Relief, disbelief and a huge sense of satisfaction were the emotions Qantas Founders Museum’s Rodney Seccombe was experiencing as four trucks carrying a precious cargo rolled into Longreach last Wednesday.
Five years of planning, coordinating and negotiating came to a conclusion with the arrival of the 60-year-old Lockheed Super Constellation aeroplane.
It’s going to form a centrepiece in the aviation museum’s collection, telling the story of Qantas’ transformation into a long-range overseas air service in its own right, and giving the Longreach economy a tourism boost.
As the project manager, Rodney organised its rescue from the mud of Manila, its dismantling into four parts, the 11-day sea journey from Manila’s port to the Port of Townsville, clearing quarantine and customs inspections, and then finally its two-day road trip down the Gregory Development Road and the Capricorn Highway to its new home in Longreach.
In the last two years he’s spent around seven months in the Philippines, and had to consider things such as Australia’s cyclone season and Asia’s typhoon season and their effect on shipping.
“It’s almost unbelievable – we’ve been working on this for so long and had so many hurdles to hop over, this is almost a letdown,” Rodney said as he watched a crane carefully lower a wing to the ground, while a helicopter carrying eager photographers hovered overhead.
“It’s just a relief, and great satisfaction.
“As one of the drivers said yesterday, we’re creating history.”
The Connie, as it’s fondly referred to, is a big part of the Qantas story, cutting the flying journey between Australia and London down from 10 days to four, and the first to feature flight hostesses.
Rodney said the reception received at all stages of the journey from people wanting to help showed how important it was to all.
“There’s hardly a family in Longreach that indirectly doesn’t benefit from the museum,” he said. “This will increase employment, it will increase money in the town, it will increase tourism.”
Restoration stage up next
Volunteers and a bucketload of cash are now being sought as the Qantas Founders Museum prepares to begin the restoration of the old plane.
It’s expected to be a two to three year job, both in cleaning, patching and painting the exterior and putting it all together again, and to fit out the interior with modern ways of telling the Super Constellation story.
Rodney said people didn’t need to have skills to volunteer for the restoration project.
“If we want you to do something we’ll show you how to do it,” he said, adding that 30 or so tourists had repainted the tail of the museum’s 747 one year.
“It’s something I’ve put a lot of thought into, mainly because the parts are so big,” he said.
“You can’t just pick up a wing and put it on the side of the plane.
“A crane isn’t satisfactory for the precision we need.
“At one stage we’ll have to lift the whole thing off the ground to get the undercarriage in. That’ll be a big step.”
Qantas will celebrate its centenary in 2020, which gives the project a firm deadline, and Rodney said “big chunks” of money will be needed for the innovative interior displays that will form the basis of another aircraft tour experience.
Anyone who is interested can contact the museum on: 07 4658 3737 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.