Virgin Australia's E190, Cloncurry's time machine

A new page will be turned in the illustrious history of flight in the vast outback of Queensland on 27 November when Virgin Australia starts twice weekly non-stop flights between Cloncurry and Brisbane using Embraer E190 jets.

The event will not for a moment shade the great story of the very first scheduled Q.A.N.T.A.S flights between Charleville and Cloncurry which began in 1922, nor the hard won pioneering extension of its network directly into Brisbane in 1929.

But it will be a moment to reflect on how such a vast, and to this day, tough land played such a foundation role in the start of commercial aviation, while the action, measured in metrics of passengers and freight-times-distance flew away in a progression of bigger, faster, flying contraptions, into a different more rapidly changing world compared to the isolated community experience that is found to this day ‘out back.’

Consider this. The role of the early Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services flights was to get people and mail to the railway stations where they could board steam engine drawn wooden carriages of intricately crafted construction for incredibly slow and long journeys to the small capital town on the lower reaches of the Brisbane River.

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Less than 100 years later Australia has become a continent of only five truely modestly sized cities by the standards of the early 21st century, and the outback, while far more comfortable and civilised than it was before aviation and radio stations, remains amazingly remote and ‘wide open’, a long way off the beaten highways and flyways of our times.

In this context, an airline like Virgin Australia, announcing a non-stop 98 seat jet service , is not ‘just another addition to a regional network.’ It is the arrival of a time machine.

The new flights will straighten out, and radically shorten the air access between Cloncurry and Brisbane, which until they start, has been via Mt Isa or Townsville.

Flying the route, in what is the premier single aisle airliner in the world for cabin space in business or economy seating,  will be a somewhat surreal transition between an outback the airline pioneers of the 1920s would still recognise and the stupendous river city from what for them would have been the unimaginable future that is our present.

As a Crikey subscriber and someone who began working as a journalist in 1957, I am passionate about the importance of independent media like Crikey. I met a lot of Australians from many walks of life during my career and did my best to share their stories honestly and fairly with their fellow citizens.

And I never forgot how important it is to hold politicians to account. Crikey does that – something that is more important now than ever before in Australia.

North Stradbroke Island, QLD

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