Qantas is, in terms of Australian history, an unusual institution. It had its roots in our pioneering outback tradition, in western Queensland, in the unusual and sustained contribution of Australia to the early years of aviation and in the national experience and aftermath of World War I. As it grew, it combined the enterprise, tenacity and idealism of individuals with, from the start, intimate involvement with Federal politics and the bureaucracy of government. Qantas was at times both a catalyst and a mirror to the development of our relationship with the Empire, the Commonwealth, and with other nations as it increasingly provided an instrument with which to shrink the immense distances that for so long had isolated Australia from the world.
I was not a contemporary of the early Qantas, by any means, but I knew some of the people who were; I have known many more who worked for or did business with the postwar Qantas. Although I have had many and long discussions with people who were at the very centre of the events with which this history deals, it has been their perspectives on those events and their recollections of their fellows, and not their memories of what happened, in all its detail and complexity, that most helped me. For that, I have gone to the written word of the day and, almost always, to the wealth of primary sources; to the personal and business letters of those involved, to the official and unofficial correspondence of ministers and their advisors, to the analyses and reports of the time by senior civil servants and airline people, to secret Cabinet submissions and public government pronouncements.
A great deal of this material comes from the private papers of Fergus McMaster, first chairman of Qantas, Hudson Fysh, its first managing director, and Edgar Johnston, who joined the Civil Aviation Branch in Australia in 1919, went on to head it in the thirties and was, after World War II, an advisor to Qantas. The McMaster papers are in the possession of Qantas, the Fysh papers are in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, and the Johnston papers are still in Edgar Johnston's possession in Melbourne. The Fysh papers are by no means fully indexed, the McMaster and Johnston papers are not indexed at all. Consequently, though I have attempted to read them all (I was my own research assistant), I may have missed some relevant or enlightening detail in the tens of thousands of letters and documents available. In addition to these private collections, the archival material of the company itself exists (in raw form) in such volume that the periodical additions made to it are transported in trucks. Within the present operating departments of Qantas extensive and useful records are also retained. Board papers and minutes over decades in themselves provide a rich source of material. In the archives of the Royal Air Force Museum at Hendon, in England, I found much relevant and fascinating correspondence. To complement these written sources I have recorded and transcribed interviews with many people in England and Australia. (United States material is almost all relevant to Qantas history subsequent to the period covered by this volume.)
It is from all this material that I have tried, in the main, to find out what happened and to set aside the myths and pre-judices that survive. As I immersed myself in the material, it seemed that both the facts from the past and what could be recaptured of the atmosphere of the time and the outlook, values, and personalities of the human beings involved, could best be set down (where this was possible at all) in the words of the participants themselves. Although this approach cannot entirely rule out inclusion of my own comments, judgments and prejudices — either directly or in the process of selection — it does present much of the hard evidence of actuality. Where it has been necessary, I have tried to supply the broader context and, with the advantage of hindsight, relate events to the particular slice of Australian history that the emerging Qantas provided….