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Sir Wilmot Hudson Fysh (1895–1974)

Hudson Wilmot Fysh was born in Launceston, Tasmania, on January 7, 1895, completing his education at Geelong Grammar school.

During this schooling he was drafted in a compulsory military-training scheme introduced in 1911, first with the 26th Light Horse Regiment and later with the 70th Ballarat Infantry.

At the outbreak of World War I he joined the 3rd Light Horse Regiment and sailed for the Middle East with the first convoy from Australia. He fought at Gallipoli and later in the Palestine campaigns during which time he developed a desire to fly. He served first as an observer and did not graduate as a pilot until February 28, 1919.

On his return to Australia he became interested in attempting to compete for the £10,000 prize offered by the Australian Government for the first flight from England to Australia.

He and his war-time pilot, P. J. McGinness, approached a wealthy NSW grazier, Sir Samuel McCaughey, who had financed the purchase of the Bristol two-seater fighter they had flown in No 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, to sponsor them for the big race. He agreed, but died before the formalities could be completed.

Disappointed, but still resolved to be part of the race, Fysh and McGinness undertook on behalf of the Commonwealth to survey the route the London-Sydney flyers would take over the Darwin-Longreach leg. Their journey across the north of the continent in a Ford T car was an epic in itself. Fysh stayed in Darwin to greet the successful flyers, Ross and Keith Smith, on behalf of the Government while McGinness returned to Cloncurry.

It was through McGinness, as Fysh was later to acknowledge, that Qantas got its start. A grazier who lived near Cloncurry, Mr Fergus McMaster, broke the stub axle of his car while trying to cross the dry bed of the Cloncurry River and had to trudge into the town for assistance. The first person he met was McGinness, a dab hand at mechanics and willing to cancel a scheduled picnic to assist a stranded traveller.

Through his friendship with McMaster, McGinness began interesting people in the possibilities of an air service in the remote areas of western Queensland. McMaster's imagination was fired and he canvassed the idea among friends and business acquaintances. The Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Limited was incorporated with the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies in Brisbane on November 16, 1920.

McMaster was chairman of the company and Fysh and McGinness directors as well as pilots. The first commercial flights were carried out in 1921, the company gradually expanding its services and improving its economics until in 1923-24 it made its first profit, a situation it was to retain until very recent years.

On January 18, 1934 QANTAS in equal partnership with Imperial Airways, founded Qantas Empire Airways Ltd to operate the Sydney London air route, the Australian carrier operating the Brisbane-Singapore leg and Imperial carrying on the route. Fysh was appointed managing director. The fare was $488.

The service was well established by the time World War II broke out but with the invasion of South-East Asia by the Japanese, it had to be terminated. Qantas lost several aircraft to enemy action.

In December, 1946, the Government bought BOAC's shares in QEA and in the following year the privately-held shares. The Government decided that it should continue to operate as a private company and that it should operate in a commercial manner.

Fysh was appointed chairman and managing director. He relinquished the managing directorship in 1955, remaining on as chairman until his retirement in 1966. He was knighted in 1953.

He was elected to the first executive committee of the International Air Transport Association at Havana in 1945.

Apart from his foundation and operation of Qantas during its formative and developmental years Sir Hudson also became its historian. His trilogy, 'Qantas Rising', 'Qantas At War' and 'Wings To The World', is the definitive history of what has become the second longest-established airline in the world (after its 1930s rival, KLM, which is a few months older).

Other published works include 'The Log of the Astrea', and 'Round the Bend in the Stream', a treatise on trout fishing.

"The Qantas story", he wrote as the last paragraph in 'Wings To The World', "above all is typical of the emergence of Australia from its former geographic isolation and world insignificance to what she is today; a superb transformation which could never have been achieved except for the coming of international air transport initiated and pioneered in Australia by Qantas and Imperial Airways in 1934".

He omitted only to say that it is unlikely that his fledgling airline would never have survived its first few feeble hops had not he and McGinness so fired their supporters that most stayed in the service for a lifetime.

McGinness dropped out of the story early in the period when it looked very much as though everything was against success. Fysh maintained the clarity of the vision he saw before him.

Fysh rubbed shoulders with Ross and Keith Smith, with Kingsford Smith, Pard Mustard, Lester Brain, Arthur Baird, C. W. A. Scott and many others who were to write their own names in the annals of aviation fame. His memorial is Qantas itself, airborne somewhere around the world every minute of the year.

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Citation details

'Fysh, Sir Wilmot Hudson (1895–1974)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 28 May 2024.

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