Given to the Qantas Flight Hostess Club
at The Queen's Club, Sydney
on 22 May 2007
Today ladies I follow in your
footsteps, without you going before me I would not have the career that
I now enjoy so much. For the past 19 years, I have been a Long Haul Flight
Attendant with Qantas, joining the company in August 1988. This of course
was the bicentennial year and Australia's tourism was booming. In fact
when I joined there was a training class a week, the ratio of women to
men was 15 to 1 and hence our nickname became Bicentennial Babes.
For the past three and a half years I have stepped back in time to the
era of the Boeing 707, and not just any 707, but Qantas' very first, the
29th off the Renton production line. VH-EBA, the City of Canberra
was first delivered on 7th June, 1959, way before I was even born! VH-EBA
was brought back home on the 16th December last year.
So I know you are trying to figure out if you worked on her or not, so
if you flew between June 1959 and November 1967 there is every chance
you would have.
This aircraft was purchased last July by the Qantas Foundation Memorial
and is registered as VH-XBA and will return to its original rego of EBA
when it takes its home at the Museum in Longreach, Queensland. This aircraft
holds so much historical importance to Australia and Qantas. It was Australia's
first jet aeroplane on the civil register, the first 707 sold outside
of the USA and Qantas' first jet transport.
She is both the oldest flying 707 and the oldest surviving 707.
She was originally named City of Canberra but this was just for
a short period before it was changed to City of Melbourne. EBA
remained in the US for fifth pod certification and came to Australia after
EBB, so EBB was christened City of Canberra for political correctness.
There were only 13 of this model 707-138 ever made, they being specifically
built to order for Qantas under the direction of Ron Yates. So QFM owns
the first of the series, and the last, EBM, being owned by John Travolta,
or JT for those of us who like to think we're in the know.
The aircraft has had a number of previous owners, including M. Jackson
and that is Michael not Margaret, its last owner was a member of the Saudi
This aircraft was discovered in England, at Southend-on-Sea which is just
over an hours train ride east of London on the Thames Estuary. A place
where aircraft go to change owners, registration, colour schemes and even
In 2002, A Qantas Engineer, a keen plane spotter, noticed that the serial
number matched that of Qantas' first 138 aircraft.
It was decided to rescue her from the wreckers.
For the past 3˝ years a wonderful band of volunteers has put in over 15
000 man hours to save and return this aircraft to Australia.
Negotiations for its purchase went to the very highest levels of the UK
and Australian Governments and were by far and away the most difficult
part of the project.
I became involved in this project as the curator, to collect any memorabilia
that people might have, and wish to donate to the QFM at Longreach.
My role as the Flight Attendant or Flight Hostess came much later as the
project neared its final stages.
An initial team of engineers travelled to Southend-on-Sea in the UK in
January 2006 to see what state the aircraft was in and if it could be
recovered and by what means. As you can imagine, there was a lot of concern
especially about corrosion with it being parked for so long and in such
inclement weather by the sea. They thought they would have to break her
up into small pieces and ship her home.
Word came back after a good look over the aircraft that there were no
"SHOW STOPPERS", so instead of dismantling and shipping her back it looked
like with some work that she could be flown home. The most fitting way
I say too.
So in June 2006 a team of 10 engineers flew to Southend and commenced
On my trips to London I would go to Southend and visit and really wondered
if this thing would ever get off the ground again, but the dedication
and passion of these men who would not accept less than 100% was inspiring
and I knew that it was only a matter of time before the call would come
to go to England to fly her home. The experience of these people and their
passion is not something that can be traded.
As work continued and meetings in Australia with the flight crew started,
it was decided that they would need a Flight Hostess and since they already
had one on the committee, they asked me if I would like to join the team
for the trip home.
No need to explain what the answer was to that one.
With not much notice and a uniform borrowed from Lynley and the Promotional
Team Heritage Collection, the race was on to get a jungle green uniform
made to fit me. Of course I did wish I could fit into the promotional
team one, but no amount of dieting would have made that possible.
The material was impossible to find, though we were able to match the
colour perfectly, Unfortunately, the only problem was it being 100% cotton
and we all know how cotton doesn't travel the best.
I was very fortunate to find two dressmakers in Chatswood who were up
to the task of making it in short time for me. When I said I needed it
in 10 days and only one fitting on the day of pick up they just laughed
at me and said that it was impossible, but I told them the story of the
aircraft and the importance of the uniform and they stepped up to the
I was really pleased with the result and felt it connected nicely the
Flight Hostess with the aircraft.
I did have some help keeping it authentic, Xiena Healey gave me the buttons
for the uniform and Joan Gilbert the wings. David Jones supplied the "step
The tech crew for this journey were all ex RAAF 33 Squadron, in fact two
still are with the Squadron in the reserves, and were all instructors
on the B707 prior to joining Qantas. The RAAF helping out with their simulators
for refresher training. For our Commander, Murray Warfield, it had been
close to 20 years since he had flown a 707.
So, in late November, the adventure began, 3 Captains, 2 Flight Engineers
and I went to the UK to bring her home. Joining us for the flight home
we also had the company of 3 Engineers our own CASA rep and 2 documentary
makers. So, like you before me, I found myself surrounded by males. The
sole female and only Flight Hostess for the journey.
What should have been a few days before we left to return to Sydney turned
into 3 weeks as a problem was encountered with the starting of the No
2 engine. As you can imagine, spare parts were getting a little hard to
find, but the spirit of co-operation from all parts of the globe helped
us see it through.
No problem was too hard for the engineers and by a process of elimination
and some serious work it was fixed and better than new. In fact the pilots
thought she was a little pocket rocket.
During this time they assigned all sorts of jobs to me, all hands were
needed on deck, so now I can work the oxygen system, put on the hush kits,
find my way through the Lower 41, open the rear cargo door, I even agreed
to cleaning the windows, but insisted it was to be only on the inside.
The aircraft is currently fitted out with Royalty in mind, so the bedroom,
dining room and en-suite, complete with shower and gold taps are all very
different to the interior that you may remember. There are only 36 seats
Being the safety conscious group that we are, we ran two taxi tests, then
two test flights, before she was given the ok to fly home.
It's now December and it was time to say goodbye to our home away from
home, the Erlesmere Hotel. This place made Fawlty Towers look luxurious
and we sure could have used John Cleese for a bit of a laugh at times.
So the wet and miserable morning of Friday 8th December was not going
to deter us from leaving, in fact it was an incentive.
We had many plans and options for the route home, but the longer the delay
progressed, the worse the weather in our original planned transit stops
of Montreal and Seattle became, snow and ice was coming in thick and fast,
and so with some hasty re-arranging it was decided the "beach route" through
the southern US, would be the way home for us.
First stop Dublin, Ireland, still cool, no beach but at least not wet.
This was not just an hour's stop for a Guinness but a tech stop to fill
up with fuel as we had not been able to do this before because the short
runway in Southend posed a weight penalty.
Filled her we did, so much so she was overflowing, with a leak appearing
in the left wing tank. Here we go we thought, just one stop from where
we were, an hour away from all those marvellous facilities at Southend
and we were running into problems. Some quick thinking and an even quicker
take-off soon sorted that out, as the leak was only in the top of the
tank….so as it burned off, the levels dropped almost immediately, hence
the problem was solved.
We packed overalls, spare parts, ladders, torches, lights and everything
you could think of as we thought the engineers would be working each and
every night repairing the problems that occurred during flight and then
they would catch up on their sleep during the day while we were flying.
The Pilots and Flight Engineers had their work cut out for them as the
Auto Pilot was not working and sloppy in response, so when we were moving
about the cabin and going from back to front, it got quite physical for
them to keep us at the right altitude.
The CASA representative we had brought along was there to keep us on our
toes and sign off on any problems that we came across but alas that was
our only hiccup. So an easy trip home for him.
It was like she finally said, oh all right then off we go, lets get home,
and that's exactly what happened.
Our next stop Tenerife in the Canary Islands, Paella for 12 thanks! A
nights rest after a big day being most welcome. Bermuda was next (and
my favourite by far), and just when you think things couldn't get any
better we flew to Orlando, Florida where we hooked up with John Travolta
or JT, this was just magic, he had flown down to meet us!
Here we parked the aeroplanes nose to nose for a publicity shoot. What
an interesting man, he knew so much about our aircraft, where the routes
were, the uniforms, everything. I am not sure if you watched the documentary
that was recently on TV, but he is absolutely passionate about Qantas
and flying in general. He graciously let us go over his aircraft and we
had a great time swapping tales with his crew, who by the way all wear
the full Qantas uniform.
I remember his Flight Attendant asking to see what my china and glassware
was like, and I said; "Darling, I don't even have running water let
alone a china cup." The potable water system was one thing we didn't
have time to fix, so we carried a large bottle of water and hand wipes
for the toilets with a hot cup always on the go in the galley.
From Orlando across the US to Los Angeles with a quick nights rest and
a water cannon arch as a send off by the L A Airport Fire Dept.
Down to Honolulu where by now it must be beginning to all sound a bit
familiar to you, thankfully this was for two nights, the only city in
which this was to occur. The others all said it was for me to go shopping
but personally I think it was so all the lads could go to the hardware
section in Sears.
Early start and down to Nadi, and a very quiet night here not only because
we had a 0430 start the next morning but for the political coup as well.
The next day, the 16th of December was of course very exciting.
Homeward bound. Finally, into Sydney.
After we landed, we were towed into Hangar 216East to the strains of I
Still Call Australia Home. I mean, you can just see it now can't you?
When Qantas put on a show they can really put on a show. What felt really
weird was that normally for me I am on the outside looking in. That Saturday
I was on the inside looking out.
Never before had I seen so many people waiting to welcome me home! I mean
there were literally hundreds.
We were greeted by Margaret Jackson, and Senator Ian Campbell who was
at the time the Minister for Environment and Heritage and who had funded
us to the tune of 1 million dollars.
The future plans for this aircraft are to take her to the Qantas Founders
Outback Museum in Longreach next month where she will be de-commissioned
and put on static display for future generations to enjoy and understand
the significance of this aircraft to Australia's and Qantas' history.
It has been an absolute honour to be involved in this project, in fact
I can almost go so far as to say that it was a life changing experience.
The people I met along the way, the Flight Crew of course the Engineers
and watching their dedication and work ethics was inspirational. Every
day I learnt something new.
So now, with there not being the restrictions of having to leave when
married, the cost of a flight to London now being 3 weeks pay rather than
110, duty free shopping readily available and the glamour of being an
international flight hostess still there, I hope to be able to continue
along this path for some time yet.