Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome | NSW Environment & Heritage

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Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome

Item details

Name of item: Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome
Other name/s: RAAF No 1 Bombing and Gunnery School, NSW and RAAF Air Observers School
Type of item: Complex / Group
Group/Collection: Transport - Air
Category: Airfield/Landing Strip
Location: Lat: -29.0990520573 Long: 153.4207049840
Primary address: Memorial Airport Drive, Evans Head, NSW 2473
Parish: Riley
County: Richmond
Local govt. area: Richmond Valley
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Unincorporated
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
PART LOT141 DP1067639

Boundary:

Part Lot as listed below and including Sir Valston Hancock Drive, Winjeel Road, Canberra Road and Memorial Airport Drive and shown on plan HC 1905.
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Memorial Airport DriveEvans HeadRichmond ValleyRileyRichmondPrimary Address

Owner/s

Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Richmond Valley CouncilLocal Government 

Statement of significance:

The Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome has historical, social and cultural significance. The aerodrome is purported to be the largest RAAF training base (over 5000 personnel) in the Southern Hemisphere during World War II (No 1 Bombing and Gunnery School) under the Empire Air Training Scheme, and made a major contribution, through provision of trained personnel, to the Commonwealth's war effort (see Haughton-James & Manley, 1995). The site contains only one original Bellman Hangar of 17 that represents technical innovation for that period. The hangars were designed and built for Australian conditions by Sir Valston Hancock, Director of Works, who later became the first commanding officer for the base. The site has social significance to the many ex service-men and -women who were associated with the aerodrome, RAAF personnel, ANZAC Day celebrations, and fellow personnel, families and friends of people who served there and died during WWII. It is also significant to the people of the North Coast region, the residents of Evans Head and visitors who attend activities or are tourists. Moreover it is significant because it is a substantial landmark, from the ground and from the air. It is a cultural site and continues to have an effect on the civilian, ex service, and defence population of the North Coast area of NSW and all visitors to the region.
Date significance updated: 01 Jun 05
Note: There are incomplete details for a number of items listed in NSW. The Heritage Division intends to develop or upgrade statements of significance and other information for these items as resources become available.

Description

Construction years: 1936-1940
Physical description: The dominant 'landmark' feature of the aerodrome is its runways surrounded by mown grass verges and low level heath scrub with views to the Great Dividing Range, Broadwater Sugar Mill and Evans Head Headlands. None of the original buildings and related facilities from WW II, such as water tanks and control tower, remain except for one (modified) Bellman Hangar.

The aerodrome has four landing strips and one remaining (modified) Bellman Hangar which is situated on the apron adjacent to the main north-south landing strip. It is the only remaining hangar on its original site, out of 17.

Another Bellman Hangar on the council depot site which was moved to Coffs Harbour and returned, but is not on its original site nor in its original condition. It has since been modified to suit workshop requirements.

There is also another smaller hanger to the north of the Bellman which is used by private aviators and another to the north-east of the Bellman also used by private aviators.

Three of the four runways are sealed - the main north-south runway being in better condition. The fourth runway that traverses all three appears as a scar in the landscape. This northeast-southeast runway has been slightly shortened by the subdivision.

Two short taxiways that lead to the main north-south runway are sealed and two others off the northeast-southeast runway are scars in the landscape. These originally led from the hangars.

The whole aerodrome site is situated on flat sandy loam heath land adjoining the village of Evans Head, Broadwater National Park on the north-west side, private and Crown land holdings, industrial land and road reserve, including the council depot and subdivision in the south-east corner.

Part of the SEPP 14 wetlands cross into the north-west corner of the aerodrome.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Physical Condition:

The three sealed runways are in fair condition (as at November 2000) although grass is showing through the tarmac in some areas yet are still used by aircraft.

The grass verges are regularly mowed, mostly by local volunteers using equipment provided by the council.

The Bellman Hangar is in fair condition and is beginning to show surface rust on the eastern side (probably due to the proximity to the ocean) around the interfaces between the structural supports and lateral surfaces, particuarly at the edges.

Archaeological Potential:
Archaeological potential has not been assessed and Aboriginal heritage has not been explored.

However, the area recently excavated for housing development at the end of one of the runways revealed an old gas lighting system for the runways, ordnance and other objects. It is believed that much of the undeveloped land in the industrial area and to the east of the aerodrome, where the hangars were located, could contain military artefacts.
Date condition updated:21 Nov 02
Modifications and dates: Sufficient detail is not yet available, however, it is known that most of the RAAF Base was dismantled following the war with a number of buildings remaining on the site well into the 1950s.

The Scout Hall and huts at Camp Koinonia were relocated from the aerodrome to their current site during the 1950s, and, except for some internal alterations including wall linings and room construction, the buildings remain intact. They demonstrate typical structures of the time of the Second World War.
Further information: The Bellman Hangar is an Australian modification of the original British design. It is the earliest example of a pre-fabricated steel structure designed on a mechano-like system of erection. Steel was an essential source for armaments and munitions and was in short supply, and although available for buildings, it remained the preferred material for larger structures. The Australian building industry therefore had to find alternatives for the construction of hangars for wartime operations.

Sir Valston Hancock, the first commanding officer at Evans Head, brought the design for Bellman Hangars back to Australia where it was modified to suit Australian conditions. BHP manufactured the standard sections of the hangar.

The fields adjacent to the aerodrome include: native bush and wetlands, vulnerable species (according to the Parker Survey, January 2001, which surveyed about two thirds of the site), industrial and residential dwellings on southern boundary.

The following items show a represented sample of sites and structures located in Evans Head that are associated with the aerodrome and RAAF Base:

1. Mandalay Flats, Booyong Street, Evans Head - two storey fibro structure circa late 1930s. It housed various personnel during WWII.

2. Evans Head Scout Hall, Cnr Teak and Mangrove Street, Evans Head - one storey pre-fabricated timber weatherboard structure circa early 1940s moved in the 1950s from the 'wireless corner' some three kilometres northwest of the aerodrome site. Its structure was typical of the time designed with pre-cut roof trusses and wall panels and could be made to any length or shape required including T-shaped, H-shaped, L-shaped etc. It was an all purpose building used for accommodation.

3. Jo Woodsford Holiday Accommodation, Woodburn Street, Evans Head - two storey timber structure with wide verandahs circa 1930s. It was used by various military personnel, including nurses, during WWII and post-WWII became a guesthouse. It is now used for transient accommodation purposes.

4. Huts at Camp Koinonia, Broadwater Road (Flame Street), Evans Head - 10 pre-fabricated timber huts were relocated in the 1950s to Airforce Beach to provide accommodation for the youth camp. Some have since been modified. A development application was submitted to council end 2001 to redevelop the site and proposed to retain two of these.

5. Blue Pool, off Woodburn Street, Evans Head - former grey shale quarry site approximately 200m in length and 20m wide for the aerodrome currently filled with rain and spring water which is mysteriously blue in colour. An adjacent shale area contains 200 million year old plant fossils. It is a popular swimming and picnic site and is a pleasant location surrounded by native vegetation.

6. Bomb Dump Site (at Blue Pool) - adjacent to Blue Pool, is a concrete structure with thick walls and was used for housing bombs during WWII. Currently used as a dwelling.

7. Evans Head War Cemetery, off Woodburn Road, Evans Head - contains the graves of 25 RAAF personnel killed during WWII. Immediately adjacent are three other graves related to the war which perhaps ought to be part of the cemetery.

8. Evans Head Headland Lookout, Goanna Headland (Razorback Lookout), Cnr of Ocean Drive and Wirraway Avenue, Evans Head - WWII observatory point with cement platform still present with commanding view of the aerodrome to the northwest and the Pacific Ocean to the north.

9. Broadwater National Park Lookout, off Broadwater Road, north of Evans Head - observation post during WWII for nearby bombing and gunnery range on the strip between the high sandhill and the beach. It is surrounded by native bushland. A walking track, approximately 200m, reaches the lookout from the carpark which has a commanding view to the Pacific Ocean to the east, the township of Evans Head to the south and the aerodrome to the south-east. A four storey observation tower was formerly erected on the site which has since been removed leaving the cement base only. Adjacent is the footprint of a plotting table used to assess bombing and gunnery training activity and the remnants of a roadway leading down to Broadwater Road which was used by drivers.

A number of various artefacts from the aerodrome and RAAF Base are privately owned including theatre lights, bells, various aircraft pieces, uniforms, and a wide range of other memorabilia including extensive correspondence and photo collections. Jean Haughton-James (nee Philp) has a substantial holding of materials and Halden Boyd also holds valuable material.

The RAAF Base is widely acknowledged in newspaper articles, books on WW II, websites, war records and archives.
Current use: Private and emergency aviation
Former use: RAAF Base (Training)

History

Historical notes: The original designer of the 1930's airfield is not known but Woodburn Shire Council controlled it until it was transferred to the Commonwealth in 1937.

In 1936 it was a 'humble Emergency Landing Ground'. In 1937 it was resumed by the Commonwealth for defence purposes. During mid-1939 additional work was carried out on the field under the Defence Development Program because of flooding. Following an Airforce inspection in October 1939 extension work was started in November 1939 under the Unemployment Relief Works Grants Scheme. Some of the work was carried out by the State Government in 1940 and a further 25.9 hectares was acquired at this time.

The aerodrome was set up as one of 10 designated Australian air bases due to the need to train RAAF personnel for World War II under the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS). The EATS was an enormous undertaking of all the airforces of the Commonwealth to ensure there were sufficient trained air crew to suppot the allies in the war effort.

The major players in the design and development of the 'working concept' for Evans Head Aerodrome as the first bombing and gunnery school in Australia were Sir Valston Hancock, Director of Works and Buildings for the RAAF, in conjunction with Claude Lightfoot. These two pilots carried out the original reconnaissance of the aerodrome. Detailed plans were drawn up for the construction of the aerodrome and adjacent range facilities.

Sir Valston Hancock was the first commanding officer at the No 1 Bombing and Gunnery School (BAGS). The Bellman Hangars, of which only one remains in its original position, were based on a British design that was brought back to Australia by Sir Valston and then modified to suit local conditions and materials. They were modified to standard sections and manufactured by BHP.

No 1 BAGS was formed at Evans Head Aerodrome by December 1941. It was reportedly the largest RAAF training facility in the Southern Hemisphere during WW II under the EATS. Personnel were also involved in the training of Air Observers/Bomb Aimers, Wierless Operators/Air Gunners and Navigators.

More than 5000 airforce personel from Australia and overseas passed through its training programs and of these, more than a 1000 were killed. At its height, No 1 BAGS had some 70 Fairey Battle Aircraft and extensive bombing and gunnery ranges to the north and south of the village of Evans Head in daily active use. The Base itself contained many buildings and structures.

Some notable people spent significant time at No. 1 BAGS during WW II including the famous Australian actor 'Chips' Rafferty and flying hero Leonard Fuller, DFC, who successfully landed two aircraft that had collided in mid-air.

Following WW II the Aerodrome was used for commercial airline services, although during the mid-fifties, the aerodrome was closed to commercial flights and its activities were transferred to Casino.

Queen Elizabeth II flew into Evans Head during her Royal visit to Australia in 1954. Since that time it has been used for a variety of purposes such as an emergency landing facility for aircraft, including the RAAF; an aircraft storage facility; ordnance depot; and a staging base for supplies during floods over many years.

The Department of Defence handed over the aerodrome to the Department of Transpot (DOT) in 1952. In 1992 ownership of the aerodrome was passed to Richmond River Shire Council from DOT under an Airport Local Ownership Plan (ALOP) agreement. Council has since downgraded the 'flying' status of the aerodrome but it is still used by many different types of aircraft.

Only the Southern Ranges are used today for F1-11 weapons practice. It is currently the site of the annual Great Eastern Fly-In for aviators from around Australia, a landing ground for emergency services and other private aviators.

There is significant written historical records on the Evans Head RAAF Base, which needs to be more fully investigated. Much of it is in the National and State Archives.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. Cultural: Plains and plateaux supporting human activities-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Landscapes of military activities-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Technology-Activities and processes associated with the knowledge or use of mechanical arts and applied sciences Technologies of new building materials and techniques-
5. Working-Working Labour-Activities associated with work practises and organised and unorganised labour Working for the defence services-
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation Training military personnel-
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation Involvement with the Second World War-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The item is historically significant because of its role as No 1 Bombing and Gunnery School (BAGS) for the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS) which was an enormous Commonwealth undertaking to train air crew and personnel to assist the allies in World War II.

It was also the home to over 5000 RAAF personnel who trained there during WW II for active service in Australia and overseas. More than a 1000 of these lost their lives during training and in active service overseas.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The item is historically significant because of its association with Sir Valston Hancock and was the site of 17 Bellman Hangars (only one remains in its original location). The hangars were designed and built under the guidance of Sir Valston Hancock, Director of Works for the RAAF at the time. He subsequently became its commanding officer.

The item also has associations with the USAAF whose personnel trained and served with Australian RAAF personnel. A number of B-25 bombers landed or crash-landed near Evans Head.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The item is aesthetically significant because of the landmark qualities. Its sheer size gives it a powerful sense of place and its proximity to the Evans Head village and the coastline emphasise its strategic location and the scope of the RAAF Base during the war. It is one of the few remaining large coastal sites which retains some sense of war operations.

The aerodrome was constructed with four runways that intersect each other. This was to accommodate aircraft landing at the site regardless of wind or weather conditions. A design using three runways or more has only been applied to the larger aerodromes such as those based in Sydney, Coffs Harbour, Dubbo, Moruya, Nabiac, Temora and Tocumwal.

The design of the Bellman Hangar was the Australian industry solution to the steel shortage during WWII. Steel was an essential source primarily used for the production of armaments and munitions and although used in buildings, it was preferred for larger structures.

As a result, the Bellman Hangar was produced and is an example of the earliest prefabrication techniques for the construction of hangars for wartime operations. (Refer Brew, 2001).
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The item is socially significant because the aerodrome is of great importance to surviving Australian RAAF personnel that served at Evans Head and is a legacy to their families and to the personnel of other countries who were trained or based at Evans Head, including those from the UK, Holland, the USA and Canada.

The aerodrome is a significant landmark from WWII and has strong connections to the people of Evans Head, to the people of the north coast region, and to the other major surviving aerodromes and associates sites in NSW.

The associated sites and structures in Evans Head (refer to "Further Comments") are some of the more significant remaining landmarks from that era which visitors seek out during their visits to Evans Head and which are examples of the main features of buildings and sites that characterised the RAAF Base at the time.

The presence of the RAAF during and after wartime largely contributed to the growth of the town with many of the personnel staying on within the village after the RAAF disbanded the bombing and gunnery school. The association of the aerodrome and the town form an important part of the village's cultural identity. (refer to The Evans Head Village Strategy Draft 2000).
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The item is technically and research significant because of the technical innovations and the role of the RAAF Base both of which made important contributions to Australia’s effort in the WWII.

The prefabricated Bellman Hangar and various accommodation buildings represent significant technical innovation and adaptation for that period. While there are other modified Bellman hangars in Australia, the only remaining hangar at Evans Head Aerodrome was one of the first to be built in Australia. The other structures include the Scout Hall and Tuck Shop which are good examples of the design and are in good condition, although they have been relocated.

The role of the RAAF Base, the aerodrome, its history and its structures is a potential subject for High School Students. The Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome Committee and the Evans Head Community School are currently discussing the potential for such a program.
SHR Criteria f)
[Rarity]
The item is rare in relation to its unique role as the primary bombing and gunnery school under the EATS. This has been identified in a thematic study conducted which surveyed the World War II aerodromes and associated sites in NSW (refer Brew, 2001).

Its future protection and management is essential in terms of it being one of the largest WWII aerodrome sites in the State and its significance in the history of defence in Australia.
SHR Criteria g)
[Representativeness]
The item represents an important class of WWII aerodromes in NSW because of its size, strategic location and its pivitol role in the training of RAAF personnel for the war effort.
Integrity/Intactness: While nearly all of the original buildings and fixtures of No 1 BAGS have been removed or relocated, examples of the major structural forms which constituted and dominated the RAAF Base, notably various wooden huts of the pre-fabricated type and the Bellman Hangar, exist and are intact.

The additional sites and structures associated with the aerodrome provide an important link to the item and should be retained and protected as they are and continue to be landmarks to the locals and former RAAF personnel.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
21(1)(b)Conservation Plan submitted for endorsementEvans Head Memorial Aerodrome Plan of Management, by GHD for Richmond Valley Council, dated June 2005 PoM considered by Heritage Council on 3 August 2005, decision deferred pending receipt of further information. Matter considered and resolved at special Heritage Council meeting of 21 August 2005.  
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
HERITAGE ACT 1977
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

FRANK SARTOR
Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008
21(1)(b)Conservation Plan submitted for commentEvans Head Memorial Aerodrome Bellman Hangar CMP - for HB review Oct 2 2008
21(1)(b)Conservation Plan submitted for endorsementBellman Hangar - Conservation Management Plan, June 2007 (amended January 2009) for endorsement Apr 6 2009
21(1)(b)Conservation Plan submitted for commentCMP for Bellman Hangar, June 2007 Aug 12 2009

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0164922 Nov 02 2259954

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
World War II Aerodromes and associated structures in NSW: a thematic study2001 Andrea Brew  Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenAinsworth Heritage2008Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome : machine-gun pit stabilisation options
WrittenAinsworth Heritage2007Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome: Bellman hangar conservation management plan

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5052603
File number: H00/00413, H06/00096, 09/00148


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