Qantas Pathfinders History

Find out about our history from Merry Howie – former Pathfinders President and Executive Member for more than 45 years – Written in August 2018

Qantas Pathfinders’ beginnings

As you may know, in 1967 on a flight to Hawaii, Qantas Chief Steward Pat McGann read a newspaper article about Jamie Ryan, a young Brisbane boy dying of leukaemia.  The story really touched Pat so he “passed the hat” around his crew who each donated a dollar to buy toys for him.  Sadly by the time they returned home, Jamie had passed away.

Unsure which charity would best benefit, Pat heard out about the great work the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (now NextSense) was doing and visited the children living at their North Rocks facility, donating the toys to them.  In fact Pat was so impressed, he formed an auxiliary to raise money which he named “Pathfinders” after the famous squadron which dropped flares to light the way during World War II.

From these humble beginnings, the generosity, talent and dedication of hundreds of Qantas Cabin Crew, Pilots and Ground Staff ensured Qantas Pathfinders flourished to become NextSense’s oldest and largest fundraising auxiliary and one of Australia’s premier volunteer fundraising groups.  Through the generosity of our members, sponsors and people who have attended our many events over the years, we’ve raised over $8.1 million.  Many Qantas Pathfinders have retired from Qantas, yet they actively continue to participate in our fundraising activities.

Current Events

The Joey Joy Flight (formerly Jumbo Joy Flight) began as a scenic flight over Sydney on a 707 for RIDBC children in 1970.  Santa was a regular visitor and gave all the children gifts purchased & wrapped by the Qantas Pathfinders.  In 1980, as the last 707 retired from the Qantas fleet, Qantas Pathfinders combined with Turramurra Rotary and the Jumbo Joy Flight expanded to take children with disabilities or from disadvantaged backgrounds from various charity groups on a 747-400 flight.  More than 50 years on and still going strong, it’s the first time many of these children have been on a plane and the smiles, laughter and excitement are sheer delight to experience.  Over the years various musicians have entertained the kids pre-flight and many famous faces were there to greet the kids on their return including Humphrey B Bear, Ronald McDonald, the Sydney Swans, Ian Thorpe, Kate Ritchie, Lleyton Hewitt, Pat Rafter and Cathy Freeman.  Radio, television and newspaper media outlets have always been very supportive of this event.

The first Revue, “My Fair Hostie” was held at the Illawarra Catholic Club in 1975 – the brainchild of Flight Attendants Peter Owens and Vic Allen.  Over the years the Revue has called many venues home – Maroubra Seals, Paddington Woollahra RSL, Selinas, Easts Leagues Club and for over 20 years its current venue, NORTHS.  The cast and crew even took to the road for a show in Melbourne in 1993.  In its 49th year, around 600 Qantas staff have donated their time and talents as cast and crew, entertaining tens of thousands of people and raising many millions of dollars for RIDBC, now known as NextSense.

Since 1987, former Cabin Crew Peter Owens and Col Burgess have taxed the grey matter with a fun night of games and spirited competition at the Qantas Pathfinders Trivia Challenge.  Initially held several times a year at various locations around Sydney, more recent venues have been the Dougherty Centre in Chatswood, All Saints Church in Hunters Hill and now Rowers on Cooks River.

Our newest event, a clever idea organised by Qantas staff with the proceeds donated to Qantas Pathfinders is Gig in the Street.  The “Captains of Industry” band featuring senior Qantas managers including Gareth Evans, John Gissing and Captain Dick Tobiano have provided a few hours of fun and entertainment for staff at Qantas HQ in Mascot.  These guys really can play and it’s always a fun afternoon, creating fabulous employee engagement.

Another perennial favourite is the Charity Flight which started in 2002 as a conversation between John Singleton and then Qantas Captain Roger Gee who is now a NextSense Board Member, former Qantas Pathfinders President and longstanding Executive member.  Our first flight was to Qantas’ birthplace, Longreach, followed by day trips to enjoy the sights and wonderful food and wine in Uluru, Norfolk Island, Hamilton Island, Hobart, Daylesford/Ballarat, the Sunshine Coast, Alice Springs, Queenstown NZ, Adelaide Hills, Mildura and Fraser Island.  Special guests have included Cathy Freeman, Adam Spencer, Jane Rutter, Peter Cousens, Graham Wilson, Maggie Beer, Tara Moss, Ray Martin and Ross Symonds.  This year’s special 20th anniversary flight sees our passengers return to where it all began – Longreach – to discover the outback and sights such as the Stockman’s Hall of Fame, as well as enjoy a delicious lunch and tour of the Qantas Founders’ Museum.

Former Qantas Pathfinders Events

The cornerstone of Qantas Pathfinders has always been creating unique and fun events.  For the dedicated Qantas Pathfinders, it was more than fundraising; they created a community of caring people who truly made a difference (and had a fabulous time doing it)!  Moving forward we have a fabulous legacy to uphold …

One of the best known fundraisers was the Pathfinders Lottery which began in the early 70’s and continued until 2011.  For many years the first prize was a car, later an overseas trip or cruise.  Qantas Pilots and Cabin Crew received books of tickets in their work mailboxes and enthusiastically sold tickets to their family, friends and the greater Qantas community.  Staff working in Qantas Clubs and interstate also came onboard to help – one year, a Darwin ground staff member sold both the first and second prize winning tickets!  Qantas Pathfinders also sold tickets at shopping centres to the general public.

The Qantas Pathfinders clearly loved getting dressed up and having a great night out.  At the annual Art Exhibition in the old Commonwealth Bank building in Martin Place from 1976-1987, top artists including Pro Hart, Lloyd Rees, and Robert Dickerson lined up to donate their paintings to support the cause.  It was great fun but a lot of work to put together!  The opening night cocktail party was always a fabulous night and something everyone looked forward to each year!

Another chance to glam up and dance the night away was at the Pathfinders Balls, the first one held at the Sebel Townhouse in Elizabeth Bay in 1990.  Held in various locations throughout the city, the balls were organised by a group of Qantas medical sisters and flight hostesses.  A highlight was when band du jour, the Enormous Horns performed.  TV news presenter, Richard Morecroft was one of the celebrity attendees.

Splash for Cash, organised in conjunction with Rotaract, was initially held at Lane Cove pool.  Around 200 children and adults were sponsored by their friends and family in the annual swimathon.  Each year the celebrity race was commentated by the legendary Norman May and Bubbles Fisher was always an enthusiastic participant. As the event got bigger, it moved to Sydney Olympic Aquatic Centre where Susie Moroney took part.  There were great prizes for the most laps and most money raised.

At Movie Premiere Nights, Qantas Pathfinders took over Roseville Cinema (remember the days when each cinema only had one screen) to watch a popular movie of the day.  There might have been a cheeky vino or two enjoyed as the movie was screening!

Fun and lots of laughs were had onboard Fools Afloat – a cruise on Sydney Harbour with the entertainment provided by the highly talented Qantas Cabin Crew and Qantas Pathfinders Revue members Lesley Hancock, David Furey and Tony Trenbath.

It seems the Qantas Pathfinders ate, danced and enjoyed themselves whenever they could … another chance to slip on the disco shoes and raise money for RIDBC as it was then known, was the Casablanca Club – an over 30’s disco organised on the Central Coast by Ray and Rosemary Moore.

Progressive Dinners saw various Qantas Pathfinders hosting each course of a delicious meal with great company.  Don Kinna organised a Qantas bus to transport everyone between houses throughout the night.

The Shrapnel Collection was a clever idea by Neville Fraser.  Collection boxes were placed in the Cabin Crew sign on areas and Qantas Clubs for customers and crew to donate their spare coins.  Nev and his wife Maureen then sorted them all and sweet talked various crew into taking bags of foreign coins back to distant countries to be changed into local notes and then Australian dollars.

And Everybody’s Favourite Event …

The legendary Pathfinders BBQ Caravan!  The persuasive Qantas Pathfinders of the day organised a caravan to be donated and the Qantas Engineers generously refitted and painted the caravan in Qantas Pathfinders colours, later building a BBQ trailer. The caravan was taken to all sorts of events to raise money around Sydney.  Often the Qantas Pathfinders camped overnight where I’ve heard there might have been a favourite tipple or two imbibed, many a tall tale shared and loads of camaraderie enjoyed … sounds like they had a hoot!  Events included the annual RIDBC garden show in the 90’s, Qantas open days, Schofields & Richmond air shows and St George NRL games.  If the caravan could only talk, it would relate some memorable celebrations – the exciting night in Circular Quay in 1994 when Sydney was announced as the next Olympic host, not to mention a trip to the Mardi Gras after party to serve food and drinks to thirsty partygoers.

Generous Support from Qantas Staff

Over the years it has been customary for Qantas CEOs to be Patrons of Pathfinders, from Sir Hudson Fysh to James Strong and now, Alan Joyce.  It was thanks to CEO Captain Robert Ritchie that Qantas donated a 707 for the Joy Flight. Currently Qantas donate an aircraft twice a year – for the Jumbo Joy Flight and the Charity Flight.  Qantas staff have been beyond generous with all of our events and we would like to thank everyone who has supported us over the years.

Our amazing sponsors

Qantas Pathfinders events could not have been staged without the generous support of our sponsors over the years.  As well as Qantas, we are proud to name NORTHS, Qudos Bank, VIVA Energy and Sydney Airport as our major sponsors, with many companies donating prizes and support to bring our events to life.  Many of our sponsors come back year after year and they are just as much a part of our events as our volunteers and participants.

None of this could be possible without … 

Pat McGann, or “Budgie” as he was known to those who loved him was considered to be one of the most admired Qantas employees of all time.  He was awarded an OAM for the wonderful work he did for Qantas Pathfinders and the children at RIDBC.  Budgie left us in 2011, but his legacy lives on, forever changing the lives of children and adults with vision and hearing loss and we thank him and all the dedicated Qantas Pathfinders over the years for their amazing contributions.

At our AGM in April 2018 we welcomed new Qantas Pathfinders President, Qantas A330 Captain Craig Lambert. His appointment is especially touching as his daughter Natalija is a former Nextsense student and Craig’s family has first hand experience of the wonderful services provided by Nextsense. We’d like to thank former President Louise Flitcroft Paisley for her superb leadership over the last 14 years. Under her stewardship, this year Qantas Pathfinders surpassed the amazing milestone of $8 million raised since it began in 1967. It’s noteworthy that some of our executive committee have been involved for over 45 years and we’re extremely grateful for their contribution.

For the last 33 years, we have been so fortunate to have the wonderful support of the former RIDBC Committees Co-ordinator, Kaye Bailey.  Kaye has sweet-talked celebrities, arranged amazing donations from corporate and private sponsors and provided endless support to make every event the best it could. Kaye retired from RIDBC in August 2019 … we wish her the best and we’re sure Kaye will still be on hand to volunteer her time and participate in our future events.

If you’ve been inspired by the Qantas Pathfinders story, we are always looking for new sponsors, new members from the Qantas community and new fundraising ideas.  If you would like to join us and help make a difference to the lives of some beautiful children, please get in touch using the contact details on our website, our Facebook page @qantaspathfinders, or email [email protected].