Charlie Chaplin in Jakarta highlights the first Qantas international passenger route

QANTAS AIRWAYS' long history and close engagement with Indonesia and South East Asia over 80 years is reflected in the fact that the pioneering Australian airline's first international operation was the Darwin-Kupang-Batavia-Singapore airmail freight route which commenced on 26 February 1935.

From 17 April that year Qantas transferred one of its five "elegant, four-engine" biplanes, the de Havilland DH86, for its first overseas passenger flight from Brisbane to Singapore, a four-day trip that included overnight stops at Cloncurry, Darwin and Rambang (Lombok). The route, which  also included Batavia (now Jakarta, capital of Indonesia), was part of an Australia to London alliance with Imperial Airways (now British Airways).

Global movie star Charlie Chaplin, Qantas Captain Russell B. Tapp, actress Paulette Goddard and her mother Alta Mae Goddard, disembarking from a Qantas DH86 at Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia) on 23 March 1936. Source: Qantas Historic Image Gallery

Qantas charged 117 pounds, (roughly $3200 in today’s terms) for its first international service and no cabin crew were carried. The First Officer handed out drinks and sandwiches prepared on the ground although the passengers usually chose to eat meals at the fuel and overnight rest stops along the way.

International movie star Charlie Chaplin was one of the early international passengers. He and his fiance, actress Paulette Goddard, flew on Qantas from Singapore to Batavia during their 1936 world tour following the release of their movie "Modern Times". They then travelled around Java by car and holidayed in Bali.

Advertisment c1935, From the collection
of the State Library of  New South Wales
The DH86 biplane operated the Singapore service accident-free from 1935 to 1938, but was too small to meet the growing demand. Qantas then decided to introduce Short C Class Empire flying boats.

As the flying boats needed only a mooring buoy, terminal building and fuelling facilities, Qantas established a base at Rose Bay in Sydney. From there, he aircraft would fly the entire Australia-Britain route, with the Qantas and Imperial Airways crews changing in Singapore.

The Qantas DH86 fleet had a new lease of life during World War 2 when it was used to deliver ammunition to Australian and American forces in the New Guinea campaigns against the Japanese.

See also: 75th anniversary of the first Qantas flying boat service to South East Asia (4 Aug 2013)