The Powerhouse Museum’s Collection includes a number of objects related to the story of Qantas; model aircraft, cabin crew uniforms, travel posters, ephemera like badges and tickets and a very special collection of dolls dressed in Qantas uniforms.
2020 marks the 100th anniversary of Australia’s largest domestic and international airline, a significant milestone for one of the world’s oldest air services.
Image: Qantas travel posters Harry Rogers about 1965, Walter Jardine, 1939 and Douglas Annand, 1971-72, Powerhouse Collection.
Displayed in travel agencies and airline offices Qantas travel posters were intended to convey to the public, air travel’s increasing availability as a fast, safe, convenient and increasingly affordable mode of transport to destinations around the world. Early posters proudly showcased the airline’s latest aircraft including the Qantas Empire Airways flying boats introduced in 1938.
Qantas worked with a range of commercial artists and graphic designer’s including Harry Rogers who had a long association with the company, creating many poster series between the 1950s and 1970s including his whimsical collection of smiling animal portraits.
Designers were also tasked with creating posters that captured the imagination of international visitors. One of Australia’s leading mid-20th century commercial artists Douglas Annand produced an unusual design for an early 1970s Qantas poster. It features a striking image of the Australian native Xanthorrhoea tree, more commonly referred to as a ‘grass tree’. Annand commented that he settled on this image because he felt the plant looked ancient like the continent it grows in.
Image: Qantas cabin crew uniforms by Emilio Pucci 1974-87, Yves Saint Laurent 1987-94, George Gross and Harry Who 1994-2003, Peter Morrissey with Balarinji Design Agency 2003-16, Powerhouse Collection.
Airline cabin crew are the public face of the company and their uniforms play an important role in displaying brand identity and values and in ensuring the crew look professional and capable. It is a difficult brief for any designer as the uniforms also need to be comfortable, safe and practical, look stylish on a range of body shapes and sizes as well as remaining fashionable for up to ten years.
There have been 10 major changes of Qantas uniform design ranging from the military styles of the 1940s and the colourful flower power print of Italian designer Emilio Pucci’s uniform (1974-85) to one of the most popular and enduring styles designed by Peter Morrissey (2003-16) featuring the Wirriyarra textile design by Aboriginal-owned design agency Balarinji. Some uniforms present a distinctive Australian identity but more often they reflect a cosmopolitan outlook. The uniform (1987-1994) by French designer Yves Saint Laurent spoke to both, combining military style jackets with a kangaroo print fabric in garments primarily manufactured in Australia, using Australian wool. It was also the first time a pant option was included in the women’s uniform components.
Dolls in Qantas Uniforms
Image: Barbie dolls wearing Qantas uniforms made by John Willmott-Potts, including the Leon Paule aqua uniform worn from 1964 to 1969 and the Yves Saint Laurent uniform worn 1987 to 1994, Powerhouse Collection.
The Powerhouse’s collection of Qantas uniforms is complemented by a unique collection of forty-two Barbie and Ken dolls wearing Qantas cabin crew uniforms. They show the changing designs from the 1920s when the open cockpit made flying caps, goggles and warm coats essential, to the glamorous versatile styles of 2009. These miniaturised hand-made uniforms were a labour of love by John Willmott-Potts, a former Qantas cook and flight steward who spent 24 years with the company. Made over a period of twenty-two years they originally formed part of a ‘Stitches in Time’ travelling display and talk on the history of Qantas which John delivered to schools, museums and libraries in rural New South Wales. Responding to Willmott-Potts collection, Martin Grant, the designer of the 2015 Qantas uniform also created two doll sized uniforms featuring his latest designs.
Qantas Aircraft Models
Image: Model aircraft of Qantas Boeing 707 turbo-fan V-jet ‘City of Sydney’, Powerhouse Collection.
Aircraft models were used to showcase the latest innovations in aviation technology and design, playing an important role in animating people’s desire to travel by air and helping to allay passenger’s flight anxiety. Used as promotional gifts and for marketing in airline offices and travel agencies the models in the Powerhouse collection display Qantas airlines latest aircraft, interior layout, features and livery. They include a sectioned model of the Qantas Boeing 707-138B turbo-fan V-jet showcasing the new faster jet age aircraft, the first of which arrived at Mascot Airport, Sydney on 2 July 1959 ready to take on Qantas’ round the world route.