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Hudson Fysh – From Jackaroo to Founder of QANTAS

by | Wed, Jul 12 2023

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Sir Hudson Fysh (1895 – 1974) pilot, businessman, pioneer

Hudson Fysh was born in 1895 in Launceston, Tasmania. His life story shows that having a difficult start in life doesn’t guarantee a bad ending. After his parent’s marriage failed, he went to live with his father but ran away so often that he was eventually allowed to stay with his mother, Mary Reed.

Hudson attended various schools but was a poor student. After leaving school, he became a jackaroo and wool classer. He made up for his lack of education by reading voraciously and later took a Pelmanism (memory training) course.

A Strong Christian Heritage Hudson Fysh – From Jackaroo to Founder of QANTAS

Hudson had a strong Christian heritage. In 1870, his maternal grandfather, Henry Reed, a Launceston businessman and philanthropist, living in London, gave William Booth, a British Methodist preacher, over £500 to establish the Salvation Army in Tasmania. Henry also funded Hudson Taylor’s China Inland Mission. Hudson Fysh’s mother, Mary, spent time working as a missionary alongside Hudson Taylor. Hence, Hudson Fysh was christened Hudson in honour of Hudson Taylor.

From Jackaroo to War Pilot

At the outbreak of World War 1, Hudson, aged 19, enlisted as a trooper in the 3rd Regiment of the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade. After completing his training, he was shipped to Egypt, then sent to Gallipoli in May 1915, where he spent seven months before being evacuated to Palestine. He was made Lieutenant in 1916 and was later transferred to the Australian Flying Corps where he trained and qualified as a pilot. In 1919, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

On his return to Australia, Hudson partnered with ex-service airman, Paul McGinness, and western Queensland graziers Fergus McMaster, (QANTAS Founding Chairman) Alan Campbell and Ainslie Templeton, to purchase an Avro Dyak and BE2e war aircraft that were no longer in use. Then on 16 November 1920 established QANTAS (Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd) in Winton, Queensland. Fergus wrote that QANTAS was ‘inspired by the spirit of ANZAC’.

In 1921 they began taxi, ambulance and stock inspection, and joy-riding services. Later that year, they sought government backing through Federal politicians to establish a regular Charleville-Cloncurry passenger service. Their tender was successful the following year. On 2 November 1922, 84-year-old Alexander Kennedy, an original provisional director and one of the guarantors, became QANTAS’ first, and regular passenger, right up until his nineties.

In 1923, Hudson became the Managing Director of QANTAS and continued as a regular company pilot until 1930, moving their head office to Brisbane when the company had registered its first million miles. The hangars and maintenance operations were established at Archerfield with safety being a high priority.

The Legacy of QANTAS and the Royal Flying Doctors

Hudson’s friendship with Reverend John Flynn sparked John’s vision to start a flying doctor service for people living in remote parts of Australia. Hudson proposed the use of one of QANTAS’ single-engine De Havilland 50 refurbished war planes named Victory. It was fitted to carry a stretcher, doctor and pilot.

In 1927, QANTAS signed an agreement with the Aerial Medical Service established by John Flynn to operate an aerial ambulance from Cloncurry in Queensland. On 17 May 1928, AMS received their first call for assistance. Dr Kenyon St Vincent Welch became the first flying doctor.

In 1942, the Aerial Medical Service changed its name to the Flying Doctor Service, which in 1955 became the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Qantas Empire Airways and British Imperial Airways Join Forces

The QANTAS empire was growing. Flying schools were established in Longreach and Brisbane as well as construction of seven of its own aircraft. In 1928, QANTAS was operating Australia’s first daily air service between Brisbane and Toowoomba and had the Charleville-Cloncurry route extended to Brisbane.

On 18 January 1934, QANTAS, extended their flight services to include international airmail travel between Australia and England in partnership with British Imperial Airways. They were known as Qantas Empire Airways Ltd (QEA) with Hudson Fysh as their Managing Director. QEA headquarters were moved to Sydney and Hudson helped to establish QEA’s first air service to New Zealand.

When World War II broke out, Hudson assisted the war effort by flying troops and equipment to New Guinea and bringing home casualties.

In 1947 the Commonwealth government bought Qantas. Hudson Fysh remained the Managing Director and later the Chairman until 1966 when, by then, Qantas was well known as one of the world’s leading airlines.

Sir Hudson Fysh died on 6 April 1974 at the age of seventy-nine. Hudson proved that being a poor school student did not limit his abilities. He had a good head for business and was hardworking. He left behind his wife Elizabeth, a son and daughter, and the legacy of founding the red and white Flying Kangaroo known as Qantas Airways Limited. Hudson authored multiple books, the most well-known being Wings to the World: Story of Qantas, and Qantas at War.

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Image of Sir Hudson Fysh is public domain