and the Substantial Illusion
The Queensland Air Museum's attempts to acquire a Mirage date
back to January 1987 when QAM was preparing to open to the
public at Caloundra Aerodrome after having relocated its collection
of four aircraft from Brisbane. At this time, the Mirages
were being progressively retired as the F/A-18A Hornets were
The campaign began with a letter to a number of influential
people. The recipients included Kim Beazley (Minister for
Defence), John Brown (Minister for Tourism), Tom Uren (Minister
for Administrative Services), Evan Adermann (Federal Member
for Fisher) and Mike Ahern (State Member for Landsborough).
QAM's appeal was generally well received but the main obstacle
was the continuing inability of the Commonwealth to gift aircraft
to museums. There ensued a lengthy and robust letter-writing
campaign, principally with Mrs Ros Kelly who, in September
1987, was appointed Minister for Defence Science and Personnel
in the Hawke government. Exchanges included allegations by
QAM that Mirages (identified by serial number) were being
scrapped. Although this was denied, the Minister curiously
added that "no further disposal of this nature will occur."
One suggestion put forward by QAM was that Mirages should
be made available to Australian museums for a fixed token
price. The Minister responded that government policy was that
"organisations such as museums and historical societies should
be able to compete for display aircraft before general tenders
are called. Scrap merchants would not be considered one of
these restricted organisations." The Minister further advised
that QAM's suggestion of a fixed token price was not possible
"because of the limited number of Mirages available for
tender." (In the event, none were put up for tender).
The year 1988 was one of celebration as Australia marked its
Bicentennial. As QAM did not have a permanent site when Bicentennial
grants were being allocated, there was to be no funding but
QAM was endorsed as a "self-funded Bicentennial Project."
A proposal that QAM should be presented with a Mirage in recognition
of its Bicentennial endorsement did not achieve the desired
Then in May of 1988, it was announced in RAAF News
that Mirage A3-59 had been presented to the Royal Malaysian
Air Force for the token price of twenty cents! This was one
of those "red rag to a bull" moments which prompted QAM to
congratulate the government on embracing QAM's earlier suggestion
of adopting a fixed token price. These exchanges culminated
in QAM forwarding to the Commonwealth a twenty cent coin in
full payment for one Mirage aircraft. Surprisingly, the offer
was not accepted and the twenty cents was never returned!
The Minister later justified this action with the assurance
that A3-59 was "an empty shell", whereupon QAM advised
that it would have been quite satisfied with an empty shell.
Another extraordinary development during the campaign was
the donation to QAM of a pair of Mirage supersonic drop tanks
which were even delivered by the donor. Significantly, the
donor was none other than Simsmetal!
Eventually it was decided that the sale of the Mirages would
be conducted on a government to government basis and in April
1990, the Commonwealth signed a contract with Pakistan for
the sale of 50 Mirages. It emerged that there were only 48
complete aircraft available so to make up the numbers, two
Mirages were "resumed" from Point Cook. It is understood
that these aircraft had been set aside as the RAAF Museum's
trading stock. The contract also included the sale of five
Mirage fuselages. These aircraft were sourced from Darwin,
Orchard Hills and Dubbo. These seven aircraft were no doubt
the seven aircraft that QAM had been earlier assured would
be retained by the RAAF for display and as trainaids and which
might become available to museums at some time in the future.
After the sale was announced, there were suggestions that
the deal might be aborted because of objections from India.
This prompted an appeal to Queensland Premier Wayne Goss to
reiterate QAM's request for a Mirage. To his lasting credit,
Premier Goss wrote to Defence Minister Robert Ray stating
that QAM's request "was supported by the Queensland Government."
Mr Goss also added; "I am advised by the Director of the Queensland
Museum that a Mirage aircraft would be in keeping with and
appropriate to the Collections of the Queensland Air Museum."
Despite the protests from India, the sale went ahead.
QAM's last shot in the locker was in July 1990 with a desperate
plea to the Pakistan High Commissioner in Canberra in the
hope that some aircraft may not be required or even may not
fit on the boat! Unsurprisingly, QAM was advised in no uncertain
terms that Pakistan would not have paid for all the aircraft
if it didn't want all the aircraft! We couldn't argue with
logic like that so this effectively marked the end of QAM's
four-year campaign to acquire a Mirage.
In November 1990, the Mirages, most of which had been stored
at Woomera, were trucked to Whyalla from where they were shipped
While the disposal of the Mirages may have produced an economic
benefit for Australia, given more recent history, it can hardly
be regarded as one of the nation's proudest moments.
It is against this background that twenty-six years later,
QAM seized the opportunity to acquire a Mirage from a private