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Aviation in Australia

The origins of an Australian icon

‘Deep in the Gulf’, McGinness and Gorham, Longreach to Darwin Survey for aerodromes and supply depots, 1919

In August 1919, two young aviators embarked on a journey from Longreach to Darwin mapping out possible landing sites for aircraft. They made the overland trip in a Model T Ford and, while journeying through the rough and roadless outback, formulated their ideas for a local air service. The company they founded was Qantas, and 100 years after Hudson Fysh and Paul McGinness completed their epic journey it remains a globally recognised brand. This rare album contains the photographs taken by Fysh and McGuinness on their historic trip.  

On 10 March 1919 the Australian Commonwealth government offered a prize of £10,000 for the first successful flight to Australia from Great Britain by Australian pilots. Fysh and McGinness hoped to throw their hat in the ring, but after failing to find money to back their venture they found employment with the Australian Defence Department surveying the route between Longreach and Darwin.  

Air travel in Australia was new and no flight routes had been mapped for pilots flying between Darwin and Cootamundra. To remedy this Fysh and McGuinness were employed to travel by car through river gullies, scrub and forests and blaze a trail which would identify potential places for aeroplanes to refuel, or land in an emergency. 

On 18 August 1919 they set out with their driver and handyman, George Gorham, on the 2180-kilometre journey from Longreach to the Katherine River railhead. McGinness was the leader but it was Fysh who recorded the trip in his notebooks and later compiled the photographs into this album. 

They had misgivings about the route, which was densely wooded with few landing places, but the Defence Department insisted they proceed according to the original plans. It only took six days to reach Burketown but it was another 45 before they finally reached the Katherine railhead. After arriving at Darwin on 8 October 1919, they informed the Department that the route was indeed unsuitable and as a result the race contestants were diverted to fly inland across the Barkly Tableland (this route had been surveyed earlier by Reginald Lloyd’s party). 


McGinness was then instructed to return to Cloncurry by this inland route, to establish potential landing grounds, while Fysh remained in Darwin to prepare a landing site. Fysh chose a site at Fanny Bay, two miles north of Darwin, which was completed by 10 December. This was the date his old colleague from the Light Horse and Flying Corps, Captain Ross Smith, and his brother Keith, touched down in their Vickers Vimy to win the £10,000 prize.   

In May 1920, Fysh met up with McGinness in Cloncurry and after their trailblazing experiences across the ‘Top End’ decided they should start a local air service. In June they both travelled to Brisbane to meet wealthy station owner Fergus McMaster and outline their proposition for a ‘joy flight’ and taxi air service in Western Queensland and the Northern Territory. It was this meeting that saw the birth of Qantas. The album of photographs taken on the car trip which inspired the creation of Qantas is one 31 albums donated to the Library by Sir Hudson Fysh. 

View in catalogue - Volume 26: Longreach - Darwin. Survey for aerodromes & supply depots, 1919

Geoff Barker, Senior Curator, Research and Discovery 


Aviation in Australia is made possible through a partnership with Qantas.