Ansett's last flight

A slice of Australia's aviation history
 Simon Smith
& Siobhan Dee
Ansett Collection pack up at Melbourne International AirportPhotographer: Simon Smith

In May 2011, in the final days of one of Australia’s best known commercial airlines, the NFSA acquired a range of audiovisual material from the administrators of Ansett Australia. The collection, which includes films, videos and several unique artefacts formerly stored in a warehouse near Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport, provides a unique glimpse into the corporate history of a former national aviation icon.

More than 100 titles were acquired, spanning more than 60 years of the airline’s history and including news items, advertisements, travelogues, in-flight entertainment, corporate and actuality footage, along with several presentation awards. The Ansett collection is an invaluable addition to the NFSA’s existing holdings of aviation material.

The earliest footage discovered during sorting and inspection was a 16mm film featuring a 27-year-old Reginald Ansett (the founder of the airline) and his brother Jack winning the 1936 Brisbane to Adelaide Air Race. The winnings provided the pair with the capital needed to grow their fledgling company Ansett Airways. In 1986, the company celebrated its 50th anniversary with a series of advertisements featuring the slogan ‘For 50 years, Australia’s leading airline’.

The collection highlights not only the company’s flagship national airline but also the many regional airlines acquired by Ansett throughout the 1950s and ’60s. These include advertisements and promotional films for MacRobertson Miller Airlines (WA) – one campaign using the contentious slogan ‘Some boomerangs do come back’ – and Airlines of New South Wales.

Several films also reflect the diversity of Ansett’s aircraft fleet, with advertisements for Ansett’s Sandringham Flying Boat Service to Lord Howe Island and their range of helicopters. Ferry Flight – The Story of a Beautiful Bird (1977), produced by Ansett-owned Austarama Television, follows the 29,000 kilometre delivery of a Sikorsky Helicopter, the world’s largest passenger-carrying helicopter, from the factory in Connecticut, USA to Proserpine, Queensland.
Mounted plaque commemorating the opening of ATV-0 Melbourne. NFSA Title #1022148Photographer: Tenille Hands

Other material reflected Sir Reginald Ansett’s interests away from aviation. Film of several race meetings were uncovered in the collection including colour silent footage of the first postwar race meeting held on 4 December 1947.

The NFSA also acquired several unique artefacts, such as a mounted award presented to Sir Reginald to commemorate the 1964 opening of Melbourne’s third commercial television station ATV-0 (which Ansett owned until 1979) and a presentation book of the 1984 Pater Awards, offered to then Ansett Transport Industries chairman Sir Peter Abeles.

Another highlight is a rarely-seen recruitment video tempting American pilots to immigrate to Australia to work for the airline. Made in 1989 and presented by American-born actor (and non-pilot) David Arnett, this video was most likely produced in response to the Australian domestic airline industry’s pilot dispute in August of that year.

The collection also features videotape compilations of many later advertisements, including several produced after ownership of Ansett Australia had fully transferred to Air New Zealand in 2000. Following the Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s grounding of Ansett’s entire 767 fleet three months earlier, a July 2001 advertising campaign featured CEO Gary Toomey attempting to reassure the industry of the company’s financial strength through the airline’s ongoing sponsorship commitment to major sporting codes and events.

Six weeks after this advertisement was produced, and a day after the tragic events of 11 September 2001 in the USA, Air New Zealand placed the fate of Ansett Australia in the hands of administrators. While it is unclear if this advertisement ever reached Australian television screens, it was the end of an era for an Australian aviation icon.