Meet the Originals: Hudson Fysh (1895-1974)

A natural caution turns to daring

Wilmot Hudson Fysh was born in 1895 in Tasmania. His early life was happy but marred by the failure of his parents' marriage and his father's business. Hudson went to live with his father but ran away so often, eventually he was able to stay with his mother.

Major Addison and Lieutenant Fysh in a Bristol Fighter

Major Addison and Lieutenant Fysh in a Bristol Fighter, Palestine, 1917 (Photo: Australian War Memorial)

Painfully shy, he described himself as "a child feeling looked down on, sensitive, and socially lost". These feelings, mixed with a natural caution and reserve, never left him, despite his demanding public roles, in Australia and overseas.

In 1915 he fought at Gallipoli and like his fellow Anzacs amply proved his courage.

"We lived like rats in their holes, and hung on to our hillside with the enemy on one side and the beach a few hundred yards away on the other".

Joining the Australian Flying Corps as an observer and gunner, he teamed with the intrepid pilot, Paul McGinness. This war-forged alliance of prudence and daring was an ideal mix of talents to realise their future vision of Q.A.N.T.A.S.

Fysh won a Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery and in 1918, trained as a pilot himself.

Like many returned soldiers in 1919, Hudson had no idea what to do with his life. When McGinness cheekily suggested they enter the Great Air Race from London to Australia, he was easily persuaded. It was more appealing than returning to wool classing.

Months later in the heat, flies and stunted trees of the unforgiving Outback, when McGinness described his idea for an airline of their own, Fysh saw its power immediately and proceeded to back it to the hilt.

In December 1923, one year after the inaugural Charleville-Cloncurry airmail flight, with Q.A.N.T.A.S. still shaky financially, he married Nell Dove from the Hunter River and they settled in Longreach. It was the height of summer.

"Our little residence, quite usual in Longreach, had a galvanised-iron roof, unpapered wood walls, and at the back a galvanised-iron lean-to kitchen with a wood stove. It got the full blast of the afternoon sun, and we recoiled from the rush of heat coming from its doorway".

The move to Longreach was a huge act of faith by Nell who was entirely new to the West. Her intelligence, understanding and support were crucial to him. Their children, John and Wendy, were born in Longreach. Hudson's family would always be at the heart of why he persisted, and his bulwark against the relentless pressures of the company.

In 1920, few people anywhere grasped aviation's potential. One Longreach local joked "the Q.A.N.T.A.S. hangar would make a good woolshed". But Fysh trusted his vision and acted on it. Although ill at ease with fame or publicity, he mastered whatever Q.A.N.T.A.S. demanded of him.

His illustrious career spanned an unbroken 46 years until his retirement on 30 June 1966. He was in turn founder, manager, managing director and chairman, assuring the airline of a proud future in the modern world. He was knighted in 1953. He died in 1974, aged 79 years.

The Q.A.N.T.A.S. adventure could not have succeeded without Fysh's extraordinary integrity, thoroughness and faith in himself. His memorial is the airline itself.

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