One of my first jobs as a junior reporter was to meet flights bringing famous people to Australia. Growing up in a country far from everywhere (except, as my father would say, “where you come from”), I was led to believe that Australia’s honour was at risk unless a well-known person from Over There said something flattering about us, preferably the moment they arrived at Sydney airport. There was a designated list of attributes they could comment on. These were: the weather, the beaches, the harbour, the harbour bridge, the happy people, the beer. When an exhausted Elizabeth Taylor stepped off her piston-engined flight from California and faced the mandatory barrage of questions, she replied: “Where am I, for Christ’s sake?”
This was understandable but ill-advised. Readers of the Australian press were warned that Taylor and her accompanying husband Mike Todd, the Hollywood producer, were problem people who did not appreciate their good fortune in being among us. Todd’s “dwarf-like and grizzled” appearance and the size of the bags under his wife’s eyes became the subjects of particular tabloid scorn. Their stay was brief.
It was the first scheduled jet flight that drew us closer to the rest of humanity. This momentous occasion gave me my first front page story in the Sydney Daily Telegraph, which declared solemnly, “A new era in civil aviation has dawned…”. The inaugural aircraft was a Boeing 707 of the national airline Qantas, an acronym for Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services. Founded in the outback town of Winton, Queensland in 1920, Qantas is today the world’s oldest continuously operating airline and, along with the great cricketer Don Bradman and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, occupies a place in the nation’s affections. Most important, it is the only major international airline in the jet age never to have lost an aircraft in a fatal accident. Perhaps wary of holding such a distinction to fortune, Qantas advertising never mentions it.