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Three men set out on a long and bumpy drive across northern Australian 100 years ago

Kirili Lamb, August 18, 2019 6:45PM Rural Weekly

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George Gorham, Paul McGinness and Hudson Fysh before departing Longreach on their air service survey of northern Australia on August 19, 1919. Picture: supplied media_cameraGeorge Gorham, Paul McGinness and Hudson Fysh before departing Longreach on their air service survey of northern Australia on August 19, 1919. Picture: supplied


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On August 19, 1919, aviators* and future Qantas founders Paul McGinness and Hudson Fysh, along with driver George Gorham, set out from Longreach, Queensland, in the latest Model T Ford hired from Longreach Motor Works.

They were on a mission for Australia’s Department of Defence to survey and prepare airstrip sites, ahead of a UK to Australia air race among Australia’s World War I airmen, all chasing a £20,000 prize and a ride home.

The three war veterans would spend 51 days travelling north to Burketown on the Gulf of Carpentaria, then west to Katherine, Northern Territory.

They drove along rough tracks designed for a bullock wagon rather than a primitive car. The tyres of the Model T were so damaged by thorns and sticks they stuffed them with spinifex.

George Gorham makes a river crossing on the survey journey north from Longreach. Picture: supplied media_cameraGeorge Gorham makes a river crossing on the journey from Longreach. Picture: supplied

Little wonder that along the way, around the campfire at night, they hatched the idea of an air service.

By the time they reached Darwin, NT, a rough plan and an agreement to seek out investors and support for a Queensland and Northern Territory air service (Qantas for short) was settled.

Thirteen months later their company was formed, changing bush transport forever.

kghslghs hgalrghurelg lohrsaglrhg media_cameraThe drive (dotted line) the three men took in the Model T Ford from Longreach to Katherine in 1919. You can also see the original Qantas air route. Picture: Qantas Founders Museum

A century later, on Monday, August 19, the Qantas Founders Museum at Longreach will celebrate the centenary of that journey, with museum curator Tom Harwood and buildings maintenance manager Bruce Searles dressing up like its 1919 and taking the museum Model T Ford “Molly” for a tour of the town — visiting schools, kindergartens, tourist and historic spots. Though not the vehicle used for the trek, it is the same year model.

Ahead of the quirky town tour, Mr Harwood said he had taken Molly on a practice drive.

“We went out to the Visitor Information Centre, and out to the river, to the free camping area out there; just a little cruise around. It was a bit of fun!” Mr Harwood said.

Model Ts are hard to drive, with Car and Driver magazine comically* suggesting: “The odd position of the throttle, brake, and shifter make driving a Model T an archaic and dangerous experience. It’s like trying to do the Charleston* while loading a musket* after a big night at the speak-easy*.”

QANTAS model T Ford media_cameraStopping for a photo beside an anthill bigger than the car on the 1919 journey.

Mr Harwood said he had found the steering quite heavy.

“You tend to forget what cars feel like without power-steering, and in modern terms, it’s confusing, because the pedals are sort of backwards: the brake is on the right, the middle pedal is reverse, and the one on the left has the clutch halfway down, then all the way down is forward,” he said.

“Once you get going, you then let the pedal all the way out, and it drives. And the throttle* is actually a lever on the steering wheel.”

1919 : Model T Ford used by Hudson Fysh to re-cross Gulf of Carpentaria country in 1919 after R Smith passed through Darwin. Photo is taken by Hudson Fysh and shows the Northern Territory bushmen who made the trip with him. This was not the actual car used on the Darwin survey. Pic courtesy Qantas. Australia's First Century Historical media_cameraHudson Fysh recrossed the Gulf of Carpentaria later in 1919 in this Model T Ford, very similar to the car used on the first survey drive. Picture: Qantas.

The modern driver needs to concentrate more and plan ahead for intersections.

The vehicle offered some advantages for the expedition driver on the rutted* tracks and creek-crossing challenges of the 1919 journey.

“In many ways, this was the ultimate off-road adventure. The few roads that existed were normally used by steel-tyred horse-drawn coaches and bullock wagons and these blokes had to create their own tracks across rough country in a basic two-wheel drive car with no support services,” he said.

“They had a professional driver in George Gorham. He was a driver for New Zealand Loan before World War I, so he had a bit of experience driving cars around the countryside.

“The clearance is better than you get in a modern car: somewhere between that of an SUV and a four-wheel drive.”

The Qantas Founders Museum has tested the actual journey in the past.

Model T Ford outside the Qantas Founders Museum, leaving Longreach, as they re-enact Hudson Fysh and Paul McGinness trip in 1919 from Longreach to Darwin in a Model T Ford. media_cameraMolly the Model T Ford outside the Qantas Founders Museum at Longreach, Qld in 2009, heading off on the drive to re-enact Hudson Fysh’s and Paul McGinness’s 1919 trip.

“One of the Qantas pilots, and now a director of the museum, Don Hill, took Molly to re-enact that 1919 trip 10 years ago,” Mr Harwood said.

“It was the first time that anyone had driven some parts of that track in 90 years.

“They found that there were certain parts of the road that the old Ford could get through, that the modern four-wheel drives had more trouble with, partly because it is a lighter vehicle, and partly because it just keeps on churning along.”

He said the 1919 drive was a significant moment in Qantas and Australia’s aviation history.

“This trip highlighted how remote and isolated outback Queensland and Northern Territory communities were and what a major impact an aerial service would have in the region.”

Paul McGinness (third from left) about to depart Charleville for the first Qantas passenger flight on November 2, 1922. Picture: supplied media_cameraPaul McGinness (third from left) about to depart Charleville for the first Qantas passenger flight on November 2, 1922. Picture: supplied


  • aviators: pilots
  • comically: as a joke
  • Charleston: a dance popular in the 1920s
  • musket: an early type of gun
  • speak-easy: an illegal pub from the 1920s
  • throttle: accelerator
  • rutted: with potholes and bumps


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Reimagining the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Historic Dog on the Tuckerbox statue damaged


  1. When and where did the three men start their drive?
  2. What was the original purpose of their drive?
  3. How many days did the drive take to Katherine?
  4. Who or what is Molly?
  5. What are three differences or similarities between a Model T Ford and a modern car?


1. Journal from the journey
Write a journal entry from the point of view from one of the three men who went on the “big drive”. Your journal entry should include at least four pieces of factual information (underline these in yellow), two enjoyable aspects of the journey (underline these in green) and two difficulties you think they may have experienced (underline these in red). Try to make language choices that convey the “voice” of the writer in your journal entry.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, History

2. Extension
Choose one of the locations on the original Qantas route to research. Record some information that you have found out. If you want an additional challenge, see if you can find out what the town was like 100 years ago and compare it to the town today.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Geography, History

With a partner see if you can identify all the doing words/verbs in this text. Highlight them in yellow and then make a list of them all down your page. Now see if you and your partner can come up with a synonym for the chosen verb. Make sure it still makes sense in the context it was taken from.

Try to replace some of the original verbs with your synonyms and discuss if any are better and why.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Would you choose to do the 1919 car trip or the 1919 UK to Australia air race or the first Qantas passenger flight in 1922? Why?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

Extra Reading in history