Once upon a time…
…in a small dusty country town called Longreach in central west Queensland, lived my grandfather, William, with his mother and two sisters. One day, QANTAS came to town. My grandfather, being a young man, was fascinated with the airplanes and used to visit the men at the newly minted QANTAS airfield. One of the founders of QANTAS, Mr Hudson Fysh, was a neighbour and William came to know him well enough that Mr Hudson Fysh took him up in one of his airplanes for a joyride. When William’s mother found out, she was not very happy at all! One day William was to attend a fancy dress party and needed a costume. The men at the airfield helped him create a costume in the shape of one of their airplanes.
And they lived happily ever after. The end.
Hmmm, as stories go, pretty simple and it has a bit of an abrupt ending. But there is a lot of food for thought there and I do have some photographs to make up the slack.
Now, the real story as best as I can figure out…
My grandfather, William George Wynn SCHOLEFIELD, was born in the small town of Longreach in 1904, though the family actually lived in Ilfracombe, an even smaller township just outside of Longreach. A few years after William’s father, George Alfred, died in 1911, his mother, Tydfil, moved William and his two sisters into Longreach proper. They lived on the corner of Kingfisher and Pelican streets though I couldn’t tell you which corner. William lived here until he moved to Kingaroy in 1925 as part of his job with the Queensland National Bank; however, his mother and sisters remained in Longreach for many more years.
In 1921, Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd, known to everyone today as just Qantas, moved from Winton, Queensland to Longreach, which was just down the road.1
In 1923, one of the founders of Qantas, Mr Hudson Fysh, married Miss Elizabeth Eleanor Dove in Sydney. My grandfather was fond of saying that Hudson Fysh was the only man he knew that could turn a bird into a fish. I don’t think my grandfather was that well known for making puns! Anyway, after the marriage, they lived for a time in a rented house in Kingfisher Street, Longreach.2 So, my grandfather and his family were, indeed, neighbours of Hudson Fysh.
Now, Longreach is a very small town – only a couple of thousand people at the time my grandfather lived there. So the social circle tended to be rather small. My aunt, Camie SCHOLEFIELD, was the church organist and often played at special events such as weddings. Camie and her sister, Marjorie, and sometimes their mother, were also often listed in the paper attending social events. Despite Hudson Fysh’s known dislike of socialising, it was noted in the papers that he and his wife did attend at least a couple of these same events.3,4,5
So, given all this, it isn’t unreasonable that my grandfather may have met and come to know Hudson Fysh as well as some of the other people involved with Qantas.
I don’t know anything about the fancy dress party. Certainly such entertainments seemed to be popular in Longreach as there are plenty of newspaper articles about fancy dress balls in Longreach for both children and adults all through the 1920s. One such was the annual Plain and Fancy Dress Ambulance Ball. But judging from the photo above, I don’t think the costume is likely to promote social harmony and goodwill, do you? After the second time I’d been hit in the head by those aircraft wings, I think I would turn around and wallop my grandfather!
However, what the plane costume lacks in gracefulness and social finesse, it does make up for in accurate representational detail. It turns out the plane registration number on the costume belongs to a real Qantas plane.
G-AUBZ – Airco DH4
As you can see on the side of the costume, the plane registration number is G-AUBZ. Qantas acquired G-AUBZ on 7 March 1922.6 It was an Airco DH4 and was originally designed as a bomber for use in WWI. The “DH” stands for the name of the designer, Geoffrey De Havilland. After the war, these planes tended to be used for passenger services.7
This particular DH4 was one of the first three planes bought by Hudson Fysh for the new embryonic business and was to become one of the more reliable aircraft for Qantas during its early years. On 6 June 1923, the plane suffered serious damage when the pilot crashed into a bush telegraph line while landing at Guildford Park, which is located between Longreach and Jundah to the south.8 It was repaired and put back in service a few months later.
In 1925, G-AUBZ was flown in a trial run from Cloncurry to Camooweal. The report in the paper shows how much excitement these flights could generate amongst the people living in remote towns. Though in this case, perhaps it was what they brought with them rather than the flight itself:
Captain Fysh, of the “Qantas”, created a sensation upon his arrival at Camooweal with a Haviland 4 ‘plane on a trial run from Cloncurry, and the whole population turned out to greet him and his lieutenant and engineer, Messers. Brain and McNally. The captain presented a case of fruit to one prominent resident and a block of ice to another. Fancy ice at Camooweal! The 60 miles from Yelverton to Cloncurry was reeled off in 35 minutes. The captain remarked he knew the road well!9
The plane was eventually sold to Matthews Aviation in January 1928.10 It was the only DH4 ever in service at Qantas.
There is only one identifiable plane amongst our family photos – one with a registration number clearly seen on the side. And, it, too, is a Qantas plane but sadly this plane’s story does not have a happy ending.
G-AUED – DH9C
Acquired on 1 November 1923, G-AUED was the first of only three De Havilland 9C models bought by Qantas.11 The DH9C was designed as a passenger plane – holding only 3 passengers.12
On 24 March 1927, the plane left Charleville to fly to Blackall, meaning to stop at Tambo along the way. The plane stalled* as it approached landing at Tambo and it crashed killing the pilot and one of the passengers immediately. The remaining passenger died within a few hours of the crash. This was the first fatal accident Qantas had experienced. The plane itself was completely destroyed.13
The article says it was Pilot A. D. Davidson’s first trip on that particular service; however, he was not an inexperienced pilot. Another article stated he had “recently come from the Military Service at Point Cook, Melbourne, where he acted as instructor, for a few years.”14
Pictures of the crashed plane can be seen on the B3A – Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives website where you can see the extent of the damage. As one newspaper report described it: “The fuselage was smashed to matchwood.”15 A memorial to the lost lives of this tragic crash was built in Tambo in 2001. There is a poignant dedication on the plaque:
They flew with courage through clear blue skies,
to their date with death.
Now here they lie in a peaceful grave too young to die.
Neil Galway 200116
Dating the Photographs
Since G-AUED was acquired at the end of 1923 and was destroyed at the beginning of 1927, the photos must have been taken during this time period. My grandfather would have been about 19 to 23 years old during this period which matches the photo of him in his fancy dress costume. My grandfather moved towns in October 1925 for his job. Even though he would have returned for holidays, it is more likely the photos were taken before he left town.
The rest of the family photos are of unidentified planes. A couple may also be of G-AUED, but I’m no plane expert so I can’t be sure.
On a side note, in the background of three of the photos, including the ones of my grandfather’s costume and the G-AUED above, can be seen the Qantas Hanger which was built in 1922. The hanger was added to the National Heritage List in 2009 and is now part of the Qantas Founders Museum.17
If anyone has any extra information about the planes in our photographs or more stories about the early years of Qantas, I would love to hear from you!
Update 7 August 2017: I wish to express my gratitude to Tom Harwood, Curator of the Qantas Founders Museum who has recently contacted me to help me with identifying the unknown planes and to fix a few small errors in my article. Any errors remaining are completely my fault.
* Tom Harwood points out that car engines stall, not plane engines. I had misinterpreted the source information as the engine stalling. If I understood Tom correctly, with air flight stalling means that the wing stops giving lift making the plane move too slow and the plane falls from the sky. A more technical, and probably better explanation than my interpretation, can be found here.
1 Gunn, J. (1988). The defeat of distance, Qantas 1919-1939, p. 36. St. Lucia, Qld.: University of Queensland Press.
2 Ibid, p. 79, 82.
3 May Meeting. (1925, May 15). The Longreach Leader (Qld. : 1923 – 1954), p. 24. Retrieved July 2, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article39335902
4 Woman’s Realm (1924, August 2). The Daily Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1903 – 1926), p. 10. Retrieved July 2, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article219056100
5 LONGREACH FESTIVITIES. (1924, July 19). The Daily Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1903 – 1926), p. 9. Retrieved July 2, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article219050460
6 Gunn, J. (1988). The defeat of distance, Qantas 1919-1939, p. 58.
7 Airco DH.4. (2017, June 28). Retrieved July 02, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airco_DH.4
8 Gunn, J. (1988). The defeat of distance, Qantas 1919-1939, p. 75.
9 Northern Notes News (1925, January 17). The Western Champion (Barcaldine, Qld. : 1922 – 1937), p. 14. Retrieved July 2, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article79326587
10 Gunn, J. (1988). The defeat of distance, Qantas 1919-1939, p. 386.
12 Airco DH.9C. (2017, May 24). Retrieved July 02, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airco_DH.9C
13 Gunn, J. (1988). The defeat of distance, Qantas 1919-1939, p. 95, 390.
14 AEROPLANE CRASH AT TAMBO (1927, March 25). Northern Standard (Darwin, NT : 1921 – 1955), p. 2. Retrieved July 3, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article48032337
15 TAMBO AEROPLANE CRASH (1927, March 26). Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), p. 1. Retrieved July 3, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article45986473
16 Qantas Crash Site. (n.d.), Monument Australia. Retrieved July 01, 2017, from http://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/disaster/aviation/display/100660-qantas-crash-site
17 “Australian Heritage Database,” database, Department of the Environment and Energy – Heritage (http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/ahdb/search.pl?mode=place_detail;place_id=106064 : accessed 2 July 2017); database entry for ‘QANTAS Hangar Longreach, Landsborough Hwy, Longreach, QLD, Australia’, National Heritage List, Place ID: 106064, Place File No: 4/08/208/0003.