“Through Frozen Skies and under Tropic Suns” – Queensland aviation in the 1930s

Next time you are flying from Brisbane to Sydney, spare a thought for travellers in 1930. Leaving the Brisbane GPO by car at 7:30am, our brave air travellers arrived and were seated ready for take-off by 8am - obviously there was no morning airport traffic in 1930. The plane, an Avro 10, could take eight passengers and two pilots, as well as mail. Avro advertised that their planes were undertaking the new Brisbane to Sydney run, promoting their machines as capable “through frozen skies and under tropic suns.”

Advertisement for the Avro 10, "Aircraft" magazine, 31 January 1930.

Advertisement for the Avro 10, "Aircraft" magazine, 31 January 1930.

The pilots on that first flight were none other than Charles Ulm and J Sheppard. Baptised by Lady Goodwin, the wife of the Governor, the “Southern Sky” was one of four Avro 10 planes on the Australian National Airways’ Brisbane to Sydney run, beginning on New Year’s Day, 1930. The expected arrival time in Sydney was 2pm, with a “motor” available to take passengers to the Sydney GPO by 2:30pm.

“Southern Sun”, a sister Avro aircraft to “Southern Sky”, loading passengers at Eagle Farm in 1930. Note the ladder for passenger entry, to the right of the photograph, and the fashionable attire of the ladies. John Oxley Library. Negative number 60438.

“Southern Sun”, a sister Avro aircraft to “Southern Sky”, loading passengers at Eagle Farm in 1930. Note the ladder for passenger entry, to the right of the photograph, and the fashionable attire of the ladies. John Oxley Library. Negative number 60438.

On the first flight there were seven passengers, as well as the pilots and 379 letters. Unfortunately, the flight was over by 10:20am, when the plane was forced to land at Bonalbo, near Kyogle, after encountering bad weather. The passengers were safe, but the plane sustained damage on landing. The passengers were “motored” to Casino, where they were accommodated overnight. The trip to Sydney continued the following day by rail. The fare for this ‘adventure’ was nine pounds and 13 shillings one way – an enormous amount, given that in the 1930s working salaries were between two and five pounds per week. The ANA motto was “Nothing Like it On Earth” and, in fact, the travellers on that first flight may have agreed.

"Aircraft" magazine, March 1931.

"Aircraft" magazine, March 1931.

By 1930, Qantas aircraft had completed their first million air miles, many of them carrying freight and mail. Only one accident, with the loss of the lives of pilots and two passengers at Tambo in 1927, marred their record. Had you travelled as a passenger on Qantas in 1930, you would be provided with topical magazines, card games, a supply of stationery marked “On Board a Qantas Airliner”, and filtered drinking water. Of course, fashion models demonstrated the elegant outfits required for flying, including tweed coats and leather gloves to help mitigate the chilly temperatures.

"Aircraft" magazine, 31 January 1930.

"Aircraft" magazine, 31 January 1930.

State Library of Queensland has many resources to support research into early Australian aviation. Detailed information, including photographs of aircraft, and advertisements for aviation routes, is available in Aircraft magazine, published by the Royal Aeronautical Society (Australian Division) from 1918 to 1988, and held at State Library of Queensland. Pilots and ground engineers had to be certified by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), and Brisbane had 20 pilots with A licenses by 1929, with the first flying school being opened by Qantas in Brisbane in 1927. There were only a handful of ground engineers in Queensland in 1930, four of whom were located with Qantas in Longreach, and the others in Brisbane. Private aircraft and their owners were also listed, so for those undertaking research into early aircraft, Aircraft magazine is full of information on those machines.

"Aircraft" magazine, 31 July 1930.

"Aircraft" magazine, 31 July 1930.

Our long running journal collections include other aviation journals, such as Flight from the Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom from 1934 to 1939, and Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft from 1912-2012. John Oxley Library collections also contain numerous photographs of early Queensland airplanes and their brave pilots and passengers.

Christina Ealing-Godbold

Senior Librarian, Information Services

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Christina, this is a great slice of social history. For those with an interest in aircraft there are some beautiful images and an opportunity to see how planes changed. How wonderful that we can trace the developments in flying and the experience of it through our collection. Thanks for drawing this to our attention.