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Swain, Elaine Junette (1927 - 2012)

AM

Born
8 June 1927
Sydney, News South Wales, Australia
Died
8 March 2012
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Occupation
Air hostess and Flight attendant
Alternative Names
  • Smith, Elaine Junette (birth name)

Summary

Born in Sydney in 1927, the middle daughter of three girls born to Dulcie and James Smith, Elaine Junette Swain (nee Smith) worked as an air hostess and hostess superintendent, in Australia and abroad, during the 1950s, 60s and 70s. In 1956, she established the Airline Hostesses Association of Australia; in 1966 she established Wings Away, an association for the former Airline Hostesses of Trans Australian Airlines (TAA). Wings Away had a social and a fund-raising focus, with the emphasis on raising funds for the benefit of children with disabilities. In 1976, through Wings Away, she helped to establish a specialist lending library to support and assist the parents of children with disabilities.

Details

Elaine Junette Smith was born in 1927, the middle daughter of three girls, with Patricia (Patty) being eighteen months older and Eileen six years her junior. She attended boarding school at a Dominican Convent in Maitland, New South Wales, Australia, where her sister, Patty, also boarded. Experiencing all her schooling there taught her much about independence.

After finishing school and near the end of World War Two, she joined up as part of A Volunteer Aid Detachment (VAD) where she was one of a group of young women volunteers who helped nurses in their duties. She then completed a business course and subsequently worked for a short time in a government office in Sydney.

At the age of 22, Elaine applied for the position of Air Hostess with the fledgling airline, Trans Australian Airlines (TAA). She was successful, and her long association with the airline began on 4 May 1949.

She worked for eight years before resigning to work overseas, filling the roles of Training Hostess, Check Hostess, and then Port Supervisor in Melbourne during her time. She was a crew member of flights that, at the time, represented aviation milestones in the history of Trans Australian Airlines, the Viscount 700 service being one example.

On 26 September 1956, while employed at TAA, she was instrumental in calling a meeting of hostesses from all airlines: Australian National Airways (ANA), which was owned by the Hollyman family of Tasmania; Sir Reginald Ansett's Ansett Airlines; and TAA, to form the committee for 'The Airline Hostesses and Stewards Association'. The early meetings were not particularly successful, because most potential members were unsure how to actually establish an association! However, with the assistance of the Air Pilots' Association manager, Bruce Crofts, they were soon up and running. Elaine was elected the first President. The reason for their existence was to fight against injustice and exploitation. The duties of a hostess were long, arduous and poorly paid.

When presented to the Registrar in Melbourne, there were objections from the Trade Workers Union. Once again, Bruce Crofts' help was crucial in smoothing over the problems. On 2 November 1956, the association was officially issued its Certificate of Registration.

In April 1957, Elaine did what many other hostesses did at the time; she resigned and went overseas to work. Arriving in London, she applied to Cunard Eagle Airlines and was appointed Senior and Training Hostess. She held this position until 1960, when she was promoted to Chief Hostess of Cunard Eagle Airlines Bermuda/Miami.

In 1962, she moved to Bahamas Airways, Nassau, as Cabin Service Supervisor. She was there for twelve months when she decided to apply for a position back at TAA. The role of Hostess Superintendent was advertised world-wide and she was the successful applicant. She held that post until 1977. Her international experience proved invaluable. She implemented a range of improved training procedures, including a mock-up aircraft cabin at Essendon Airport in Melbourne. Her streamlined procedures also enhanced on-ground training for new employees.

In 1966, while still working in her role as Superintendent, Elaine floated another idea that she brought back from overseas: the establishment of an association for ex-air hostesses. At the time, becoming an air hostess in Australia was quite a competitive and selective process, and the bonds between this 'exclusive' club of women were strong. Elaine decided to build upon this comradeship. She conceived of a branch based organisation, with each state hosting a branch that would then join to support a national organisation. There was enthusiasm for her idea, however, most members opposed the national organisation, preferring to work for something in their home state. This was how Wings Away was established.

In 1976, aware of the existence of a small library attached to the Australian Association for the Mentally Handicapped (AAMH), she finally discovered a cause that she thought Wings Away could mobilise support for. The Wings Away Library was a collection of books that supported the parents of children with disabilities. It is regarded as the best specialist library of its kind in Australia. It is now housed in the library at the Albury Campus of Charles Sturt University. Funds raised by Wings Away ensured that the collection had a home after funding for the National Council on Intellectual Disability (NCID), which housed the collection initially, was removed.

Wings Away continues to support the NCID with scholarship funding. The scholarship applicant must be a student or employee in the disability field who can demonstrate the greatest benefit from their study to children with disabilities.

After her retirement from TAA in 1977, Elaine continued to volunteer for a variety of organisations, including the Citizens Advice Bureau, the Court Information network, as a teacher of migrants and as a home tutor. In 1987, she married Allan F. Swain, a widower with an adult family.

1997 was a milestone year for Elaine. She was awarded an AM for services to children with disabilities in the Queen's Birthday Honours. That year, she also relinquished her position as National Co-ordinator on Wings Away, due to bad health, which eventually led to her official resignation from the position in 1999. During her stewardship, she saw donations of $1.5 million made to over 100 charities assisting children with disabilities.

Elaine Swain passed away in March 2012.

Sources used to compile this entry: This entry was written with the input of a variety of Elaine Swain's personal friends and family, including Dierdre Brown (Lewis), Allan F Swain and Patricia M. Merlehan (McMahon).

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Patricia Merlehan

Site-wide information and acknowledgements

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