The Flying Kangaroo. By Jim Eames. Published by Allen & Unwin.
Qantas is the third oldest airline in the world and its history has been told from many angles, but in The Flying Kangaroo, Jim Eames, aviation writer and former Qantas Director of Public Affairs, tells the stories that never made it into official histories and corporate reports. These are the characters, events and weird things that have never been written about and which make our iconic airline all the more fascinating and endearing to Australians.
With an insider’s knowledge, Eames chronicles what really is the developing and changing culture of Qantas and particularly the determination, resilience, larrikinism and courage of its staff and crew. The history of Qantas is really the history of commercial aviation in itself, from the development of aircraft before World War II, to the hazards of flying in Papua New Guinea, to the long association with Boeing, to the mergers and competitive high fuel cost operations of the new millennium.
Insights into the privatization of Qantas
Eames laments the fact that many of the colourful characters of yesteryear, with magnificent skills often acquired in World War II, flying boat operations or seat of the pants stuff in PNG, would never be tolerated in Alan Joyce’s union-busting, downsizing environment. The book doesn’t really examine the present day and that’s probably the reason. However, it is incredibly up to date, citing the occasion of a decoration awarded to a former pilot in November 2015. It also provides some fascinating insights into the merger with Australian Airlines and the privatization of Qantas with personal accounts from former employees that you won’t find in the official records.
If you were wondering why vegemite is available in first class and why Four Square meat pies were served on Qantas flights, then Eames will answer those questions. You may also like to know about how Qantas smuggled Miss Reid (otherwise known as Princess Diana) out of Australia in 1981, its involvement in World War II and the Vietnam War, and the hazards and diplomacy of transporting Prime Ministers, popes and assorted celebrities. Having been in the RAAF during the war, Gough Whitlam was a VIP favourite and spent most of his flights in the cockpit.
Qantas safety record no accident
In the past, Qantas had a pretty impressive safety record and was the envy of all American airlines, with that very fact achieving a mention in the movie Rain Man. That was topped off when the clip showing Dustin Hoffman saying “Qantas never crashes” was shown at the 1989 Academy Award presentations – an advertising coup worth millions of dollars. But Eames points out that the safety record of Qantas was no accident. It was all about good training, excellent maintenance and skillful and intelligent crews in the air and on the ground. There have been some very hairy moments on Qantas flights and the personal accounts of those incidents and hazards is one of the most interesting aspects of this book.
There are not many Australians these days who haven’t flown Qantas and the sight of that flying kangaroo on the tail wing always engenders a feeling of confidence. What makes this book so enjoyable are the stories of the people who made the flying kangaroo Australia’s own. They are stories that will make you feel good.