Lisa Dube has yet to find a workplace like it.
“People don’t hang out with each other at work – they just go to work and go home – but that wasn’t the experience we had,” she says.
Lisa worked in the accounts and reservations department at the Canberra Airport for Ansett Airways for 14 years, from 1988 as a “fresh-faced girl out of school” right up until the company folded in 2002. She remembers her time there fondly.
“It was a tricky industry to work in. There are times of pressure, and you’ve got planes to load and get up in the air, but you sort of bond in those circumstances. Working hard and socialising together created an atmosphere none of us have ever really found in other workplaces.”
Ansett Airways was founded in 1935 by Reginald (‘Reg’) Ansett as a national offshoot of his road transport business in Victoria. It went on to become the country’s leading carrier, even opening a subsidiary in New Zealand.
However, competition from Qantas and budget airlines like Virgin in the late 1990s put Ansett on ice and not even Air New Zealand could save it from sinking. Despite pressure from the public, the Australian Government refused to bail the company out and it entered administration in 2001. The last flight touched down on 5 March 2002.
“I had a 5 am shift and got a call about 3 am to say it’s all over – don’t bother coming to work today,” Lisa recalls.
“We knew there was trouble but we never really thought it would come to that. It was actually a big shock, and we all still got in our uniform that day and went to work because we didn’t know what else to do or where else to go.”
Twenty-two years later, Lisa and other former employees of Ansett Canberra are getting together for a reunion on Saturday, 23 September, at Mercure Canberra in Braddon (formerly Olim’s), starting at 3:30 pm.
About 50 people have RSVP’d so far, including those from interstate and overseas.
“It’ll be former airport ground staff, check-in staff, baggage handlers, and then the corporate staff from sales and reservations, as well as the retail staff,” Lisa says.
It’s a “big family” that has stuck together since they first gathered at the Kingston Hotel in 2002, flabbergasted by how the day turned upside down.
“It was straight after 9/11, so there was this sense of doom and gloom. But we all supported each other and looked after each other while we all went looking for other work.”
They would hold reunions every year, with plans for a big one for the 20th anniversary, only for COVID to put the kibosh on that. A recent funeral for one of their Ansett colleagues prompted them to “really reconnect with each other” and make it happen for 2023.
Lisa, now 52, stayed in the aviation industry, albeit as an executive assistant to the chief financial officer at Airservices Australia in Canberra.
“I have friends who work for Qantas and they say it is definitely a different time,” she says.
“A lot of the airlines use contractors and it’s not actually airline employees. And the companies are looking at the bottom line a bit closer these days.”
The Ansett Canberra Reunion will be held on Saturday, 23 September, at Mercure Canberra, Braddon, at 3:30 pm. Visit the Ansett Canberra Reunion event page on Facebook for more information or to register your attendance.