Rathmines Park, former RAAF Seaplane Base | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Rathmines Park, former RAAF Seaplane Base

Item details

Name of item: Rathmines Park, former RAAF Seaplane Base
Other name/s: RAAF Base Rathmines, Seaplane Base, flying boat base, Rathmines Aerodrome, Catalina Base
Type of item: Complex / Group
Group/Collection: Defence
Category: Defence Base Air Force
Location: Lat: -33.0392814861 Long: 151.5921442080
Primary address: Dorrington Road, Rathmines, NSW 2283
Local govt. area: Lake Macquarie
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT37-50 DP11537
PART LOT51 DP11537
LOT1 DP226530
LOT2 DP226531
LOT3 DP226532
LOT4 DP226533
LOT5 DP226534
LOT7 DP516152
LOT60 DP584602
LOT62 DP596913
LOT63 DP596913
LOT64 DP596913
LOT4 DP704472
LOT648 DP806611
LOT654 DP806611


61 hectares bounded by Overhill Road to the west, Below Dorrington Road to the south, Stilling Road to the south east and Lake Macquarie to the north and east of the site.
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Dorrington RoadRathminesLake Macquarie  Primary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Australian Christadelphian Bible SchoolReligious Organisation 
Disability Life EnrichmentPrivate 
Don Geddes Nursing HomePrivate 
Lake Macquarie City CouncilLocal Government 

Statement of significance:

The Rathmines RAAF seaplane base played a pivotal role in the defence of Australia in World War II. It was the largest seaplane base in the Southern Hemisphere and was the longest serving during the war effort. It is the most intact example of an RAAF WWII seaplane base in Australia.

Rathmines RAAF Base is significant as a flying boat base used for the defence of Australia in World War II. During WWII, it was a major boat base in NSW, and was the largest boat base in Australia. It is understood to be the only flying boat base in NSW with a significant amount of physical fabric remaining.

The Rathmines RAAF Base is important through its use as a base for the seaplanes used in WWII, particularly the Catalina flying boat, which had the ability to land and take off in calm water, and had great endurance over long distances. The Catalina was one of the most successful flying boats produced and its qualities made the aircraft important in the defense of Australia during WWII.

The Rathmines RAAF base is significant as it was a centre for training, housing the Operational Training Unit for Catalina crew and providing training to over 200 Catalina crews during the war. The Base was also important as a repair centre for the flying boats and was the location of a Flying Boat Repair Depot.

The Rathmines RAAF Base is significant through its association with specific WWII events. The Base's flying boats were involved with the mining of Manilla Harbour, and played an important part in the Battle of the Coral Sea.

The Base has continuing social significance to WWII service personnel, and to the community of Lake Macquarie, who recognise the site's history and continue to use the site, creating an evolving landscape which retains significant elements of the RAAF Base.

It had a dramatic impact on the housing and road development within the area (Suters Architects Snell 1993)
Date significance updated: 16 Feb 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.


Construction years: 1939-1960
Physical description: The Rathmines RAAF Base is on the western shore of Lake Macquarie. The design and construction of the base at the beginning of WWII resulted in a geometric layout of structures over the site which reflect its use for military purposes.

When the base closed in 1956, there were more than 230 buildings and structures on site. In 1997, ten remained:

1. The officers mess, adapted for use as the Rathmines Bowling Clubhouse
2. Part of the north-east hangar, adapted for use as the Christadelphian School
3. The inflammable liquids store, adapted for use as the Scout Hall
4. Substation No.2, now empty and not in regular use
5. The airmen's ablution building, adapted for use as Rathmines Catamaran Clubhouse
6. The picture theatre and gymnasium building, adapted for use as Rathmines Community
7. The central boiler house, now stripped and used as a store
8. The emergency power house, now stripped and used as a store
9. The sergents mess, adapted for use as Westlakes Music Centre
10. The base hospital and facilities, now owned and operated by Disability Life Enrichment Ltd and incorporating the Catalina Conference Centre.

In 1997, the former picture theatre and gymnasium was the most intact of all the surviving structures and had the most original fabric. It was one of the base's largest, most important buildings. The cinema hall is the largest in volume with a stage flanked by dressing rooms at the north-east end. Beyond is the former gymnasium, though it has been altered and subdivided.

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

11. A concrete stormwater channel
12. The bomb and fuel wharf, partly rebuilt
13. Part of the Marine Section timber wharf, now rebuilt as the 'F' wharf
14. The jetty and slipway complex at Styles Point
15. The concrete apron area
16. The bitumen hardstanding
17. The parade ground
18. The first septic tank installation
19. The second septic tank installation

In 1997, there were also many remains of structures on site, including:
20. The pump house and duty pilots tower
21. The general stores building
22. The celestial trainer
23. The aircraft stores
24. The motor transport building
25. The parade ground saluting base
26. The central ironing room and laundry
27. A remnant of the south boundary fence
28. The battery room
29. The western hangars
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
In 1997 there was a significant amount of remaining physical evidence from the war time 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.

There are two Aboriginal Artifact Scatters (one scatter and one isolated find) and a midden recorded within the area.
Date condition updated:15 Feb 06
Modifications and dates: Following sale in 1962; several structures leased: Picture Theatre and Gymnasium for Rathmines Communbity Hall; Flammable Liquids Store for Scout Hall; Aimen's Ablution Block for Sailing Club; Officer's Mess for Rathmines Bowling Club; Sergeants Hall for Westlake Music Centre. Base Hospital sold off to private interests; Workshops to Bible School. Many buildings were also sold and removed.

Catalina Memorial constructed on the site in 1972.
Current use: Various sporting, recreation, community and utility uses.
Former use: RAAF WWII Seaplane Base.


Historical notes: The Awabakal were the first peoples of Lake Macquarie. Awaba is the Aboriginal name for the region and Ninkinbah was the Aboriginal name for Lake Macquarie. There are several sites within Rathmines Park that demonstrate Aboriginal use of the area and provide local Aboriginal people with a tangible link to past land use practices.

Early European settlement around Rathmines took place in the 1840's with the name of Rathmines derived from the Hely family that came from a town named Rathmines, located near Dublin in Ireland. The Hely family built a homestead and farmed a significant portion of the land that now makes up Rathmines Park.

The Rathmines site on the shores of Lake Macquarie was identified as a possible place for a flying boat base in 1936, when the Director of Duties, RAAF HQ Victoria Barracks, Melbourne gave instructions to investigate and recommend a site for a flying boat base in the Newcastle region. A ground and water survey of the bay and inlet was undertaken, and while the Rathmines site was the second recommendation, it was considered as the most likely site, and was chosen to be the site.

During July 1938, No 5 Squadron from RAAF Base Richmond was sent to investigate landing areas and sites around the Lake Macquarie area for the establishment of the Rathmines Base and the eventual move of the squadron. On January 1 1939, the No 5 squadron was renamed No 9 (Fleet Cooperation) Squadron. Further surveys of the area were made in August 1939, and in September camp was set up, and arrangements were made to rent local cottages as living quarters. The Base became operational when the No 9 Squadron transferred form Point Cook, Victoria, to Rathmines, with Seagull flying boats. Catalina flying boats arrived at the Base in February 1941, and by September 1943 the Base was comprised of 14 Catalina's, two Seagulls, a Dornier and a Dolphin. During training, many personnel brought their families to live in the towns and villages near the Rathmines Base (Kingsland 2005) which influenced the establishment of other services such a school and post office.

Rathmines was an important base for the Catalina flying boats and their Squadrons, which played a significant role in Australia's RAAF defensive operations during WWII. The RAAF operated 168 between 1941 and 1950, flown by four front line squadrons, two communications units and three air-sea rescue flights during World War II. The Catalina flying boats were the only aircraft to see service with the RAAF for the total wartime operations against Japan.

Catalina operations included reconnaissance bombing, mine laying, supplying troops, coast watches and air-sea rescue missions. RAAF Catalina's were famous for their precision laying of mines in enemy water ways and harbours. The Catalina flying boat was one of the durable and effective aircrafts of the Second World War, due to their range, endurance and good load carrying capacity. Consequently, Catalina's were used by almost all the Allied services including the RAF and RAAF. Although it was one of the slowest combat aircraft of World War II, it outsold all the newer, faster and better-equipped replacements of other manufacturers. Flying boats such as the Catalina placed a special demand on training air crews who not only learnt to fly the aircraft but needed to learn manoeuvres in sea conditions which was usually associated with naval operations. The famous Black Cats were used on covert night operations mine laying just about every enemy port in the South West Pacific Area, operations extending as far as the Chinese coast. During these operations 322 aircrew were lost (Kingsland 2005).

Catalina and air crews from Rathmines were involved in the defence of Australia in WWII events such as the Battle of the Coral Sea. In 1942, a Japanese taskforce bound for Port Moresby was located and followed by Catalina aircraft. The extensive duration of the Catalina enabled the aircraft to remain in contact with the Japanese force and call in the navy. Reports transmitted from the aircraft allowed American and Australian navies to intercept the Japanese force, resulting in the Battle of the Coral Sea. Flying boats from Rathmines were a part of this battle, which ended with the Japanese forced to withdraw from Australian waters, effectively ending the immediate threat of a Japanese invasion of the Australian mainland.

The Base was also involved with the mining of Manilla Harbour, which involved 24 RAAF Catalina's, 8 of which were from No 11 Squadron aircrafts operating out of Rathmines. This operation was possibly the longest operation flown from Australia during the war.

The Rathmines Base was an important flying boat crew training facility for the war. The Base housed the Operational Training Unit for Catalina aircrew. During the 1940's crews for No's 9, 10, 11 Squadrons trained at Rathmines, with a total of over 200 Catalina air crews trained at the base. The Base also provided a Flying Boat Repair Depot, and a Marine Section Repair Depot. New flying boats were made in the USA, and were then converted at Rathmines for operational duties.

The base reached its peak strength of almost 3000 officers and other ranks in 1944-45, and was the largest flying boat base in Australia.

Many wartime heroes served at Rathmines including squadron commanders Group Captain Attire Wearne DSO DFC, Air Commodore W.Keith Bolitho DFC DFC (US), Wing Commander Dick Atkinson DSO DFC, Wing Commander Gordon Stilling DFC, Squadron Leader Lin Hurt DFC and Wing Commander G.U. 'Scottie' Allan (Kingsland 2005).

Rathmines Seaplane Base ceased operations by the end of 1952. After the war Catalina's were phased out, and in January 1952 the Catalina aircraft was declared surplus to requirements. Rathmines Seaplane Base was abandoned, and the site was sold in 1962 to Lake Macquarie Council. Many buildings were privately purchased and removed from the site or used by Lake Macquarie Council as community halls.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
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 passive recreation-
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-
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation Involvement with the Second World War-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Going boating and sailing-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Enjoying public parks and gardens-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Rathmines RAAF seaplane base is of state significance played a pivotal role in the defence of Australia in World War II and is therefore a of great importance in the pattern of NSW’s cultural history.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The Rathmines RAAF Seaplane Base is of State and Local significance for its strong and special associations with service personnel that served at the Base during and after World War II.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The surviving buildings and remnant structures are of state significance for the ability to demonstrate the large scale, configuration and function of the RAAF seaplane base as a military establishment. The remnant fabric coupled with open clearings and sitting along on the banks of Lake Macquarie demonstrates the important relationship between the seaplanes and the water. It is an aesthetically distinctive landscape which has landmark qualities.
The Rathmines RAAF Base has significant association with technical innovations and capabilities of the Catalina flying boats that made significant contributions to the defence of Australia during WWII.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The Rathmines RAAF Base is held in high esteem by the local community, ex-service personnel and Catalina aviator enthusiasts.

The site is of significance to the Awabakal Peoples of the local area.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
Remnant above ground and sub-surface fabric may have state significance for their potential to yield further information as a source of physical evidence to interpret the range of operations of a large defence seaplane base during WWII. The scale of the surviving evidence makes it an important benchmark for such sites.

The site also contains two Aboriginal Artifact Scatter sites and a midden area that has potential to yield further cultural information about the Awabakal Peoples of the area.
SHR Criteria f)
The Rathmines RAAF Base was the major WWII boat base in NSW, and is the only known example in NSW with surviving fabric.
SHR Criteria g)
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.
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
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
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.

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

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0174025 Nov 05 1449841

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written 2004Rathmines Park Plan of Management
WrittenIrving, Robert, & Pratten, Chris1997Rathmines Park Conservation Plan
WrittenLake Macquarie Libraries (Lake Macquarie City Council)2010Rathmines Air Base, in 'Lake Macquarie History' View detail
WrittenRathmines Memorial Bowling Club Co-Operative Ltd.2011Rathmines Memorial Bowling Club Co-Operative Ltd.: archival photographic recording
WrittenSir Richard Kingland (AO CBE DFC)2005Submission

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: 5054666
File number: H02/00002

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