Qantas: Historic Darwin dedication is also reminder of what Australia risks losing
This Wednesday in the Qantas hangar in Darwin there is a dedication ceremony, as part of the 70th anniversary remembrances of the bombing of the city on 19 February 1942, to the support and often sacrifice that aviation workers and their flag carrier has given Australia in times of war, and in major peace time crises.
To mark the occasion the Qantas pilot union, AIPA, will be distributing a superb but short document summarising these events, and quietly, respectfully asking all Australians to be mindful of the role Qantas has been able to perform immediately and on a large scale in such times.
It is understood it will be made available online.
But here are some extracts, from an introduction by Captain Barry Jackson, the president of the Australian and International Pilots Association, and photos and accounts of the events, quoting staff, historians, and past managements.
The quick thinking heroism of Qantas Empire Airways’ Darwin staff when the port was massively attacked in a large Japanese bombing raid is recalled in detail in several Qantas histories, including Qantas at War by Hudson Fysh, one of the Q.A.N.T.A.S founders.
By saving one of its Catalina flying boats under direct threat in the raid, Qantas kept a vital strategic asset intact for its destiny of playing a major role in Australian evacuations from what is now Indonesia to Broome as SE Asia fell to the onslaught of Japanese forces.
Less well lodged in the minds of Australians today were the subsequent Korean War and Malaya campaigns.
For earlier generations, Qantas in WWII and Korea and Malaya was synonymous with airlifts in the national interest, in times when air travel was rarely used in everyday life, and coastal liners carried more passengers between the more distantly separated city pairs than airliners, and the Adelaide Steam Ship Company and Burns Philp were until the early 50s more relevant in terms of price than TAA or Australian National Airways.
In more recent times Qantas as an instrument of urgent national airlift needs has come back into focus in relation to peace keeping roles in Somalia and Rwanda, and various missions in East Timor, Egypt and Libya, among others.
But two crises stood out above all others in the modern era, when Cyclone Tracy struck in 1974 and the Bali bombings killed or maimed in 2002.
Whatever happens to Qantas in the present, and however much people choose to discuss it as a business or a national icon or a service that is supposed to always be available on demand, losing a high capacity fast response airlift by a national carrier would be an act of senseless folly.
We must remember these things. Change is one thing, but so is the national interest.