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The flying kangaroo

1920: Qantas established

Qantas Heritage Collection
1900 2000
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Use the following additional activities and discussion questions to encourage students (in small groups or as a whole class) to think more deeply about this defining moment.

Questions for discussion

1. Do you think there was a turning point in the Qantas story that helped the airline become one of Australia’s most successful transport businesses?

2. Do you agree with the National Museum of Australia that the beginning of Qantas is a defining moment in Australian history? Explain your answer.

Image activities

1. Look carefully at all the images for this defining moment. Tell this story in pictures by placing them in whatever order you think works best. Write a short caption under each image.

2. Which 3 images do you think are the most important for telling this story? Why?

3. If you could pick only one image to represent this story, which one would you choose? Why?

Finding out more

1. What else would you like to know about this defining moment? Write a list of questions and then share these with your classmates. As a group, create a final list of 3 questions and conduct some research to find the answers.

<p>Qantas Airbus A380</p>
Qantas Heritage Collection

In a snapshot

In 1920 W Hudson Fysh, Paul McGinness and Fergus McMaster founded the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd (Qantas) with two open-cabin biplanes. From its original base in the outback Queensland town of Winton, Qantas has grown to become Australia’s largest airline. It is the second oldest airline in the world, and the company and its flying kangaroo logo have become an Australian icon.

Qantas Airbus A380

Findout icon Can you find out?

1. Who helped to found Qantas and where was it first based?

2. Why was Qantas set up?

3. What were some of the ‘firsts’ achieved by Qantas?

Where did the idea for an Australian aerial service come from?

During the First World War, W Hudson Fysh and Paul McGinness flew together with the Australian Flying Corps. After the war they tried to enter the 1919 Great Air Race, chasing the £10,000 prize money offered to the first Australian to fly from Great Britain to Australia.

Unfortunately their race sponsor died suddenly and they had to withdraw their entry. Instead Fysh and McGinness were employed by the Defence Department to survey suitable landing sites for the race throughout the Northern Territory and Queensland. As they struggled to complete their work across the long distances of the difficult Australian environment, the idea to start an aerial service across Australia began to form in their minds.

<p>Qantas Boeing 707</p>

National Museum of Australia

<p>Qantas Boeing 707</p>

Who started Qantas?

Fergus McMaster, a Queensland grazier, was also important in getting Qantas started. He gave the initial funds for Qantas and sought both private and government contributions.

On 16 November 1920 at the Gresham Hotel in Brisbane, Fysh, McGinness, McMaster and others signed formal papers to set up Qantas, with McMaster as chairman. Arthur Baird became the company’s engineer, and his job was to put into practice Qantas’s focus on maintenance and safety. Qantas was first based in the outback Queensland town of Winton, but in 1921 it moved to Longreach, as it was a more suitable location on the planned flight network.

Qantas raised extra funds by operating joy flights (flights for fun) and air taxi services. It won the government contract for the Charleville to Cloncurry mail service and began scheduled flights in 1922.

In 1934 Qantas partnered with British Imperial Airways to set up Qantas Empire Airways. Its first international flight took place in 1935.

Research task


Do some research to find out who was the first paying customer on a Qantas flight. On what date did this flight take place?

Research task


Find out how the Qantas logo has changed over time. Describe or draw the different Qantas logos and show the year each logo was introduced.

Qantas’s second office, Longreach, 1921.

How did Qantas make history?

In 1928 Qantas leased one of its aircraft to the Australian Inland Mission as the first flying ambulance for the Australian Aerial Medical Service (the original Royal Flying Doctors). Qantas leased aircraft to them until 1949.

During the Second World War, most of the Qantas fleet, including its flying boats, were used to help with the war effort. A number of Qantas aircraft and crew were lost during this time. 

In 1959 Qantas became the first airline outside the United States to use Boeing jets, and in 1979 Qantas brought in the world’s first business class seating.

Qantas House, Sydney.

The flying kangaroo

Qantas’s original ‘kangaroo route’ to England, with its multiple hopping stops, led to the flying kangaroo becoming the company emblem. At first the ‘flying kangaroo’ was based on the kangaroo found on the Australian one-penny coin. Since then it has evolved to become one of the most widely recognised symbols of Australia.

From its small beginnings in outback Queensland with three staff and two open-cabin biplanes, Qantas is now Australia’s largest airline, based in Sydney with a fleet of more than 130 aircraft. In 2015–16 it flew about 51 million passengers, and operated more than 5000 flights a week to places within Australia and overseas. On 24 March 2018 Qantas made the first non-stop flight from Australia to Britain, flying from Perth to London.


Read a longer version of this Defining Moment on the National Museum of Australia’s website.

Findout icon What did you learn?

1. Who helped to found Qantas and where was it first based?

2. Why was Qantas set up?

3. What were some of the ‘firsts’ achieved by Qantas?