew of four, not a lone wolf. They flew three non-stop legs, from Oakland to Hawaii, then on to Suva, and finally from Suva to Brisbane (where the Southern Cross, following its withdrawal after nearly a decade in Smith's ownership, is exhibited to this day). It was truly pioneering and weather conditions in the tropics were challenging. The Honolulu to Suva flight of 2740 miles took 33 hours - slightly longer in time but rather slower than Lindbergh's flight - and was full of unknown tropical meteorological hazards. At its end fuel was critically low. Then in August 1928 Kingsford Smith flew non-stop from Point Cook near Melbourne to Perth and in September with Ulm non-stop from Sydney to Christchurch in New Zealand.6
1928 was something of an annus mirabilis for Australian aviation. For, as well as Kingsford Smith's flights in Southern Cross, the Queensland-born aviator Bert Hinkler (1892-1933) made the first-ever solo flight from England to Australia in an Avro Avian G-EBOV over just fifteen days in February. Hinkler had worked in the Sopwith aircraft factory in England in 1913 and 1914, before war service. After the war he made his career in aviation in England. Barred from the 1919 race to Australia, he established a number of early European records, flying from London to destinations such as Turin in Italy and even to Riga in Latvia. He also was chief test pilot for Avro for a number of years. His career peaked with his solo flight to Australia, which was followed by some successful and one failed solo trans-Atlantic flights. It was on this last that he died when his plane crashed in the Italian Apennines in April 1933.7 Even more improbable than Hinkler's career was that of Sir George Wilkins (1888-1958), a South Australian who became one of the world's last great explorers, mostly of the Arctic, and in April 1928 became famous for his pioneering flight over the Arctic from Alaska to Spitsbergen off Norway. It was certainly an unusual place for an Australian aviator to make a name for himself.8 More prosaically, 1928 was also the year when the world's first flying doctor service was established in Queensland.
P.G. Taylor's (1896-1966) reputation was made in more familiar circumstances. War service in the Royal Flying Corps was followed by work as a commercial pilot and a number of marriages. Many early Australian aviators seem to have led complicated emotional lives. He met Charles Kingsford Smith when Smith was running Australian National Airlines Ltd, as discussed below, and, after the airline's collapse, joined 'Smithy' and Ulm in some adventurous flying. It was on one of these ventures, as navigator on the now rather elderly (by early aeroplane standards) I that he achieved renown. On 15 May 1935 'Smithy' was flying the plane full of airmail from Sydney to New Zealand, in commemoration of George V's jubilee, when oil pressure was lost on the port engine. Taylor, with extraordinary courage, walked along the wing and transferred oil in a thermos flask from the starboard to port engine no fewer than ten times, as Smith struggled to fly back to Sydney. All on board survived that flight, although the mail did not, most of it being jettisoned to keep the plane flying. It was for such reasons that the Post Office remained wisely hesitant about intercontinental airmail. Taylor went on to make pioneering flying boat flights from Port Hedland, Western Australia to Mombassa in Kenya in June 1939 and from Sydney to Chile via Tahiti and Easter Island in 1951. These were the first ever flights between these continents. The Catalina flying boat he used for the latter, Frigate Bird II, is exhibited at Sydney's Powerhouse Museum.9
Kingsford Smith and Ulm were not as lucky as Taylor, who survived to enjoy his last years sailing around Pittwater near Sydney. Both were close to ruined by the collapse of their airline, and in 1932 (the same year he was knighted) 'Smithy' was even reduced to giving joy flights and running (at a loss) a flying school at Mascot. They managed to scrape together sufficient resources for their last ventures - some together, some separately - between 1933 and 1935. The hazards, though, were still enormous on the long flights over water. We know of Taylor's courage because he and Smith survived their brush with death over the Tasman in May 1935. However, we know nothing of how Ulm died, somewhere in the Pacific between California and Hawaii, on 3 December 1934; or how Smith died, somewhere in the Gulf of Bengal between Allahabad in India and Singapore, on 7 November 1935.
The deaths of Hinker, Ulm and Kingsford Smith in consecutive years marked a sad coda to the heroic age of Australian aviation. It had been characterised by the extremely long flights over water which claimed the lives of all three. The last great pioneering air race was in October 1934 from London to Melbourne via compulsory stops in Baghdad, Allahabad, Singapore, and Darwin and any other stops the pilots cared or had to make. It was organised to celebrate the centenary of the city of Melbourne and called the MacRobertson Air Race after the Melbourne confectioner who sponsored it. The winners, in a British DH88 Comet built especially for racing, completed the journey in just less than three days. More significantly, though, the second aircraft to arrive was a new Douglas DC2 commercial airliner flown by a regular KLM Royal Dutch Airlines crew. This all-metal aircraft was very much a harbinger of the future.
Flying, though, was still an adventurous business. Two of the 20 entrants crashed, one with the loss of all crew, and even the KLM DC3 was forced down by storms onto Albury racetrack, just 190 miles from its destination. Taking off from the sodden field was so difficult that most of the plane's passengers and mail had to make the last leg by train. Nonetheless, the Dutch (and the Americans who had made the plane) made a crucial point - a modern commercial airliner with a significant load of passengers and mail was almost as fast as and far more comfortable than a racing machine, and could fly at a profit too. Thus, by 1935, although aviation was not yet quite routine, commercial flying was certainly an increasingly important part of the Australian transport and communication scene, especially where roads and railways were poor.
As soon as the legislative framework for civil aviation was established by the Air Navigation Act of 1920, the Commonwealth moved to begin airmail services, calling for tenders for four routes, two over busy intercapital routes, two in remote districts beyond railheads. The latter two were from Geraldton to Derby in Western Australia and from Charleville to Cloncurry in Queensland while the intercapital routes were from Sydney to Adelaide and Brisbane.
These tenders were not fiercely contested, as financing airlines was anything but easy. The Geraldton to Derby route was won by Western Australian Airways Ltd, established in 1921 by Major (later Sir) Norman Brearley. He had had a distinguished career in the Royal Flying Corps and had been severely wounded and forced down in no man's land. It had been a lucky escape but the experience would stand him in good stead for flying in the wilds of the outback. The route involved flying 1,260 miles along the west coast of Australia via Carnarvon, Onslow, Roebourne, Port Headland and Broome weekly as a return trip passenger, mail and parcels service. Initially he had used two Avros he had brought to Perth for barnstorming, - or flying around giving exhibition flights - but on winning the contract Brearley ordered six Bristol aircraft from England. However, he was unable to pay for them until financial support came from H.V. McKay (of the famous Harvester Works in Melbourne). Thus, with McKay's assistance, WAA became the first regular airmail service to operate in Australia when it took off in December 1921. Although the first flight ended in tragedy, with a pilot and a passenger killed, WAA persevered and in 1924 extended the route to Perth. Within ten years the airline was flying the British Empire's longest air route - from Wyndham to Perth and on to Adelaide - in a DH66 aircraft. The airline was subsidised for its airmail services, but was unable to withstand the financial pressures of the Depression and was acquired by Adelaide Airways Ltd in 1936, with its fleet of 21 aircraft.
The winners of the Sydney-Brisbane and Sydney-Adelaide tenders took far longer to get into the air. The Sydney to Adelaide tender for a weekly return air service via Cootamundra, Narrandera, Hay and Mildura had been won by the Larkin Aircraft Supply Co (Lasco), but the contract was not finalised until October 1923. However, because of lingering Commonwealth doubts as to the airworthiness of Larkin's machines, the company's founder, Herbert Joseph Larkin (1894-1972) formed Australian Aerial Services Ltd in 1924 as a partnership with Major Frank Roberts who had won the Sydney to Brisbane tender. At last services on the Adelaide to Sydney route commenced on 2 June 1924, but it was a disaster due to continual poor and dangerous weather at notoriously foggy Cootamundra and the whole route was dropped the following year. The Brisbane service never even began. Undaunted, Larkin went on to establish Murray Valley Aerial Services Ltd in 1930, servicing Melbourne, Adelaide and some points between them, but it too did not prosper. 'Tactless and impatient' and twice married, Larkin constantly argued with Commonwealth authorities and was no stranger to litigation. He sold his insolvent airline assets to New England Airways in 1934 then moved to Europe forever in 1937.10
By far the most successful tenderer in 1921 was for the least promising route, from Charleville to Cloncurry in outback Queensland. However, the small population it served was more than compensated for by the fact that flying conditions were very safe and there were no roads, railways or ships offering competition as on the other routes. The successful tenderer was a small company founded in November 1920, the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Pty Ltd, usually known by its improbable acronym Q.A.N.T.A.S. Given the very high mortality rate of early Australian airlines (and indeed of their passengers and crews!), the survival of Q.A.N.T.A.S. to be the world's second oldest airline (after KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, whose operations had begun a year earlier with a summer only service between Amsterdam and London) appears miraculous. In fact, though, it was due to good planning; initially modest and achievable aims; sound business practice; and a continuity in management more reminiscent of the government railways than of the transient airlines of the inter-war period. Hudson Fysh, the pilot of its first flight in 1922, retired as Chairman in 1966, his last decisions concerning the ordering of Boeing 747 'jumbo jet' aircraft.
The airline's founders were Fysh (1895-1974), Paul McGuiness (1896-1952) and Fergus McMaster (1879-1950). Fysh and McGuiness had both been military aviators in the Middle East and had hoped to enter the 1919 England-Australia air race. They lacked the resources for this, so instead contracted to survey the route from Katherine in the Northern Territory to Longreach in Queensland. This took them 51 days in a Model T Ford, and convinced them that air services could be viable in this part of the country, where there were neither railways nor trafficable roads but where there was a sparse population making good money in a widely dispersed pastoral industry. McMaster was one of these men, a wealthy grazier near Cloncurry. McGuiness literally stumbled across McMaster whose car had broken an axle in the Cloncurry River, and promptly persuaded the grazier to support the venture. It would prove to be an investment McMaster never had any cause to regret. Arthur Baird, McGuiness and Fysh's former flight sergeant, was the company's first employee as engineer, a position he retained until retirement in 1949. Baird proved to be an inspired choice, for he was brilliant at his job, both in the early improvising days and later as manager of a large maintenance and engineering team. His engineering leadership (together with its good fortune of flying in the clear inland skies during the hazardous and experimental early years of civil aviation) gave Q.A.N.T.A.S. its unique record of safety. This record and its consistent profitability enabled this local enterprise to become one of the world's leading airlines.
The company was based at Longreach, until it moved to Brisbane in 1929. Taking delivery of its first aircraft, an Avro 504K in January 1921, Q.A.N.T.A.S. relied on charter work until the scheduled airmail service began between Charleville and Cloncurry on 2 November 1922. Expansion through the 1920s was rapid, as the airline provided services that were a genuine necessity and could cut days or even weeks from travel time, rather than a decidedly uncomfortable and dangerous luxury only cutting hours, as was the case with operations between Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. When services began to Brisbane in 1929, the airline had outgrown its outback origins, although these remained at the core of its business. It was an unromantic and mundane way to start an airline compared to Kingsford Smith's heroics, but it was safe, profitable and useful.
Kingsford Smith, meanwhile, had established his own airline, Australian National Airways, in January 1930. Things had gone wrong from the beginning, with Smith and Ulm being stranded on a remote Western Australian dry river bed for a more than fortnight in April 1929 while flying the Southern Cross to England to buy aeroplanes for the venture. Two men died while trying to rescue them. Smithy was always more interested in adventures than running an airline, so while ANA was settling down in 1930, he was breaking solo records with flights from Ireland to Newfoundland and from London to Darwin in under ten days. ANA quickly developed a network linking Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Launceston and Hobart, but it did not endure long. On 31 March 1931 ANA's almost new Avro 10 aeroplane Southern Cloud crashed in the Snowy Mountains on a Sydney-Melbourne flight with the loss of all passengers and crew. It was Australia's first major aviation disaster. The wreck was not found until 1958. Kingsford Smith, instead of staying around to try to recover ANA's position, preferred flying experimental airmail routes between Australia and southeast Asia. ANA's collapse was the inevitable result.
There was a perception of unfairness of the Commonwealth's treatment of ANA, for it received no contracts or subsidies whereas the more successful WAA and Q.A.N.T.A.S. did. Kingsford Smith's mercurial personality and political naivety in flirting with the quasi-fascist New Guard did not help the airline either. ANA flew more miles and carried more passengers, but it did these over routes parallelling good rail services (or steamer services in the case of Tasmania) which could carry far greater quantities of mail more cheaply, more reliably and quickly enough for next day delivery. Even on ANA's busiest route between Sydney and Melbourne, most passengers - even the richest - continued to prefer the relative comfort and complete security of a sleeping berth, despite the change of train at dawn in Albury, to the risk of a sudden death in the skies. In contrast, WAA and Q.A.N.T.A.S. flew where there were mostly clear skies; either no trains or very slow and infrequent ones (Brisbane to Cloncurry, for instance, was a four day train trip); and exceptionally poor roads.11
During the 1920s and 1930s there was a rapid improvement in aeroplane design, and from 1924 enclosed cabins became the norm for passenger and mail aircraft. These meant that passengers were no longer true aviators, wearing goggles and helmets. Multiple engines, often three at this time, also improved aircraft reliability. The really big step, though, came with the new generation of all metal planes. The US-designed and built Lockheed Electra and the Douglas DC2 were the first of these. Although a KLM DC2 had flown to Melbourne in the air race of 1934, it was not until the lifting of the ban on importing non-British aircraft in 1937 that they were used in Australia. The new generation of all-metal planes had climate control, retractable landing gear, good insulation and cruising speeds of around 170mph. They were an enormous advance on the largely timber and linen aircraft of the early 1930s. The United States was manufacturing far more comfortable and advanced passenger aircraft suitable for Australian conditions than Britain, whose short distances and highly developed rail network meant that aviation had little in the way of a domestic transport role. They showed the ability to perform the long-distance tasks Australia needed with KLM's introduction of a DC2 service from Amsterdam to Batavia (modern Jakarta) in just five and a half days in May 1935. The service between Holland and the Netherlands East Indies was similar in importance and distance to the England-Australia route, and at this stage the Dutch, using American aircraft, were well in front.
By 1931 aviation was sufficiently developed for the Commonwealth to consider an experimental airmail service between Australia and Britain. Flying was still a dangerous business, though, and the venture's first casualty was none other than H. C. Brinsmead, controller of the Civil Aviation Branch. He as a strong advocate of the development of a passenger and mail air service from England to Australia, and was en route to England to negotiate the concept when his plane crashed just after take-off from Bangkok.12 He survived but was so badly injured that he never worked again. The outward leg in April 1934 was less than a brilliant success, since the Imperial Airways DH66 taking the mail from Karachi to Darwin crashed at Kupang in Dutch Timor. However, the return leg went smoothly. Q.A.N.T.A.S. carried the mail from Brisbane to Darwin, from where Charles Kingsford Smith took it on to Akyab in Burma in his 'old bus', as he now referred to the I. From Burma, the British company Imperial Airways took the mail on to London via India. The relative success of this trial prompted the Commonwealth to call tenders in 1933 for 'Aeroplane services for the conveyance of Mails, Passengers and Goods' between Britain and Australia on a regular basis. The Australian end of the service was to be divided into three parts: the overseas from Singapore to Darwin; the eastern from Darwin to Brisbane and on to Cootamundra; and the Western from Katherine to Perth.13
The choice of Cootamundra as the terminus of the England-Australia air route was extremely curious. It was based on the principles that the town was mid-way between Sydney and Melbourne and not far from Canberra, and that passengers and mail could proceed from there to Sydney or Melbourne by rail. It was a less than ideal choice though, as Cootamundra was plagued by the foggy weather which had been Larkin's nemesis back in 1924. Moreover, the express trains between Sydney and Melbourne passed through the town in each direction at the unwelcoming hours of 2 and 3am! The proposal was widely and rightly ridiculed, but the Commonwealth persevered, and for nearly four years passengers and mail from London to Sydney and Melbourne were deposited at Cootamundra. This unlikely terminus was reached by a Butler Air Transport DH84 Dragon connecting with the Darwin-Brisbane Q.A.N.T.A.S. flight at Charleville.14
Q.A.N.T.A.S.'s successful tender for the northern section began its transformation from an outback carrier to an intercontinental airline. In January 1934 Imperial Airways and Q.A.N.T.A.S. set up a subsidiary owned half by each called Qantas Empire Airways (QEA or, more commonly known simply as Qantas) with Hudson Fysh as Managing Director. On 10 December 1934 the first regular service left Brisbane for Darwin and connection with Imperial Airways services on to Singapore, India and England. The Duke of Gloucester, then on a Royal Tour of Australia, presided over the inauguration of the service by DH50 and DH61 biplanes at Brisbane. These were by then decidedly old-fashioned aircraft, but Q.A.N.T.A.S. was not given to extravagance. In any case, importation of more advanced American metal planes was still prohibited. From February 1935 until July 1938 larger DH86 biplanes operated the service, and from April 1935 Qantas took over the Darwin to Singapore leg from Imperial Airways, thus becoming an international airline.15
Had it wished, Qantas could have imported Electras or DC2s after 1937 but, as this was an imperial service, the airline had no choice other than to stick with British machines. Thus was ushered in the era of the Empire flying boats. These took off and landed on harbours, rivers or lakes, and the new termini were Sydney, where Qantas set up a base at Rose Bay, and Southampton. Cootamundra's improbable career as the terminus of the world's longest air service came to an end, and Qantas moved its headquarters from Brisbane to Sydney. A decade earlier they had been in Charleville! Services began in July 1938 (with Lady Mountbatten a passenger on the first flight out of Sydney) and ran three times a week. The decision to introduce flying boats was taken in London without any consultation of either the Australian government or Qantas, but the concept was sound enough. The same plane flew through, with Qantas and Imperial Airways changing crews at Singapore. Passengers and crews slept overnight in hotels en route. Compared with the KLM Amsterdam to Batavia service by DC2 and later DC3, the Qantas and Imperial Airways service across the world was slow, but it was certainly more comfortable. Indeed, Hudson Fysh considered them the most comfortable aircraft ever built, and argued they were more suitable than KLM's DC2s for services over long stretches of water. In the single year of peace they operated they made a solid profit, maintained Qantas' extraordinary record of never injuring a passenger or flight crewmember, and were on time for 94 percent of their flights.16
Qantas' Empire flying boast services continued until 4 February 1942, when the last left a besieged Singapore just ten days before its fall to the Japanese. Over the next few months enemy action and accidents destroyed half the fleet of ten. Most Qantas services ceased during the War and its aircraft with their crews were either taken into military service or chartered for military use. Flying boat services were revived in July 1943, using American Catalina machines flying non-stop from the Swan River in Perth to Koggala Lake in southern Ceylon (Sri Lanka). From there, connecting services were provided on to England by the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC, as Imperial Airways had been renamed following its nationalisation). This 3,512 mile (5,652km) non-stop leg was the longest flown by a commercial airline to that time. At an average journey time of 28 hours, it remains the longest in time ever flown on a regular basis. The main cargo was fuel; so only very urgent mail and three passengers could be carried. The operation ended just before the War did, on 18 July 1945, and despite its hazards, lasted for two years without a single serious incident.
Meanwhile, so far as internal services were concerned, the 1930s saw a proliferation of airline companies. The most important was the reconstituted Australian National Airways Pty Ltd. This had its origins in Holyman's Airways, founded in 1932 by the Holyman family. After a number of mergers and takeovers, it grew on the (all too literal) wreckage of Kingsford Smith's company. The Holymans were wealthy Tasmanian ship owners, with pastoral interests in the Bass Strait islands, so they were well aware of the advantages of civil aviation in serving isolated and island communities. They also had far greater resources to back the airline than Kingsford Smith had ever had. The Holymans also were more astute politically than Kingsford Smith, and were able to work well with governments. While the older Holymans had been ships' captains before becoming ship owners, the younger generation (led by the future Sir Ivan Holyman, 1896-1957) were pilots who made a successful transition to being airline owners and operators. This, of course, was a great contrast with 'Smithy' who, for all his great reputation, manifestly lacked business and political nous.
Holyman's Airways began with services between Launceston and Melbourne, using a DH84 Dragon, DH86 Rapides and later DC2s. However, their strong financial situation, based on shipping, meant they were able to buy many small airlines at cheap prices in the depressed market of the early 1930s. In 1936 Adelaide Airways had taken over Western Australian Airlines, and in 1937 this group merged with Holyman's to form the second ANA. Meanwhile, the New South Wales regional carrier, New England Airways was absorbed in a new grouping called Airlines of Australia at the same time. Holyman in turn took over Airlines of Australia in 1942, giving ANA a clearly dominant position in Australian civil aviation. Thus, the Holymans' ANA was the airline with which most Australians flew on the main domestic routes linking Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Tasmania and Adelaide during the 1930s and into the war years.
Ivan Holyman's wife Hazel was also an unlikely aviation pioneer. She did not especially like flying, but in 1936 began training hostesses for ANA when Marguerite Grueber and Blanche Due became ANA's and Australia's first air hostesses. The provision of hostesses on aircraft was a significant step in the transition from the adventurous days of pioneering and decidedly uncomfortable flying to the safer, comfortable and even luxurious airliners of the late 1930s. This was just one year after the ever-progressive KLM had introduced the concept of the air hostess to the world. The aviation era coincided with the first wave of feminism, and women had been conspicuous among pioneer fliers. In an important Australian connection, the British pilot (or aviatrix in the twee language of the day) Amy Johnson, made a solo flight from England to Australia in 1930. However, the introduction of air hostesses meant that for the first time women could have careers with airlines.
The other successful tender for a leg of the England-Australia service, Butler Air Transport, was very much a one-man operation, headed by Cecil Arthur Butler (1902-1980). Butler had been a ground engineer with Larkin at Hay, before becoming a pilot and marrying into sufficient money to set up an airline. After the end of the airmail contract between Charleville and Cootamundra in 1938, he operated services around New South Wales and Queensland and during the war manufactured aircraft parts for the government.17
One of the most interesting pioneering airlines was Guinea Airways Ltd, which started in the mid 1920s as a one-plane operation called Guinea Gold, flying from Lae to Wau in the New Guinea goldfields. The airline bought heavy Junkers W31 and W34 aeroplanes from Germany to carry bulky freight to the extremely isolated area. It was even claimed that in the mid-1930s, Guinea Airways were carrying more freight than all other airlines in the world combined.18 The reason was simple: there were no roads, no railways, no navigable rivers, and scarcely any bridle paths into the region. The New Guinea goldfields could never have been exploited without air transport, and this was a real first for the new technology. For the first time ever, large pieces of machinery like dredges were airlifted in sections to their worksites.
Under these circumstances, Guinea Airways were profitable and in 1936 bought two Lockheed 10a all-metal aeroplanes to start more comfortable passenger services. These American aircraft were no great success in New Guinea, so the airline began operating an Adelaide-Darwin service. This was the start of its big move into South Australia and Northern Territory whose aviation market it soon dominated. The Territory services were especially popular, because, although the population was not great, there was no rail service and ships were infrequent and slow. By 1940 it had three Lockheed Electra 10a machines and three Super Electras (the 14h) in service and so was a serious air operation on the Australian mainland. This was just as well, since in 1942 Japanese fighters destroyed most of its New Guinea fleet and the area of its operation came under Japanese occupation. Under the post-World War II regulation of air services, in 1946 Guinea Airways was restricted to flying in South Australia and the Northern Territory, using DC3s, but retained its by then incongruous name until bought by Ansett in December 1959 and renamed Airlines of South Australia.
Ansett was the other big success story of the pre-World War II airlines. Founded by Reginald Miles Ansett (1909-1981 and known as Reg), the airline had its origins in his bus and trucking business and his consequent squabbles with Victoria's tough-minded Railways Minister, Robert Gordon Menzies. Ansett had acquired his flying licence in 1928, but began his transport enterprises with a car service between Ballarat and Maryborough. When Menzies legislated to prohibit road competition with Victorian Railways in 1935, Ansett bought a six-seat Fokker Universal aeroplane and began flights between Melbourne and Hamilton on 17 February 1936. His timing was fortuitous, since the Commonwealth began subsidising airlines at this time. Ansett Airways Ltd was listed on the Melbourne Stock Exchange the following year, and Ansett moved his operations from Hamilton to Melbourne's Essendon Airport, quickly extending services to Adelaide and Broken Hill.
Holyman, always looking for struggling airlines to absorb into his empire, moved in on Ansett and attempted to buy the airline. Independent in stance as ever, Ansett resisted and even managed to buy three Lockheed Electra 10a aircraft, despite the strain it put on his slender resources. Ansett's successful resistance to ANA was despite the desire of the Company's Chairman, Melbourne banker Ernest O'Sullivan to sell the airline, which could not afford to pay the import duty on its Electras, then sitting on Melbourne's docks under customs bond. Reg Ansett could be charismatic, and persuaded a meeting of shareholders to trust him and not sell out. They were swayed by Ansett's rhetoric, O'Sullivan's proposal was defeated, and the Chairman resigned. It was a narrow escape (and not the last) from extinction for Ansett. World War II was both kind and hard on Ansett. It was hard because he was forced to abandon all his regular routes except Hamilton to Melbourne, and see his rival ANA take over nearly all the remaining domestic traffic. It was kind in that he secured a lot of charter work, especially for US forces, which meant that when the war ended his company was prosperous and ready for its great era of expansion.19
Not quite an airline, but certainly an important aviation service was the Australian Aerial Medical Service, which began operations out of the Q.A.N.T.A.S. base in Cloncurry in May 1928. It was yet another milestone in this great year for Australian aviation. This was the idea of a prominent Presbyterian clergyman, Rev John Flynn (1880-1951), who had founded the Australian Inland Mission and devoted his life to improving the life of the peoples of the outback. H.V. McKay's will allocated funds to set up the service and, when the Victorian industrialist died in 1926, Flynn set about getting doctors into the air over outback Australia. As an inveterate outback traveller, he knew Hudson Fysh well, so Q.A.N.T.A.S. agreed to provide a DH50a four-seater and pilot at the very good rate of two shillings per mile. Q.A.N.T.A.S. operated the service until 1949, and in 1954 it became the Royal Flying Doctor Service with its own fleet of aircraft.20 The service involved the meeting of two new technologies, aviation and the wireless, since the doctors were summoned to outback properties with small private radios, sometimes treadle powered since often electricity was not available. Wireless, indeed, was becoming an important part of aircraft control, and the relationship between the wireless and the aviation industry in the twentieth century was similar to that between the railway and the telegraph in the nineteenth. In both cases, new communications technology was employed to make new transport technology safer.
During the 1920s it was far easier to establish a viable aeroplane manufacturing business than it would be later, because early aircraft were so simple. The materials needed - quality timber and linen - were relatively cheap, and Australia had an excellent skill base in carpentry. Indeed, much the same skills needed to make a Cobb and Co coach or a railway passenger carriage were at the basis of aeroplane manufacture. Only the engines required skills of a different order, and these were mostly imported and in any case were not that much more complex than motor car engines.
For these reasons, the 1920s were the golden age of the small aeroplane manufacturer in Australia. Leading the field was the ever-tempestuous Herbert Joseph Larkin who, following a failed partnership with Sopwith, established the Larkin Aircraft Supply Co (LASCO) in 1920. Based on Coode Island at Fisherman's Bend near Melbourne, LASCO had a flying school, manufactured aircraft and published Wings, an aviation magazine. As early as 1929 LASCO designed and built Australia's first all-metal aircraft, the Lascoter which operated his Cootamundra to Mildura route via Junee, Urana, Berrigan, Tocumwal and Echuca. The failure of Larkin's airlines, however, brought LASCO into liquidation in 1934.21 Arthur Butler, who went on to found Butler Air Transport, also built a successful all-metal high-wing monoplane as early as 1930, although it had no subsequent commercial use.
Q.A.N.T.A.S. built seven of its own aeroplanes in its Longreach hanger between 1926 and 1928, neither so long after nor so far from where the last Cobb and Co coaches were built. All were DH50 biplanes built under licence from their designer, the English company de Havilland which then dominated aircraft sales throughout the British Empire. The completion of the first was a significant enough event for Lady Stonehaven, the wife of the Governor General, to make the long trip to Longreach to christen the plane on 26 August 1926. Six of the seven were given names suggestive of a wholesale ransacking of the classical dictionary, beginning with Iris and culminating in Hippomenes! Western Australian Airlines also built two DH50s in its own hangars in 1926.The career of Q.A.N.T.A.S. as an aircraft builder was brief for, as technology improved and aeroplanes became bigger, their construction in a place like Longreach became impossible. When de Havilland introduced its next generation of passenger and mail aeroplanes, the DH61, Q.A.N.T.A.S.'s talented engineer, Arthur Baird, who had overseen the DH50 project, decided that building DH61s was beyond the company's capabilities, and it reverted to importing them from England. Neither Q.A.N.T.A.S. nor its successor Qantas ever built another aeroplane, nor even used any Australian-built machines other than trainers.
De Havilland itself entered the Australian aircraft industry, initially in a sales and service role from 1927, but in 1930 began component manufacture at Mascot Airport in Sydney, moving into manufacture of its Tiger Moths in 1938 and from 1942 making Dragon communications aircraft. That year it opened a second production line at the new airport at Bankstown in Sydney where it built a total of no fewer than 212 Mosquito fighter-bombers. After the war, it completed the first of twenty light civil aeroplanes called the Drover in 1948. This was Australia's first all-metal civil aircraft and was used extensively by the Royal Flying Doctor Service. More significantly, in 1949 the first of 250 British-designed Vampire jet fighters emerged from the hangars at Bankstown.
World War II was the major stimulus to aeroplane manufacture in Australia, as can be seen from this brief account of de Havilland's operations. The vast majority of its output was for military rather than civil use. The increasingly insecure international environment from the mid-1930s prompted rearmament in Australia as elsewhere in the world. Military strategists were convinced that air-power would play a major and possibly decisive role in the next war they were all expecting, so, as rearmament began, so did aeroplane manufacture. Australia's civil aviation requirements could never support a manufacturing industry specialising in large passenger and mail aircraft (although it was a different story for smaller machines), but could certainly be developed to handle large military orders. Besides de Havilland, two other large aircraft manufacturing concerns were set up in the late 1930s, both more or less on the initiative of the Commonwealth government, although one was private and the other government-owned. These were the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) and the Beaufort Division, later known as the Government Aircraft Factories.
Essington Lewis, General Manager of BHP, was behind the creation of CAC in 1936, when informed that, in anticipation of the coming conflict, the Royal Australian Air Force (or RAAF as the old Australian Flying Corps had become) would need large numbers of aircraft and a local production capacity. BHP and General Motors Holden were the main partners in the enterprise, although other concerns joined later as well. L.J. Wackett was CAC's manager and he set up a factory at Fishermen's Bend near Melbourne (and also near Holden's plant) with amazing speed. He chose a US design both for the airframe and engine, and the resulting aircraft was known as the Wirraway. The first flew in March 1939, as the Germans marched into Prague, and over the war years it competed a total of 755 planes. While the Wirraway was no Spitfire or Zero - indeed by the mid 1940s it was a design ten years old and seriously obsolete - it did give the RAAF a basic fighter it otherwise would not have been able to deploy. CAC also built 200 Wackett trainers (named after the company's manager) in 1941 and 1942, and 250 Boomerang fighters (a faster and far more powerful development of the Wirraway) from 1942. Driven by wartime imperatives, the Boomerang was in production just fourteen weeks after Wackett approved the first rough drafts of its design. CAC also produced prototypes for the Woomera bomber and CA15 fighter, neither of which went into production.
The Beaufort Division initially was directly owned by the government through its Department of Aircraft Production, with management drawn from both private industry and the state government railways (which in many respects operated like private companies). Sir Harold Clapp, Chairman of the Victorian Railways Commissioners, headed the Aircraft Production Commission, which oversaw the project, while John Story (1896-1955) - an immensely talented and thoughtful engineer and industrial manager as well as son of a former New South Wales Labor premier - directed the Beaufort Division. He came from GMH to the task in the unpromising month of September 1939, setting up a factory at Fishermen's Bend next to CAC to manufacture the Bristol Aeroplane Company's Beaufort bombers under licence.
Although these were advanced aluminium aircraft requiring complex and hitherto untried assembly processes, the first flew as early as August 1941. During 1942 they were delivered at the rate of sixteen per month and in 1943 at 29 per month. The last of 700 was delivered in August 1944, by which time production had shifted to Beaufighter fighter-bomber, of which 364 were completed by the end of the war. Finally, it built an Australian version of the Lancaster bomber, the Lincoln, the first of which flew in March 1946. These were the largest aircraft ever built in Australia. The Beaufort project had relied initially on parts imported from Britain, but after June 1940 these were no longer available, and the aircraft and all their components were made in their entirety in Australia. As well as Fishermen's Bend, the Beaufort Division drew on the engineering resources of the government railways, especially in New South Wales, where the Chullora Railway Workshops built the Beaufort's aluminium wings and fuselages. These were then taken by train to Fishermen's Bend for fitting out and completion. This would later lead to interesting technology transfer, whereby the NSWGR became an enthusiastic user of aluminium in railway vehicles just after the war.22
The Australian aircraft manufacturing industry, which had employed a handful of persons in 1937, grew to employ more than 44,000 at its peak in 1944, and delivered about 3,500 aeroplanes, many of them - notably the Beaufighter and the Boomerang - highly advanced. After the war, the story of Australian aircraft manufacturing was one of steady decline. Demand for military aircraft naturally dropped dramatically, and both civil and military aircraft were ever more complex and specialised. In these circumstances, the best the Australian industry could do was look for a niche for itself, unable to compete with above all the enormous American industry. Even the British and French industries found this competition daunting, and by the 1960s were co-operating to build transport aircraft. The first fruit of this co-operation was the supersonic Concorde, and the next was the great European aviation success of the second half of the twentieth century, the Airbus series. The Government Aircraft Factories filled two niches at almost opposite ends of the aviation spectrum with its two main post-war projects, the Jindivik pilotless jet aircraft, of which over 500 were made over a period of nearly forty years from 1952, and the Nomad utility aircraft, especially designed for short landing and take-off, of which about 170 were built in the 1970s and 1980s.23 On the whole, though, machines imported from the United States and Britain met the aircraft needs of both the RAAF and civil airlines after the mid 1940s.
In the early days of aviation there were no airports. Aeroplanes simply took off and landed wherever there was suitable relatively smooth and dry ground. Showgrounds, sporting fields, farms and even beaches all were used. The era of improvised airfields lasted quite late. Probably the last significant instance was during the 1934 London to Melbourne air race, when the Dutch entrant, a DC2 landed in terrible weather on Albury showground, after the town's power supply was used to spell out its name in Morse code and its motorists formed a row of lights on the sodden showground to make out a runway. By 1934, though, such measures were for emergency purposes only and regular airports had been built in all major cities and not a few minor towns as well. The earliest permanent aerodromes were built just before World War I for defence purposes, including the Commonwealth's flying school at Point Cook and the New South Wales government's school at Richmond near Sydney.
One of the very first civil aerodromes in Australia - and always the most important - was at Mascot in Sydney. This was developed on a marshy grazing paddock bordered by a sewage farm, the Cooks River, a golf course and a declining racetrack, leased from the Kensington Racing Club in 1919 by Nigel Love (1892-1979), a former pilot in the Australian Flying Corps in France. Mascot proved to be an ideal site, close enough to the city to be readily accessible, but separated from it by an industrial area with its fair share of noxious industries. Under the Air Navigation Act of 1920, the new Civil Aviation Branch was responsible for licensing aerodromes, and Love was soon licensed. He began joy flights at Mascot, as well as assembling Avro aeroplanes there (including Q.A.N.T.A.S.'s first), and even carried the first ever paying passenger between Sydney and Melbourne. It was, however, far more difficult to make a living from aviation in Sydney than in Longreach, and Love's company went into voluntary liquidation in 1923. With the expiration of Love's lease, the Commonwealth resumed the land in the same year. Love went on to make his fortune in the more prosaic business of flour milling, although he returned to aviation as a Wing Commander training young pilots during World War II.24
Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Branch believed that aerodromes were far too important to be left to private entrepreneurs like Love, and had begun a process of rapid airport construction and development. The Branch's Superintendent of Aerodromes, Captain Edgar Johnston had recommended as much in a 1921 report, and it was on this basis that it took over Mascot and Albert Park (in Adelaide) and set up Essendon in Melbourne, Maylands in Perth and Eagle Farm in Brisbane. By 1927 there were 45 Commonwealth aerodromes, twelve private licensed aerodromes, two private fields and 91 emergency landing grounds in the country. In 1922 it had opened Essendon Airport in Melbourne, and by 1925 there were three hangars there, one owned by Lasco, another by the Civil Aviation Branch and the third by an aeronautical engineering company. The Branch began levelling and preparing gravel runways at the major aerodromes so they could be used in poor weather. Prior to this grass runways prevented take-offs if too wet, since they became heavy much like a racetrack. Gravel runways were not built at Sydney until as late as 1932, and it was not until 1935 and 1936 that AWA installed wireless facilities at Mascot and Essendon respectively. Mascot was named Kingsford Smith Airport in 1936. As early as 1930 there was some concern that Mascot might be too close to Sydney, but the Branch decided to persevere with it as a site, ultimately developing another field further from the city at Bankstown.
The Branch did move city airports quite extensively in the early period, abandoning Adelaide's Albert Park for Parafield, and then acquiring a new site closer to the city at West Beach during World War II. At the same time, it developed Perth's new airport at Guildford. In 1930 it moved Brisbane's main airport from Eagle Farm to Archerfield, although later commercial aviation returned to the original site. The Branch did not open Tasmania's first aerodrome, at Western Junction near Launceston, until 1930. At Hobart an interim airfield had been developed at Brighton, which was first used as early as 1920 and hosted ANA's regular transport services from 1931. However, it was not until 1936 that the Branch began work on Hobart's permanent airport at Cambridge.
Men from the Royal Flying Corps and the Australian Flying Corps dominated the Branch, which was still within the Department of Defence. This meant it had a command culture coupled with a strong ethos of service. Thus, it encouraged Aero Clubs to provide pilot training rather than private flying schools. Aero Clubs spread rapidly across the country during 1926 and 1927. During the 1930s the Branch expanded rapidly and underwent two major restructures, first becoming the Civil Aviation Board and then in November 1938 the Department of Civil Aviation. This at last separated civil aviation from defence, and meant that it now had its own minister in the government as well as a fully-fledged Director General. During World War II these were A.B. Corbett and Sir Daniel McVey, both men of considerable energy and authority. McVey in particular became the architect of Australia's post-war civil aviation regime and was subsequently a Qantas director.
On the eve of the Second World War, the Department of Civil Aviation built control towers and new terminals at Parafield, Mascot and Archerfield between 1938 and 1940. Technology improved rapidly during the war, and traffic expanded enormously, although little of it was conventional civil traffic. The creation of a network of meteorological stations, increasing use of radio, and the introduction of radar characterised these years. After the war, the Department had the challenge of taking over the multitude of former RAAF wartime fields and adapting most of them to civil requirements and dealing with the rapid expansion of the industry. Most importantly this involved the development of the concept of controlled air space, whereby major airports had air traffic control services and were surrounded by large areas of controlled space, managed from the ground by radio and radar. By 1959, 24 aerodromes had air traffic control and facilities were poised for the beginning of the jet age.
The jet age was a great stimulus to traffic, and both Sydney and Melbourne airports were soon showing the strain. The Department adopted different strategies in each case. Melbourne's Essendon airport was surrounded by housing and industry and had little prospect of expansion, so an entirely new site was developed on land bought at Tullamarine in 1961. The runway was completed in 1968, but the imminent introduction of 747 jumbo jets delayed its opening, and the runway was extended from 8,500ft (2,591m) to 12,000ft (3,658m) before the new airport was opened on 1 July 1970. Finding a new site for an airport at Sydney was not so easy, for precisely the same geographical reasons that a century earlier New South Wales' railways had been extended with so much more difficulty than Victoria's. Therefore, during the 1960s Mascot's main north-south runway was extended twice into Botany Bay, reaching a length of 13,000ft (3,962m) in 1972. The new international terminal opened at Mascot in 1970 proved to be inadequate almost as soon as it was completed once 747s started operating, demonstrating that the Department, for all its emphasis on planning, could scarcely cope with the growth in traffic brought by the jet age.
World War II left the Australian civil aviation industry in a parlous state, yet paradoxically poised for rapid expansion. While many aircraft had been destroyed or chartered by the military, and most services were suspended, a whole new generation of pilots had been trained in the forces, and there were large numbers of military aircraft, many of which were suitable for conversion for civil purposes. The Douglas C47, a development of the DC2, which could be converted readily to the DC3, was the most famous example, but there were many others, including Catalina flying boats and even British bomber aircraft.
The wartime Labor government was very keen on detailed post-war planning and had a conviction that government owned enterprises could contribute to a national economy better than private ones. During the war years airlines and their personnel (especially pilots) were very strictly controlled, and indeed were, in effect, under government management. The Labor government, despite its predisposition to nationalisation of private enterprises, was astute enough to realise that the aviation industry had been driven by the energies and enthusiasm of the entrepreneurs who created the private airlines. The Department of Civil Aviation released its Post-war Reorganization: Proposal Outline of a Plan for Civil Aviation in 1943. This document contained the first inklings of what would later become the post-war two-airline policy, whereby the Australian domestic aviation industry would be dominated by one government and one private airline, with local routes remaining the preserve of independent entrepreneurs.
These ideas were incorporated in the National Airlines Act of 1945. This established a government-owned airline known as Trans-Australian Airlines (TAA) and regulated the services of private airlines, largely on the basis of 1943 proposals. The Act survived a challenge to the High Court, since it did not actually nationalise an existing airline and was not seen to constitute a restraint on trade between states, so the two-airline policy became enshrined in Australian domestic aviation policy, lasting until the 1980s, and supported both by Labor and conservative coalition governments alike over that very long period.
TAA began operations in September 1946 and soon demonstrated that it was every bit as enterprising an airline as its private counterparts. The Labor government wisely remained at arm's length from its daily operations, which meant that its airline did not fall into the public service routine which came to debilitate so many aspects of the once-great state railway systems in the post-war period. While TAA's main task was operating the major interstate (and especially intercapital) routes which had been dominated by ANA, it also took over Q.A.N.T.A.S.'s internal Queensland and Northern Territory flights from 1949. From 1960 it also took over Qantas's flights to and within Papua-New Guinea. Qantas was influential in setting up TAA's operations, and in many ways the airline was a domestic clone of the international carrier. Its first General Manager, Lester Brain, was a Qantas official, and TAA's adoption of Qantas standards and practices gave it an excellent reputation from the beginning.25
TAA was well capitalised, and as early as September 1948 introduced Australia's first pressurised aircraft, the Convair 200, and in 1953 the first propjets used on domestic service, the British-built Vickers Viscount 700. TAA also had an enviable record of safety and punctuality, which meant it quickly became the preferred airline for domestic travel, leaving the older ANA in the relative doldrums. The two-airline policy meant that TAA and ANA operated over the same routes, at exactly the same fares, and even to the same timetables. TAA'a and ANA's competing infrequent flights to and from Perth, for instance, departed five minutes apart for decades, ensuring that passenger preference of travel time in no way would influence which airline they chose. Even new aircraft types had to be introduced simultaneously (on exactly the same day!) by each airline.
In many respects the airline which did best out of the post-war period of flux was Ansett. This was despite early Commonwealth hostility to Ansett's aspirations and its unpromising situation at the war's end. In 1940 Ansett had been very much a minor local airline, despite its ambitious - and almost ruinously expensive - purchase of Lockheed 10as back in 1937. It ceased flying regular routes altogether during the war, but, after the war, quickly re-entered the aviation market in rigorous, even desperate, competition with both ANA and the new government airline TAA. In this three-cornered contest for supremacy of Australia's domestic air routes, Ansett was very much the puniest contender.
Ansett bought three C37s and converted them to DC3s and re-established routes linking Melbourne with Canberra and Adelaide, with stops at Mt Gambier and Wagga Wagga respectively. In the highly regulated atmosphere of the time, Ansett was not permitted to duplicate ANA's non-stop services. Reg Ansett was a fierce critic of the emerging two-airline policy, which he felt - rightly - was squeezing him out. He always articulated a strong neo-liberal political conviction, although would later change his tune when it suited him. He felt that Commonwealth policy was shutting him out of expansion and preventing the transformation of Ansett into a powerful airline. He was congenitally hostile to Labor's post-war regulatory approach, but things did not get much better for him when a Liberal-Country Party coalition came to power in 1949, because the new prime minister was the same Robert Gordon Menzies, who had done so much to frustrate his business ambitions when Victoria's Railways Minister back in the 1930s. However, although Ansett was not especially friendly with Menzies, he was very close to the long-term Victorian Liberal premier of the 1950s and 1960s, Henry (later Sir Henry) Bolte. This support would be very valuable for Ansett, especially in the 1970s when Ansett itself became the target for unfriendly takeovers, and secured in Melbourne the political and economic power base the airline needed to thrive. Ansett was very much the Victorian airline, while TAA and Qantas equally were seen as very much indeed as Sydney airlines, despite Qantas' Queensland origins.
Reg Ansett was a creative entrepreneur, though, and diversified, buying ex-military flying boats to establish services with them, and moving into hotels. In 1946 he renamed the company Ansett Transport Industries, to reflect its wider operations. Ansett at this stage tended to operate as a cut-price airline, and was the first Australian airline to move into the leisure market and package holiday concept. In 1947 he began operating direct flights to Barrier Reef island resorts using Catalina flying boats. At the time this was a highly novel concept. He also continued to operate road services, concentrating on interstate trucking and coach operations in competition with the government railways. By 1962 his Pioneer Coaches were operating a fleet of 245 vehicles carrying passengers all over the country. Ansett was the first airline in Australia to move aggressively into airfreight, and in 1956 imported its first Carvair nose-loading freight aeroplane. Ansett's big opportunity came in 1957 when Sir Ivan Holyman died, leaving ANA in some managerial difficulties, with an aging fleet, and without a strong leader. In a daring and unexpected move, Ansett bought out ANA to create Ansett-ANA.26 Thus, ANA, which had become great through the Holymans' shrewd acquisition of struggling airlines at good prices, became a victim of its own tactics.27 Ansett thus acquired ANA's fleet of DC6s, but his other main rival, TAA, had superior British-designed and built Vickers Viscounts, so Ansett aggressively bought six of them to counter the government airline.
From being the two-airline policy's greatest critic, Reg Ansett became its firmest supporter. This almost Pauline conversion was a powerful demonstration of how self-interest could dampen the ardour of even the most enthusiastic of neo-liberals. His was an increasingly powerful voice in Australian business and politics after the takeover of ANA, and he was able to prevent TAA importing French Caravelle aircraft, which would have been the first jets to be used on Australian domestic routes. After Ansett's takeover of ANA the two-airline policy hardened, and the Airlines Equipment Act of 1958 specified government regulation of what aircraft they could buy and much else as well. Ansett expanded rapidly during the late 1950s and 1960s, taking over regional airlines like MacRobertson-Miller, Guinea Airways and Butler Air Transport. MacRobertson-Miller had been established by the same Melbourne confectioner who had sponsored the London-Melbourne race back in 1934. It served Western Australia very effectively, but received considerable government subsidies on the condition that profits did not exceed 7.5 percent. Naturally enough this inhibited investment in new aircraft, a situation that changed with the Ansett takeover.
In October 1964 Ansett began flying domestic services with jet aircraft, using the first of many Boeing 727s imported into Australia through the 1960s and 1970s, following the toss of the coin between Reg Ansett and the General Manager of TAA for the honour! Because of its many regional airline acquisitions, Ansett was able to become the world's largest operator of Fokker Friendship aircraft, which were ideally suited for the light loads of such operations. This progressive fleet acquisition policy saw Ansett become the country's leading domestic airline by 1969, thus breaking TAA's twenty-year hold on that status. That achievement was very much due to Sir Reginald Ansett's decisive, very personal and often inspiring leadership, which lasted from the Company's foundation almost until his death in 1981.28
Minor airlines, generally operating within one state, remained outside the two-airline policy. Some, such as Guinea Airways, were quite substantial enterprises, while others were very much the initiatives of a lone entrepreneur. In most cases, right through to the 1970s their main competition remained the state railways, whose sleeping cars were cheaper, more comfortable and safer, if a lot slower, than the planes operating on such routes. These airlines did best where distances were very long, such as Guinea Airways operation in South Australia and the Northern Territory, the Western Australian operation of MacRobertson-Miller Airlines, and in Queensland. New South Wales and Victoria, where distances were shorter, also had the best trains and best roads in Australia, so air services in those states tended not to convey as large a percentage of traffic as in the bigger states. However, by the late 1960s, it was a New South Wales airline, the Tamworth-based East West Airlines whose ambitions most challenged the two-airline policy.
In the early post-war period Butler Air Transport was one of the more successful smaller airlines and kept its independence for longer than most. It became a public company after the war with 51 percent of its shares owned by employees, then a radical concept indeed. Butler survived in the unfriendly atmosphere of the two-airline policy, resisting a takeover bid by ANA in the early 1950s through litigation, and even gaining access to Melbourne following the purchase of two Vickers Viscounts in 1955. However, after 1957 Ansett began buying Butler shares, culminating in Ansett's takeover in 1958. Butler Air Transport promptly disappeared into the Ansett combine. Butler, having lost his airline but flush with cash from the forced sale of his shares, attempted to re-establish himself and import French Caravelle jets for a new operation, but the government refused to allow him to do so. He retired, honoured and admired, to write a valuable history of Australian civil aviation.29
Thus, Australia's post-war civil aviation history up to 1970 was much less complex than its pre-war history. A government airline, TAA, dominated the skies, with its private rival - ANA until 1957, Ansett thereafter - parallelling its services in a parody of competition. Minor airlines on the periphery nibbled away at the duopoly, but without much success, except in the case of Ansett, which was able to transform itself from a peripheral into a major airline in 1957; and, by astute takeovers and strategic alliances with regional airlines, dominate the domestic aviation industry by 1970.
Post-war international aviation history in Australia was even simpler, since until the 1980s it involved only one airline, Qantas Empire Airways, later simply Qantas. In 1947 the Chifley Labor government nationalised Qantas Empire Airways, buying out the shares held both by BOAC and Q.A.N.T.A.S. at market prices. Hudson Fysh recognised that nationally-owned airlines were becoming the norm everywhere except in the United Sates; so, far from resisting nationalisation, he worked closely with the government to make it a success. Chifley even personally approved making a special payment to retiring chairman Fergus McMaster in recognition of his services in getting the airline going. Fysh became chairman of the nationalised Qantas, while the directors of the original Q.A.N.T.A.S. voted to wind up the company and sell its assets, since TAA was taking over its routes in Queensland. Fysh would remain chairman of Qantas until he retired in 1966, 45 years after he had been one of its founders.30 Fysh and Chifley agreed to retain the name Qantas rather than adopt something like the anodyne Australian Overseas Airways Corporation, which was favoured in some quarters. In this the businessman and Labor prime minister were at one in understanding the potent qualities of nationalism and modesty in retaining for the country's international airline a name standing for Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services.
A major theme in Qantas' post-war history is decolonisation, as it moved from being Qantas Empire Airways to Qantas the Australian Airline. This was a long and at times painful process. For much of the period, traffic on its busiest route, the Kangaroo Route from Sydney to London, was operated in a British Commonwealth pool which brought together BOAC, Air India and QEA. In late 1947, just after nationalisation, Qantas began its first service outside British possessions. This was a weekly flight using a Lancastrian (a converted British bomber) from Sydney to Tokyo via Darwin and Manila. This was intended to serve the Australian troops occupying parts of Japan following its defeat, but was the beginnings of Qantas's entry into its most lucrative market - travel between a revived post-war Japan and Australia. The Lancastrians were soon replaced by DC4s and a service added to Hong Kong. This was about to be extended to Shanghai when the Chinese Civil War led to its deferment for no less than forty years.
Post-war aircraft purchases were a contentious issue, and Fysh and his staff were determined to have the most modern and efficient aircraft possible. On the whole, this meant American aircraft. The Lockheed Constellation, with its elegant shape and triple tail, was the aeroplane of choice for its long routes, and the Douglas DC3 and DC4, developments of the wartime C47 (or Dakota, itself based on the DC2 of the type which KLM had flown to Melbourne so impressively as long before as 1934), for shorter and less busy routes. By 1949 Qantas had four Constellations, fifteen DC3s and five DC4s, as well as its flying boats and a few older British machines.31 During the early 1950s, the British were developing the world's first passenger jet aircraft, the Comet, and put heavy pressure on Qantas and the Australian government to order them. However, Fysh was sceptical of the Comet's economics, and successfully resisted its purchase, ordering instead Lockheed's development of the Constellation, the longer and more powerful Super Constellation. This proved to be a wise decision, for the Comet was not only uneconomic, it was also unsafe, and soon began crashing at alarming rates. The Comet failures wrought havoc with BOAC's operations and reputation. It was a narrow escape for Qantas from what would have been a disastrous purchase.
Qantas moved into the trans-Pacific market at the end of 1953, when it acquired British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines, an imperial enterprise with considerable Australian management which had begun flying across the Pacific in competition with the US giants, Pan American and Trans World Airlines, just after the war. This was known as the Southern Cross route, and had been preceded a year earlier by the inauguration of Qantas's trans-Indian Ocean route to Johannesburg via Perth, Cocos Islands and Mauritius in September 1952. The fortnightly South African service was none too profitable, but the Pacific route quickly became one of Qantas's most important. In January 1958 these long trans-oceanic services were united with the establishment of round the world services by Qantas Super Constellations. Qantas was the first, and one of very few airlines ever, to operate commercial services around the globe. The trans-Atlantic services did not survive the deregulation and intense competition on that route after 1980 but, for more than twenty years, Qantas was a world pioneer in encircling the globe with its own aircraft.
The next year Qantas achieved another first when it became the first airline outside the United States to operate Boeing 707 jet aircraft. Boeing had learned from the mistakes of the Comet and drew on its own experience as the builders of US high-altitude bomber aircraft to develop the 707, easily the world's most successful jet passenger aircraft to that time. Services using 707s began in July 1959 and, by the time Sir Hudson Fysh retired in June 1966, the airline was operating 19 of them. Propeller aircraft were phased out and the fleet standardised with 707s. The contemporary age truly began for Qantas in 1967, when the airline changed its name from Qantas Empire Airways to simply Qantas Airways Limited. The Empire of its name no longer existed, and the old imperial traffic sharing arrangements on the Kangaroo route were fading, especially as on their long flights to London the 707s no longer needed to stop in India, once so important a part of the imperial aviation network. In the same year Qantas ordered from Boeing the first of its 747 jumbo jets (having decided not to buy the first series a year earlier), which was delivered in September 1971.
The transformation of the old Q.A.N.T.A.S. into the Qantas of the early 1970s was a remarkable achievement. It was, in a typical Australian way, a partnership of government and private enterprise. The most amazing thing about the rise of Qantas was its bush origins. Yet it was the isolation and harshness of the bush that had made Q.A.N.T.A.S. such a needed, respected and, it must be added, profitable airline in the first place. Its original base, astride the main air route from Darwin to Sydney and Melbourne (and hence from England to Australia), gave it the edge when the time came to tender for the first regular England-Australia airmail services.
Thus, aviation technology enabled Q.A.N.T.A.S to turn into positive advantages the distances, harsh environment and sparse traffic of the outback - the very same factors which had so inhibited the development of transport and communication in Australia and made life so difficult for the builders of remote projects like the Overland Telegraph and transcontinental railways. So, its outback location gave Q.A.N.T.A.S. the opportunities to expand far beyond its origins. However, it was its extremely astute management, both when privately and government-owned, that enabled it to take advantage of these opportunities and so transform in into one of the world's largest and longest-lived international carriers. Qantas is far from synonymous with Australian civil aviation - there have been many other important players - but from its unlikely and unprepossessing origins, it certainly has dominated.
1 ADB, Vol 9, pp 196-198.
2 A. Scott Berg, Lindbergh, London, Macmillan, 1998, pp 61-62.
3 ADB, Vol 8, p 360.
4 C.H. Gibbs-Smith, Aviation: an historical survey, London, H.M. Stationery Office, 1970, pp 1-35.
5 ADB, Vol 11, pp 654-656.
6 ADB, Vol 9, pp 599-601.
7 ADB, Vol 9, pp 305-307.
8 ADB, Vol 12, pp 488-490.
9 ADB, Vol 12, pp 183-185.
10 ADB, Vol 9, p 674.
11 ANA was flying 584,000 miles, WAA 300,000 miles and Qantas 100,000 in regular service at the time. See C. Arthur Butler, Flying Start: the history of the first five decades of civil aviation in Australia, Sydney, Edwards and Shaw, 1971, pp 20f.
12 ADB, Vol 7, pp 415-416.
13 Ibid, p 30.
14 John Gunn, The Defeat of Distance: Qantas 1919-1939, St Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1985, pp 177-179.
15 Ibid, pp 208-209.
16 Ibid, pp.244, 281, 356.
17 ADB, Vol 13, p 319.
18 Aviation retrospect: from Civil Aviation Branch to Department of Aviation, Canberra, Australian Government Publishing Service, 1985, p 8.
19 Kenneth Bond OAM, 'The 2002 Sir Norman Brearley Oration', 22 August 2002 is a fine account of Ansett's history by a man who worked for the airline for 54 years, beginning as a 14 year old recruited by Ansett himself at Hamilton airport in 1940. It can be found at http://www.spiritsofansett.com/history/Bond/Brearley.htm.
20 ADB, Vol 8, pp 532-533.
21 ADB, Vol 9, p 674.
22 ADB, Vol 16, p. 320-323.
23 S.S. Schaetzel, 'Post-War Aeronautical Design and Development in Australia', Sir Charles Kingsford Smith Memorial Lecture, Royal Aeronautical Society, Sydney, October 1986.
24 ADB, Vol 10, p 153. On Mascot see Jim Eames, Sydney Airport: Eighty Years as the Gateway to Australia, Edgecliff, Focus, 2000.
25 TAA, by then renamed Australian Airlines, ultimately would be absorbed by Qantas in 1992.
26 Ansett's takeover of ANA was something of a case of a fish swallowing a whale. It is ironic that Ansett suffered the same fate in 1996 when, by then a large international airline, it was bought by the very much smaller Air New Zealand, which so mismanaged its affairs that Ansett collapsed completely in bankruptcy five years later.
27 After 1972, Ansett in turn would become a victim of these tactics in the share market, with ultimately disastrous results for the airline.
28 Bond, 'The 2002 Sir Norman Brearley Oration'.
29 ADB, Vol 13, p 319. The book is Butler, Flying Start.
30 John Gunn, Challenging Horizons: Qantas 1939-1954, St Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1987, pp 212-220.
31 Ibid, p 263.