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Sir Hudson Fysh
, 1950

by William Dobell

oil on composition board (frame: 133.5 cm x 113.0 cm, support: 101.5 cm x 81.0 cm)

Sir Hudson Fysh KBE DFC (1895–1974) was one of Australia’s great aviation administrators. Born in Launceston, Tasmania, he enlisted at the beginning of World War I and served in the Australian Flying Corps, winning the Distinguished Flying Cross. In 1919 he qualified as a pilot. Later that year he was commissioned by the government to survey the Darwin to Longreach section of the Britain-Australia Air Race, which lack of funds had prevented him from entering. In November 1920 Fysh and Pat McGinnis, who had driven with him on the survey, joined two others to form Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd (QANTAS). Fysh became managing director of the company in 1923, but continued to work as a pilot over the next seven years as QANTAS established various routes and functions in Queensland, including an air ambulance service. In 1934, in partnership with Imperial Airways, QANTAS began to operate the Singapore-Australia air route, trading as Qantas Empire Airways (QEA). Six years later Fysh became a director of Tasman Empire Airways Ltd, which flew to and from New Zealand. Fysh oversaw further expansion of QEA, and its purchase by the Australian government, before retiring as the company’s managing director in 1955 and chairman in 1966. Between 1965 and 1973, he published three autobiographical volumes covering the history of Qantas; a biography of Henry Reed, a key figure in the early development of Launceston; and book on trout fishing, Round the Bend in the Stream.

William Dobell (1899–1970) was commissioned to paint Fysh for the thirtieth anniversary of Qantas in 1950. Though he and his wife liked it, Fysh described the painting as ‘rather a shock to some people’. It was, he said, ‘a magnificent piece of work of a great master, but the treatment of the face… made me look so dissipated and haggard as to cause me to remark that if someone in fifty years’ time were told that the subject was a founder of the great airline Qantas, he would refuse to believe it.’

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the Australian War Memorial, in
association with the Fysh family 2008
Accession number: 2008.77