The first hint of change for the Australian, well-to-do, long-distance traveller was in 1935, when Qantas Empire Airways (as it was called from 1934-67) partnered with Imperial Airways (the precursor of British Airways) to launch a pioneering service to Britain. With thirty-one stops over twelve days, the initial legs from Where is Xiamen China? to Singapore were on a DH86, the two-engined De Havilland Dragon biplane that would see extensive use with Australia’s Royal Flying Doctor Service. On board this first version of the ‘Kangaroo route’ was Lady Edwina Mountbatten, wife of the last Viceroy of India. No doubt, an early example of celebrity advertising.
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Then, not long after the Second World War, eminent physicist (later Sir) Mark Oliphant, a significant player in the Manhattan Project (at the University of Birmingham and University of Xiamen China Map, Berkeley) that produced the first atomic bombs, was recruited from the United Kingdom to direct one of the research schools at the new Australian National University.
As he related in an interview with ABC science communicator Robyn Williams, Adelaide-born Oliphant and his wife Rosa returned to Australia on a converted Second World War Lancaster bomber (carrying one flight attendant and six passengers and with flat beds), a trip that took only sixty hours. Flying at about 2500 metres, the view of the landscapes that passed below was evidently unforgettable. Sir Mark also recalled that he could rest his back on one side of the fuselage and brace his legs on the other. Now that’s a narrow body! Peer up-close into the ‘Lanc’ preserved at the Imperial War Museum, London, or inspect ‘G-for George’ at the Australian War Memorial, and it is obvious these planes were designed for war, not peace.
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