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Barlow, Alec (1907–1972)

by Mark Lax and Peter Barlow

Born 23 December 1907 at Ballarat, Victoria and educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School.

Alec’s father was a motor vehicle dealer representing Bean Vauxhall from the UK and Stutz from the US. Aviator Ray Parer was often employed by Barlow Motors Pty Ltd and gave Alex his first taste of flying.

In 1926 Barlow Motors organised and promoted a record breaking run with a Bean touring car from Darwin to Melbourne. Alec Barlow and Francis Birtles were to drive the car.

The party left Melbourne on 20 September 1926 and drove to Sydney where the car was shipped to Darwin. On 22 October, Barlow and Birtles left Darwin and arrived at Melbourne’s Post Office on 30 October covering the 3380 miles (5439 kms) in 8 days 13 hours averaging 400 miles (643 kms) a day. The record was established.

The Bean 14 hp, two-seater is now on display at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

By this time, Barlow had gained his flying licence and in the same year set off to the USA and UK to learn more about the motor and aviation business.

On return to Australia after an absence of just over 12 months, he purchased a de Havilland Moth (VH-ULW), which was used for servicing country owners of Stutz and Black Hawk cars – he named the aircraft Black Hawk Moth.

In 1930 he graduated from the RAAF No 1 Citizen’s Air Force pilot’s course at Point Cook. In 1932, Barlow was the Victorian aerial derby flying a tiny single-seat de Havilland 53 (VH-UAD) fitted with a 30 hp engine.

With Keith Farmer, he formed Pioneer Air Services Pty Ltd, which performed charter work and the new concept of aerial advertising.

Barlow was kept busy flying in the early 1930s not only with Pioneer but also with Hart Aviation fulfilling the air mail contract from Melbourne to Tasmania and privately with the Royal Victorian Aero Club for medical emergencies and search and rescue. One major search he participated in was the search for the Southern Cloud.

As the economic fortunes of the country changed, Barlow purchased an Avro Saro B Cutty Sark amphibian (VH-UNV) for barnstorming from Melbourne and Sydney beaches.

In 1936, he joined Holyman Airways (forerunner of Australian National Airways) as a captain. In 1937, he was appointed senior route captain at Adelaide. With the outbreak of war in 1939 and as an officer in the reserve, he was called into the RAAF fold. Barlow had a large number of postings. He was with 2, 6, 7 and 8 Squadrons, had various commands including No 6 squadron, No 1 SFTS at Laverton, No 6 SFTS at Mallala (then the largest in the RAAF) and finally No 7 OTU (Liberators) at Tocumwal.

He led No 6 Squadron Hudsons from Richmond to New Guinea where the Squadron played a vital role in keeping the enemy at bay, particularly at Milne Bay. The operational record of the Squadron was so good that Lieutenant General George Kenny; Commander Allied Air Forces SW Pacific Area sent a signal to Barlow praising him and his Squadron for their valuable contribution.

On 5 June 1945, Barlow was honourably discharged for the RAAF with the rank of Group Captain.

He rejoined Australian National Airways as senior route captain, Brisbane, in charge of flying operations until 1946 when he was transferred to Melbourne as assistant flight superintendent.

In August 1947, he was appointed General manager of British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines. Barlow and his staff were to establish the Southern Cross Route from Australia to the United States and Canada.

Arthur Coles (the late Sir Arthur) was appointed Chairman (also Chairman of ANA Commission). This appointment was to have a political impact on the future of BCPA as Coles and Alan Wilson, as MPs had crossed the floor of the House of Representatives in September 1941, which brought down the Fadden Government.

BCPA leased DC-4’s from ANA, then purchased four pressurised DC-6s.

BCPA travelled three times a week from Sydney and once from Auckland to North America. With just four aircraft and 13 crews, it was the smallest international airline in the world.

The pioneering work done by Barlow and his BCPA staff has led to the establishment of the most important air route for Australia.

In May 1954, the political reality of the times hit BCPA and the Menzies Government approved its merger into Qantas.

Alec Barlow was appointed Manager Eastern Division. During his time with Qantas, Barlow continued his pioneering work, leading the first round-the-world flight of any airline carrier, negotiated rights for Qantas to fly across America, opened up air routes to Mexico, Tahiti, Malaysia and Thailand.

Barlow is remembered as a founding member of Pacific Area Travel Association (PATA) in January 1952. PATA is now known as Pacific Asia Travel Association and has played an important role in developing travel and tourism within the region.

Barlow and other former pioneers are honoured in the ACT suburb of Scullin which as a collection of street names of aviation pioneers.

Alec Barlow retired from Qantas in August 1969 and died in December 1972.

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Citation details

Mark Lax and Peter Barlow, 'Barlow, Alec (1907–1972)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/barlow-alec-15942/text27166, accessed 22 November 2017.

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