The Qantas story began in March 1919, when former Australian Flying Corps officers W Hudson Fysh and Paul McGinness heard of a £10,000 ($20,000) prize offered by the Federal Government for the first Australians to fly from England to Australia within 30 days.
McGinness travelled to Yanko in western New South Wales to see Sir Samuel McCaughey to ask if he would fund their entry in the race. In Palestine the two young lieutenants had flown a Bristol fighter presented to No.1 Squadron by the millionaire industrialist. Sir Samuel agreed to finance their venture, but died before a suitable aircraft was found. The executors of his estate would not support the flight.
This setback was fortuitous for Australian aviation. If the wartime friends had entered the race they might not have thought of their air service and Qantas would not have risen from the scorched outback of western Queensland to become a great international airline.
Fysh and McGinness accepted an assignment from the Defence Department to survey the air race route from Longreach in Queensland to Katherine in the Northern Territory, leaving supplies along the way for the competitors.
Their arduous journey, in a Model T Ford, began on 18 August 1919. Fifty-one days and 2179km later, after travelling through areas never before crossed by a motor vehicle, they reached the Katherine River. Each gruelling mile they endured strengthened their conviction that an air service was the answer to linking remote outback settlements.
Fysh later wrote, "We were convinced of the important part aircraft would eventually play in transporting mail, passengers and freight over the sparsely populated and practically roadless areas of western and northern Queensland and North Australia."
After completing their survey Fysh prepared a landing strip in Darwin for the Defence Department and stayed on to welcome the winners of the air race, Ross and Keith Smith, who touched down in their Vickers Vimy on 10 December 1919.
Fysh rejoined McGinness and they again sought financial backing, this time for an air service. Graziers were sympathetic, having first-hand experience of the vagaries of travelling in the outback where there were no roads and no bridges across frequently flood-swollen rivers. When wet, the black Queensland soil turned into thick, cloying mud, isolating communities for months at a time.