Qantas history you don’t know

The Australian airline Qantas celebrated its centenary recently but they didn’t tell all the story. Here are the top three unknown facts from Qantas history that I revealed on the History Out There segment on West Bremer Radio this weekend.

1. One of Qantas’s famous early pilots was given a traffic fine because he didn’t know the road rules.

Qantas chief pilot Lester Brain

In 1927, Lester Brain was fined £3 for driving on the near side of a stationary tram in George Street in Brisbane. He didn’t know the law and he could have killed someone getting off the tram!

Brain was no ordinary aviator – he was the Qantas chief pilot, he famously saved the lives of two airmen who went missing while they were searching for Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm, and he later became the inaugural General Manager of Trans Australia Airlines (TAA) which was ultimately acquired by Qantas.

2. The first fatal plane crash for Qantas was in 1927 and one of those killed was the nephew of the 15th premier of Queensland.

Queensland premier Robert Philp

It happened on the 24th of March 1927 outside of Tambo in outback Queensland. All three on board were killed, one of whom was William Donaldson the nephew of the former Queensland premier Robert Philp.

After his defeat at the 1904 state elections, Philp had famously said, “Ipswich must be the most ungrateful place in the world for rejecting Mr. T. B. Cribb. One half of the people there were in the employ of the State, and the other half wanted to be.”

This didn’t endear Philps to the folk of Ipswich who later could lay a tenuous claim to Qantas which took the life of his nephew.

3. The documents establishing Qantas in 1920 were signed in a hotel under the management of an Ipswich man which gives yet another town a claim to the airline.

Dame Nellie Melba outside of the Gresham Hotel

The founders of Qantas – the First World war pilots Paul McGinness and Hudson Fysh and grazier and businessman Fergus McMaster – started and finished the registration of their new company at the Gresham Hotel in Brisbane.

It was a fashionable hotel that stood from 1889 to 1974 with the likes of Dame Nellie Melba having stayed there.

Welcoming the Qantas founders and hosting them for their historic meetings was the hotel manager Les Welch – he was always sure to look after his esteemed guests and keep out the riff raff.

Welch was born and bred in Ipswich. His father was an Ipswich football champion who had captained the Queensland Aussie rules team and was a try scorer for the Queensland rugby team in the match in 1895 when Queensland wore maroon for the very first time.

Welch reached his own level of fame the year after the Qantas documents were signed. That was when he was charged with unlawful killing when a patron died as a result of being thrown out of the Gresham. The charges were later dropped.

Thanks to the good work of Les Welch at the Gresham Hotel, his home town of Ipswich and even Brisbane can join Winton, Longreach and Cloncurry in laying claim to the founding of Qantas.


Photo credits:
Lester Brain early Qantas pilot – State Library of Queensland
Queensland Premier Robert Philp c1912 – State Library of Queensland
Dame Nellie Melba outside the Gresham Hotel Brisbane 1909 – State Library of Queensland

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