Qantas Boeing 747 jumbo jet upstairs lounge: Working as a flight attendant during the classic '70s era of air travel

In 1969, Deirdre Graham landed her dream job as a Qantas flight attendant (or air hostess, as they were known in those days).

She travelled the world for the next 10 years, including working as cabin crew on migrant charter flights and carrying the likes of prime minister Gough Whitlam and other famous Australians.

Now in her 70s, Ms Graham remembers the exact moment she received the telegram to say she had been appointed to work for Qantas, on April 2, 1969.

"I just couldn't believe it. I was sitting at my sister's house and it was like winning the lottery, or like having a fairy godmother looking out for you," she said.

Ms Graham was in the class that launched the famous orange uniform that defined Qantas in the early '70s. Working for the airline in those days was "spectacular fun, we had a great union and the working conditions were great," she said.

While there are plenty of female flight attendants on airlines these days, Ms Graham says the main reason Qantas needed female cabin attendants in the '70s was because men did not know how to look after the babies some women would travel with.

"Part of our job was to prepare bottles, infant formula, give the mother a break when we could and try to keep the little ones entertained."

"We really stuck together then. Despite all the fun, it was a boys' club in those days and there was a lot of sexism," she said.

Travelling with Gough Whitlam meant Ms Graham and her colleagues were able to visit many locations that weren't on the regular Qantas routes. A Boeing 707 would be taken off-line and re-configured so the Whitlams would have a private area at the front of the aircraft, the next section was for their staff and Labor colleagues, and the back was for the press.


"We went to New York for Mr Whitlam to make a United Nations appearance; Ottawa; Nashville to see the Parthenon replica; Andrews Airforce Base in Maryland and Mérida on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula to tour the Mayan ruins of Uxmal and Chichen Itza," Ms Graham said. "There were prime ministerial trips with other crews, one including a visit to China."

In 1971, Qantas launched its first Boeing 747-200 jumbo jet with a nautical themed lounge (complete with spiral staircase) for those in first class. It had room for 15 passengers, a cocktail bar and seats that swivelled 360 degrees.

Now, the Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach, Queensland, is giving Australians some insight into what it was like for Ms Graham and other travellers in the 1970s, with a replica of the retro lounge. It's brightly coloured and decked out in the classic '70s decor that was revolutionary for its time.

First created as a set for the airline's centenary safety video, the lounge has been provided to the museum on long-term loan.

The 747 marked a new era in travel and is considered to be a revolutionary part of the airline's history.

"The lounge was like a lovely bar, it was very comfortable. Queen Frederica of Greece was a regular traveller. She was like an understated Elizabeth Taylor," Ms Graham said. "Whilst our time together was as passenger to crew, she did chat quite openly and I was both impressed and amused when she told me she had a son who was a king, a daughter who was a queen and another a princess!" Ms Graham said.

Another turning point for air travel came with the introduction of Women's Weekly and Jetabout Tours that opened up international travel to average Australians.

"The return journeys could be pretty rowdy as everyone had become friends and busily shared stories, photographs and swapped addresses," Ms Graham said. "I distinctly remember a brand new T-shirt slogan from those days: 'I'm only here for the beer'".

Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said "the Boeing 747 aircraft revolutionised international travel and the Queen of the Skies was a much- loved aircraft that took millions of Australians on their first overseas adventure".

The airline retired the last of its jumbo jets in 2020 amid much fanfare and disappointment among lovers of the iconic aircraft.

The replica lounge will feature in the museum's main exhibition hall, with original menus, silverware and crockery as well as Emilio Pucci's original Qantas '70s uniform, once modelled by Ms Graham.