Back in 2014, our intrepid Antipodean reporter, Phil Buckley, brought us a story about a dedicated team laboring to restore a time-worn Consolidated PBY Catalina in Rathmines, Australia. Rathmines Park, nestled beside Lake Macquarie in New South Wales was once home to the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) largest flying boat base, a base that played a major role during WWII. As such, members of the local community wished to commemorate their storied past, with an appropriate aircraft as the focal point of these efforts. And thus they formed the Rathmines Catalina Memorial Park Association (RCMPA). In 2013, they found PBY-5A Catalina Bu.48412 on the auction site e-Bay of all places. The aircraft had been rotting away outside for the best part of two decades at San Juan International airport in Puerto Rico. Just getting the hulk to Australia was a massive undertaking, but the team has worked miracles on a shoestring budget. They have saved this Catalina from almost certain scrapping, and made considerable progress since she arrived.
Phil has brought us several updates on this important project over the years, but it’s been some time since our last report in July 2017. But in recent weeks, this story took a sad turn. Phil Buckley now brings us the news that, despite their valiant efforts, the RCMPA has been denied permission to create their museum to house the aircraft. While this does not spell doom for the aircraft, it does rather shatter the original intentions to commemorate the sacrifices of so many Australians (and other Allies) who served at Rathmines during WWII. We will let Phil Buckley’s words fill in the details…
Rathmines Catalina Must Move
by Phil Buckley
The Rathmines Catalina Memorial Park Association has just announced that the NSW Lake Macquarie Council has denied them the ability to create a long-hoped-for aviation heritage center at former RAAF Base Rathmines. As a result of this extremely disappointing outcome, the RCMPA has had to negotiate a new home for the Catalina with the RAAF. The project’s volunteers and other locals have been working hard on the plan for a Rathmines Aviation Heritage Centre since 2007, to display assorted RAAF Base Rathmines memorabilia alongside the Catalina. To say they are shattered by the local council members’ lack of vision in preserving the history of Rathmines’ WWII and post-war operations would be a massive understatement. In addition to the loss of their heritage, the district will also miss out on the potential business-draw which the museum could have provided.
RCMPA acquired the ex-US Navy PBY-5A Catalina (BuNo.48412) from San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2013 and has expended some 16,000 hours of labor on its restoration since its arrival in May 2014. With the planning permission denied at Rathmines, the RCMPA hopes to move the aircraft about thirty miles north, to a new home at the RAAF Williamtown Aviation Heritage Centre. However, this decision still requires further discussion.
RCMPA plans to create a formal agreement with the RAAF regarding the Catalina to, provide some certainty for its long-term home and to enable the aircraft’s restoration to be completed. The Catalina won’t be moving any time soon, however, the long-term plans to upgrade the RAAF Williamtown Heritage Site (reported on HERE) are expected to take several more years.
For more information on the Rathmines Catalina Memorial Park Association, please click HERE.