The first scheduled passenger jet flight from Australia ready to depart live on black and white TV, © Qantas
The first scheduled passenger jet flight from Australia ready to depart live on black and white TV, © Qantas

This afternoon 50 years ago saw the start of the jet age for passengers in Australia, and on the Pacific.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4lnbaeOKpk&feature=channel_page[/youtube]

Qantas flight EM774, a Qantas 707-138 took off at 3.35 pm on 29 July 1959 for San Francisco via Nadi and Honolulu, and made the trip in only 14 hours 57 minutes.

It was the beginning of the end for the Super Constellations and for the scheduled ocean liners.

Sydney in 1959 and for a further three to four years was mainly connected to the rest of the world by the last of the great passenger shipping lines.

It was much more the harbour city than now. There were no skyscrapers, and the deep throated sound of the steam horn of a departing liner would carry for miles across the inner and eastern and north shore suburbs.

Dockside, at the wharves a brass band always played, and the streamers stretched between ship and shore, between parents and son and daughters off to see the world, to take the working holiday that was literally the great rite of passage for most of the generations of the 20th century outside of the wars.

Waving from the top of the stairs never quite replaced a band and streamers, © Qantas
Waving from the top of the stairs never quite replaced a band and streamers, © Qantas

On the Pacific, which Qantas chose as its first jet route, Matson Lines took the cream of the Pacific trade, with 16 day long sailings, and a clientelle drawn not only from celebrities, but rich American widows and divorcees who famously in those times, scoured the south seas for some action.

Qantas that afternoon also became the first non-US carrier to operate the Boeing 707, which had been introduced in comparatively small numbers across the Atlantic and on transcontinental American routes.

First class inside the early model 707 © Qantas
First class inside the early model 707 © Qantas

It was a remarkably spacious flying experience. There were only 60 seats in tourist class, and 24 in a first class that while not as spacious as business class today, came with a quality of catering and personal attention not found on any of the airliners of the present.

The mother of the skies appearance of that era © Qantas
The mother of the skies appearance of that era © Qantas

The Qantas flight bag became the accessory of choice of generations of school children, and probably made someone a millionaire on the concession to mass market it, but somewhere in the memorabilia of much older Australians there will also be ticket folders like this.

Now this is a TICKET © Qantas
Now this is a TICKET © Qantas

And photos or old fashioned letters to home from a generation that didn’t go on flying holidays that lasted for  weeks, but trips that lasted one or more years.

The 'must have' school bag at the dawn of the jet age © Qantas
The 'must have' school bag at the dawn of the jet age © Qantas

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.