Qantas Celebrates 100th Birthday in Unfortunate Circumstances

Qantas Celebrates 100th Birthday in Unfortunate Circumstances
Qantas Dreamliner in a special centenary livery. Photo: Qantas.

Today, Qantas became just the third airline in the world after KLM and Avianca to turn 100 years old! It’s a remarkable achievement for the flying kangaroo, which began its life as “The Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Limited” (abbreviated to QANTAS) on 16 November 1920.

Sadly, the Qantas centenary has been overshadowed by a global pandemic that has already killed more than a million people, closed Australia’s borders and shut down the global aviation industry. But this crisis is only temporary, unlike Qantas which has cemented a place in the hearts of Australians.

The Qantas centenary safety video released in early 2020 was supposed to mark the beginning of a year of celebrations. Qantas has unfortunately had to cancel many of them, but it will host a special 100-minute centenary sightseeing flight over Sydney this evening. The flight number will appropriately be QF100, and it will be on board the Boeing 787 Dreamliner with the special centenary livery pictured above. Seats on this flight were understandably very limited, and were offered only to Qantas staff and top-tier Platinum One frequent flyers.

Qantas has also released a range of centenary memorabilia, including coin collections, model planes, shirts and bags.

Elsewhere in Australia, there will be some smaller celebrations today to mark Qantas’ 100th birthday at places like HARS in Wollongong, which is hosting a dinner, and the Qantas Founders Museum.

The Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach, where Qantas began its operations and even built its own planes between 1926 and 1928, had also planned a series of events for Qantas’ centenary year. Many of these events have been postponed until next year, but the museum is pushing ahead with a special birthday celebration today.

A De Havilland DH50 built by Qantas staff in the heritage-listed Qantas hangar in Longreach, which still stands today
A De Havilland DH50 built by Qantas staff in the heritage-listed Qantas hangar in Longreach, which still stands today. Image: Qantas.

What exactly happened 100 years ago?

As Qantas Founders Museum curator and historian Tom Harwood explained on Saturday’s episode of the AFF on AIR podcast, co-founder Paul McGuiness already had the idea of starting an airline in outback Queensland in 1919. Paul McGinness and Hudson Fysh had already created a plan for Qantas by December 1919 when they met Qantas’ other co-founder, Fergus McMaster.

The three Qantas founders then met again in Brisbane during the Ekka in July 1920 and that’s when, according to Tom Harwood, Qantas “was actually born”. Following this meeting, McMaster used his political and business connections to raise enough capital to launch the business. On 19 August 1920, Fysh and McGinness then ordered Qantas’ first aeroplane – an Avro 540K. Shortly after, the pair also met with Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes.

A replica of Qantas' first plane, an Avro 504K, at the Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach
A replica of Qantas’ first plane, an Avro 504K, at the Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach. Photo: Matt Graham.

The 16th of November 1920 is significant is because this was the date the company was officially registered.

The Qantas registration document from 16 November 1920
The Qantas registration document from 16 November 1920 (click on image to view a larger version). Image: Qantas.

Qantas’ first plane was then delivered in January 1921, and the first Qantas board meeting was held at the Winton Club on 10 February 1921.

The Winton Club in the outback Queensland town of Winton
The Winton Club in the outback Queensland town of Winton. Photo: Matt Graham.

Qantas began operations shortly afterwards in Longreach, which is where the railway line ended. The Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service was initially just a joy flight and air taxi service. According to Tom Harwood, Qantas was then charging 3 Guineas (3 Pounds and 3 Shillings) for 10-minute joy flights; that’s equivalent to just over $250 in today’s currency.

Passengers on a Qantas Avro joyflight in 1921.
Passengers on a Qantas Avro joyflight in 1921. Image: Qantas.

The first scheduled Qantas flight, from Charleville to Cloncurry via Longreach, took place on 2 November 1922. That trip took two days.

Qantas' first scheduled mail & passenger flight during its layover in Longreach
Qantas’ first scheduled mail & passenger flight during its layover in Longreach. Image: Qantas.

If you’re interested to learn more about Qantas’ early history, Tom Harwood has also written an excellent article on the Qantas Founders Museum website.

As we all know, that little airline in the outback quickly grew to become Australia’s national carrier. At one point, it was an all-747 airline flying exclusively international flights. Qantas has since been privatised, but the flying kangaroo still holds a special place in the hearts of many Australians.

Centenary celebrations scaled back due to COVID-19

Today’s 100th birthday celebrations will sadly be a bit more subdued than they would have been under normal circumstances. But the good news is that Qantas appears to be well-placed to recover on the other side of the pandemic.

“Distance has always defined Australia. Between our cities and regional towns, and from the rest of the world. Qantas prided itself on closing that gap. Before COVID interrupted, we were working on non-stop flights from the east coast to New York and London – the last frontier of global aviation,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said.

“For most of this year, it’s the distance between Melbourne and Sydney (or any of our capitals) that has been the challenge. Hard state borders for the first time in, coincidently enough, about 100 years.

“Now, as Australia opens up, we’re ready to fly again. And when people see the familiar kangaroo on the tail, it has another bit of history behind it.”

Once it’s over, let’s hope Qantas continues flying Australians all over the world, and the world to Australia, for the next 100 years.

Happy 100th birthday, Qantas.

Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Qantas Centenary

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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]