History of the Rathmines RAAF Flying Boat Base

From closure to today

The Catalina Memorial

The Catalina Memorial, erected on land generously donated by the Lake Macquarie City Council features a Catalina propeller high atop a monolith. There is a paved and landscaped path that leads to the memorial and on either side are walls with the inscriptions of all those (or a vast majority at least) who died for their country that past through Rathmines.

It carries the following inscription-- “Dedicated to all those who served at RAAF Rathmines and to all associated with flying boats and seaplanes”.

The memorial was officially dedicated and unveiled on the 16th September 1972. A parade was held with approximately 200 personnel attending at the old parade ground. The RAAF flag was raised atop the old flagpole and a fly past by Mirage jets from Williamtown took place, as the memorial was unveiled.

The area is now known as Catalina Park.

The Memorial Wall
In 1982, a suggestion was made to the Board of Rathmines Bowling Club, formerly the Officers’ Mess, by A. E. Jones (Bert) that a memorial wall be built in the auditorium to honour the RAAF personnel who operated and trained at the flying boat base during World War II, approximately 147 of whom paid the supreme sacrifice.

In 1983, Bert Jones submitted to all the State branches and also the National Committee. All agreed to support the proposal. A steering committee was formed; members of the committee were A. Pearce, president of the National Committee, Group Captain A Wearne, A. Rice Secretary of Toronto RSL, J. Simmons proprietor of the Plymouth press Sydney, A.E Watson (Wilbur) and A.E Jones (Bert).

Mr. Jones was elected chairman of the Steering Committee. Mr. Simmons researched all of the information from the records at Canberra, compiled the roll of honour and carried out all the printing required for the project; A mammoth task in time and effort, mostly at his own expense.

The wall was dedicated on the 19th September 1984; about 400 people attended the dedication on that day.

State Heritage
RAAF Station Rathmines has been listed on the State heritage register; the following is a summary of the listing.

The Rathmines RAAF Base is rare and of state significance as a major WWII seaplane base in NSW, and is the only known example in NSW of its type.

The design and construction of the RAAF Base at the beginning of WWII has resulted in a geometric layout of structures over the land on this site, which reflects its use for military purposes.

When the Rathmines RAAF Base closed in 1961, there were more than 230 buildings and structures on the site. In 1997, ten of these remained, as follows:

  1. The officers’ mess, adapted for use as the Rathmines Bowling Clubhouse.
  2. Part of the northeast hangar, adapted for use as the Christadelphian School.
  3. Substation No.2, now empty and not in use.
  4. The inflammable liquids store, adapted for use as the Scout Hall.
  5. The airmen’s ablution building, adapted for use as Rathmines Catamaran Clubhouse.
  6. The picture theatre and gymnasium , adapted for use as a Community Hall.
  7. The central boiler house, now stripped and used as a store.
  8. The emergency powerhouse, now stripped and used as a store.
  9. The sergeants’ mess, adapted for use as the Westlake’s Music Centre.
  10. The hospital, now the Catalina Memorial Nursing Home.

The former picture theatre and gymnasium building is the most intact of all the surviving structures on the site, and has the most original fabric. It is one of the Bases largest and most important buildings.

The cinema hall is the largest in volume with a stage flanked by dressing rooms at the northeast end. Beyond this is the former gymnasium, though it has been altered.

Other structures were also on the site in 1997, many altered or adapted, including:

  1. A concrete stormwater channel.
  2. The bomb and fuel wharf, partly rebuilt.
  3. Part of the Marine Section timber wharf, now rebuilt as the ‘F’ wharf.
  4. The jetty and slipway complex at Styles Point.
  5. The concrete apron area.
  6. The bitumen hardstanding.
  7. The parade ground.
  8. The first septic tank installation.
  9. The second septic tank installation.

There was a significant amount of remaining physical evidence from the wartime use of the Rathmines Base. The elements, which remained, varied in condition. Some have been largely altered and adapted for new uses, and some are in disrepair. Many buildings were also sold and removed. In 1997 there were also many remains of structures on the site, including:

  1. The pump house and duty pilots tower.
  2. The general stores building.
  3. The celestial trainer.
  4. The aircraft stores.
  5. The motor transport building.
  6. The parade ground saluting base.
  7. The central ironing room and laundry.
  8. A remnant of the south boundary fence.
  9. The battery room.
  10. The western hangars.