By 1976, a million people were leaving Australia annually to travel overseas. They now travelled by air, not by sea, and returned with food preferences influenced by Europe or places along the hippy trail from Kathmandu to London. The increase in overseas travel continued. There were 1.3 million departures in 1983 and 3.4 million per year by 2003.
Qantas operated its first overseas passenger flight from Brisbane to Singapore on 17 April 1935. The trip took four days. The first overseas passenger was a Major A. Phillips. Soon the tiny biplanes were deemed unsuitable and in 1938 Qantas began operating a Sydney to Southampton service using flying boats. It was called the Kangaroo Route – appropriate, in that there were many hops involved. There were stops in Darwin, Singapore, Calcutta, Karachi, Cairo and Tripoli, and two overnight stays.
However, flying remained expensive and through the 1950s and in the early 1960s, most Australians who opted for overseas travel did so by ship. The Italian-owned Sitmar Line had a contract from the Australian Government to transport assisted migrants from Europe to Australia and on the return journey the first wave of young Australians set off to make their European pilgrimage.
The Castel Felice, Fairsea and Fairsky trundled back and forth, offering menus that carefully navigated a path between familiar English-style fare and Continental exotica, with a definite lean towards the former. This luncheon menu from the Castel Felice includes spaghetti, but only ‘on request’. Clearly, the charm of Italian food was not a drawcard for the generation of young Australians then heading to the northern hemisphere.
Qantas began a round-the-world service with its Constellation aircraft in 1958 and in 1959 took delivery of its first jet aircraft, the Boeing 707. By 1966 there were 19 jets operating on routes around the world.
Through the 1950s and ’60s, in-flight dining was a much fancier affair than just slinging a plastic tray in front of the passenger. There were elaborately produced menus and much of the food was freshly prepared in aircraft galleys – even for economy-class passengers.
Overseas travel really took off after Qantas took delivery of its first jumbo jets in 1971. The capacity of the larger planes meant airlines could offer cheaper fares and the tradition of travelling to Europe by ship quickly faded away. The ships were re-purposed as cruise ships.
Qantas’s early jumbos included the Captain Cook Lounge on the upper deck, where first class passengers enjoyed a stand-up cocktail bar and restaurant seating. The lounges were resplendent with orange and purple cushioning – so 1970s.