Fears that Qantas Museum in Longreach may not reopen

A museum in the birthplace of Qantas that was honouring the airline’s 100th birthday this year has been grounded by coronavirus and faces an uncertain future.

Apr 02, 2020, updated Apr 02, 2020
Qantas Founders Museum CEO Tony Martin welcomes by the influx of 'affluent tourists' to Longreach.

Qantas Founders Museum CEO Tony Martin welcomes by the influx of 'affluent tourists' to Longreach.

IF all had gone to plan, this week Longreach would have been four weeks away from starting year-long celebrations for the international airline that was born in its town 100 years ago.

Instead, with businesses closed, borders shut and people’s movement highly restricted due to coronavirus pandemic lockdowns, the Qantas Founders Museum has shut its doors until further notice.

Chief executive Tony Martin is uncertain whether the museum will ever open again.

April normally begins the height of the Queensland outback tourism season, attracting “grey nomads” from the south in their flotilla of caravans, chasing warmer weather before the oppressive summer heat and monsoonal rains build-up from October.

It’s a six-month window that also rains cash for countless outback tourism ventures and the businesses that benefit from the annual visitor influx such as motels, pubs, restaurants, cafes and service stations.

An economic development body in central west Queensland released a report last month showing the tourism industry injects $527.4 million into the central west region each year.

That includes iconic towns such as Barcaldine, birthplace of the Australian Labor Party, Blackall’s heritage-listed wool scour, and Winton, where Banjo Paterson is said to have written Waltzing Matilda and these days is home of the Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival and a world-famous dinosaur museum.

The study by the Remote Area and Planning Development Board found the average domestic overnight visitor spent $880 per trip in Longreach.

Tourists spent $68.8 million in the Winton economy and 306, 200 people visit Longreach per year. Eighty per cent of those are domestic visitors who stay overnight.

Qantas retirees and existing staff and airline executives were due to fly into Longreach next month to kick-start celebrations that would have run until Qantas’ official founding date of November 16.

The heightened interest in Qantas’s history would have seen the museum’s average 50,000 visitors annually increase 8 per cent this year, according to Martin’s estimate.

The museum, which is not owned by the airline, is also due to complete in a fortnight a $14.3 million project to put shade over the facility’s impressive display of antique aircraft.

“With the centenary celebrations and the completed project due to increase visitor numbers, we were looking at adding another five jobs to our current staff of 35,” Martin said.

“When you think that our community is a little over 2000 people, those extra jobs amounts to an investment of over $1.5 million in wages back into Longreach.

“The visitor numbers alone represent about $15 million in annual spend. That is now something the Longreach community will be without, at least for another 12 months.

“Even if the country emerges from the coronavirus restrictions in six months, it really won’t be until April 2021 before we start to see any serious numbers of people come through our doors.”

While Martin agrees with the Federal and State Governments’ restrictions to put the health of people first, he fears that a highly successful tourism venture, started and supported by the community, won’t be able to re-open its doors without significant assistance.

“The reality is we were already coming off a very low period with the drought and summer which is our dead period as far as tourism is concerned, and now we have an indefinite closure before we go into summer again,” he said.

“We’re looking at about 18-24 months of no revenue. You just can’t recover from that.”

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