QAM 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 entering service.

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 result.

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 to Pakistan.

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 collection.



Compiled by Ron Cuskelly



Original issue.