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Civil aviation’s contribution to Australian tourism was not significant until the 1970s. Prior to this decade most people who travelled by air to, from and within Australia were businessmen and public servants. Between the two World Wars, tourist bureaus were established by state and territory governments in capital cities. But the modern Australian holiday was a way off. Annual leave, for example, was only introduced into industrial awards from 1936.[i]

Passengers on the first Pan Am flight from American Samoa to Sydney, Mascot Airport, 1 December 1962 (Photograph John Mulligan)

It was the jet age that saw domestic tourists take to the air. Internationally, the arrival of the wide-bodied jet gave Australia the chance to engage in the global tourist market. Qantas took delivery of its first batch of 747 jumbo jets in 1971. Airlines also began to develop package tours and invest in luxury resorts.

International tourism was vital to the rise of cities such as Sydney and Melbourne as world-class global cities in the 1980s and 1990s. Australia’s states were transformed into ‘event led’ economies.[ii] Sydney has its gay and lesbian Mardi Gras, Melbourne its Formula One Grand Prix, international festivals abound and major sporting events such as ‘the tennis’ see airlines changing their international schedules.[iii]

Table 1

Civil Aviation, International Passenger Arrivals and Departures and Flights, 1960-2013


Year       Arrivals       Flights        Departures         Flights

1960       93,113         2237          81,328             2226

1965       251,271       4584          224,237            4626

1970       529,633       7280          489,155            7225

1975       1,220,860    13,594        1,171,242         13,419

1980       2,059,450    10,253        1,959,866          10,225

2002       4,655,800*

2008       5,699,400

2013       6,273,000


Wray Vamplew (ed), Australians: Historical Statistics, Fairfax, Syme and Weldon Associates, Sydney, 1987, p181; Australian Bureau of Statistics, ABS 3401.0 Overseas Arrivals and Departures, Australia, June 2013

* Last three year financial years

Heritage Sources 

Progressive developments in aviation meant that by the 1960s ordinary Australians could fly for personal and recreational reasons. During the late 1950s and early 1960s the major airlines introduced a new generation of pressurised turbo-prop aircraft on domestic routes and the cost of flights within Australia became relatively cheap. Increasing numbers of Australian citizens began to explore their own country by air, and younger people began to travel overseas giving rise to cultural phenomena such as the “gap year”. This process was accelerated from the 1970s by the introduction of pure jet aircraft, and particularly wide-bodied mass transit machines.

TAA advertising 1950s (National Library of Australia)

A number of turbo-prop airliners are currently preserved. Queensland Air Museum and the SAAM both have examples of the Fokker Friendship, the latter with an interesting experimental CSIRO history. The Australian National Aviation Museum (ANAM) at Moorabbin, Victoria, has a former TAA Vickers Viscount. The QANTAS Museum in Longreach is assembling a substantial collection of airliners that includes examples of commuter types and international long haul machines like the Boeing 747. Documentary material such as travel posters and flight related memorabilia is well represented in museums, archives, art galleries and private collections.

Other technological developments brought individual flight within the reach of the general public. In the pre-WW2 period, many enthusiasts experimented with building basic gliders and even early home-built powered aircraft like the Mignet Flying Flea[iv]. Two generations later, inexpensive flight could be achieved using hang-gliders or powered parachutes, while a wide range of kit form ultra-light aircraft became available. Gliding, which became popular before WW2, continues to be one of the primary ways in which Australians learn to fly. There are a wide range of enthusiast organisations that service these interests and many have an online presence. The Royal Australian Air Force Association Museum (RAAFA) in WA has an original Flying Flea. Other significant artefacts survive in collections like those held by the ANAM, the Gliding Museum at Bacchus Marsh and the AAM in Bankstown, NSW.

Another important area where sophisticated aviation technology is widely used for recreation is skydiving, and other sport applications of parachutes including base jumping.  Emerging from the development of the parachute as a life-saving measure for aircrew, and as a means of putting troops down on a specific target, the recreational use of the parachute has greatly expanded in recent decades. It is understood that there is little preserved material relating to this topic.

Looking forward, most Australians already have access to small remotely controlled flying machines. The technology that a few years ago produced miniature model helicopters – now combined with increasingly sophisticated electronics - is delivering practical drones with the capacity to relay visual information and to carry small loads. These represent a new wave in the engagement of ordinary Australians in flight. What effects these developments will have in the long term is emerging as a major question.  This is an area that could be addressed by collecting institutions within Australia, to capture both the rapid transition in the equipment and the accompanying social implications of this developing technology.

Archival material associated with air travel and its social impact can be accessed through the on-line sites of museums and galleries around the country. The actual equipment of sport/leisure flying is probably only thinly represented in museum collections, but much likely remains in private hands.

Rhon Ranger Glider (Australian Gliding Museum)


Museums, Collections & Archives

National Archives Australia, ACT


Documents and other ephemera regarding air travel and tourism such as insurance policies for Members of Parliament and excess baggage forms.

National Film Sound Archive, ACT


A collection of audio visual material from a variety of sources such as news and advertisement regarding air travel and tourism such as TAA and Ansett TV advertisements.

National Museum of Australia, ACT


The Jan Phillips and the Australian National Airlines Collections has material regarding air travel and tourism which includes signage, uniforms and other memorabilia.

Museum of Applied Arts and Science, Sydney, NSW

Memorabilia and ephemera relating to air travel and tourism such as air tickets, philatelic material and models of civil aircraft.

State Library NSW


A collection of manuscripts, glass slides and photographs relating to tourism and travel which includes photographs of social events relating to aviation and travel fairs.

The Qantas Heritage Collection, NSW

Qantas is one of the oldest airlines in Australia and has become Australia’s national carrier. Its collection contains memorabilia, historical objects, advertising paraphernalia and documents about Qantas and other Australian airlines.

Qantas Founder Outback Museum, QLD

A museum dedicated to the Qantas founder and the early years of Qantas, the museum has a collection of object relating to air travel and tourism. It also has a number of aircraft that have been used in civil aviation.

South Australian Aviation Museum, SA

Several aircraft that are used in civil and leisure aviation such as the Gipsy Moth, Fokker F27 and Terrafly ultralight craft.

Australian Gliding Museum, VIC


A collection of gliders that are used in leisure aviation such as the Flying Plank and the Coogee.

Australian National Aviation Museum, VIC


A number of civilian aircraft such as the Vickers Viscount, Douglas DC2 & 3 and Gipsy Moths.

Museums Victoria, VIC


A collection of material regarding air travel and tourism such as advertisement for air travel such as information brochures, advertisement and photographs.

TAA Museum, VIC

Museum focusing on the Trans-Australia Airlines and Australian Airlines. It has uniforms, advertisement and historical documents relating to TAA and other Australian airlines.

The Sir Reginald Ansett Transport Museum, VIC

Museum devoted to Ansett and its founder which has a great impact on Hamilton and the region in its early days. Has memorabilia, records and aircraft from the early days of Ansett and its role in air travel and tourism in the mid-20th century.


Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport Group Airport Dr , Sydney Airport, NSW

One of Australia’s major airports, it has been in existence since 1921 and has been an important for air travel.

Camden Airport, Airport Rd Camden, NSW

One of the first airports in the Australia, it was also the site of a training school in WWII and its currently used by leisure and commercial aircraft.

QANTAS Hangar Longreach, Landsborough Hwy, Longreach, QLD

This nationally listed site is the place where Qantas had its operations providing services to the region and eventually nationwide.

Archerfield Airport, Beatty Rd, Archerfield, QLD

Site of one of Australia’s first air control towers and is still in use today.

Barloweerie Aerodrome, Meeberrie-Mt Wittenoom Rd Murchison, WA

An important site to the local community that provides essential services such as commercial air and mail services.


People & Organisations


A major airline in Australia up till the mid-1990s, material regarding Ansett is distributed across the country and can be found in major collecting institutes such as the National Museum of Australia, National Film and Sound Archive and also the Sir Reginald Ansett Museum in Victoria.


One of the most easily recognizable airlines domestically and abroad, Qantas is also one of the oldest continuing airlines in Australia. Material regarding Qantas can be found across the nation from place such as the Queensland Museum and Qantas Founders Outback Museum to the National Museum of Australia and the Australian War Memorial.


One of the major airlines in Australia, material regarding TAA can be found in numerous collections and museum around Australia  such as National Museum of Australia, National Library of Australia, Museum Victoria, and Qantas Heritage Collection and in the TAA Museum in Victoria.

[i] Jim Davidson and Peter Spearritt, Holiday Business: tourism in Australia since 1870, The Mygunya Press, Melbourne, 2000.

[ii] Beverley Kingston, A History of New South Wales, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 2006, chapter 9, ‘The event-led economy’.

[iii] Davidson and Spearritt, op cit.

[iv] Cameron D.G., n.d., Henri Mignet and the Flying Fleas - An Incomplete Overview, Queensland Air Museum Papers and Research Projects, accessed 20th July 2014, < http://www.qam.com.au/papers/flying-flea.pdf >