Hudson Fysh and Qantas: Australian aviation pioneers

In QANTAS' centenary year it is timely to remember the role of Launceston-born aviation pioneer Hudson Fysh in the establishment and development of the airline.

Hudson Fysh (later Sir Hudson) co-founded Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd with fellow WWI flyer Paul McGinness at Winton in November 1920, making the first commercial Qantas flights in a tiny Avro 504K biplane in 1921.

By 1924 Qantas was making a profit and Hudson Fysh was the company's managing director, a position he held until 1955 before being chairman until 1966.

Qantas became an international airline in 1934 when Qantas Empire Airways Ltd was formed with Britain's Imperial Airways.

In 1940 he co-founded Tasman Empire Airways Ltd, which later became Air New Zealand.

Born in Launceston on January 7, 1895, Wilmot Hudson Fysh was educated at Launceston Church

Grammar School and Geelong Grammar School before becoming a jackeroo and wool classer.

His parents were Launceston merchant Frederick Wilmot Fysh and his wife Mary, the daughter of landowner, ship-owner and merchant Henry Reed, while his great-uncle Sir Philip Fysh was twice Premier of Tasmania (1877-78, 1887-92) and an MHR in the first Federal Parliament.

Hudson Fysh enlisted at the outbreak of WWI and became a trooper in the Australian Light Horse Brigade. He served at Gallipoli and in Egypt and Palestine.

As a machine gunner he was promoted to lieutenant in 1916 before transferring to the Australian Flying Corps as an observer where he won the Distinguished Flying Cross.

His letters home from the war appeared regularly in The Examiner.

Hudson Fysh qualified as a pilot in Greece in 1919 and took part in many pioneering flights as Qantas developed air routes in northern Australia.

By 1930 the company had flown more than a million kilometres and moved its head office to Brisbane.

In an article in The Examiner of Saturday, October 27, 1934 Hudson Fysh spoke of the rapid growth of commercial aviation around the world.

"In 1919 commercial aeroplanes flew one million miles; in 1922 the year's total had risen to 52 million miles; in 1929 to 53 million miles; and in 1932 to 90 million miles."

In the 1930s Qantas had the airmail contract between Australia and England and in 1938 established an England-Australia flying boat service, moving its headquarters to Sydney.

Hudson Fysh was a squadron leader in the RAAF reserve during WWII as Qantas planes were pressed for military use in northern Australia and New Guinea.

When the Federal Government took over Qantas in 1947 Hudson Fysh oversaw the change of ownership and remained managing director.

He retained his links to Tasmania and was patron of the Sydney branch of the Tasmanian Association. He was knighted in 1953.

In retirement Hudson Fysh wrote extensively about the development of Qantas and aviation in Northern Australia. He died on April 6, 1974, in Sydney.


Top image: Hudson Fysh during his World War I military service, from the Weekly Courier of 23 October 1919. Bottom image: Publicity shot of Sir Hudson Fysh as managing director of Qantas.


(Written for the Launceston Historical Society and published in the Sunday Examiner on 6 June 2021)

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