November 9 2013 saw the annual and popular Rathmines Catalina Festival at the former RAAF base Rathmines, at Lake Macquarie, NSW take place attracting many exhibits, stalls and aircraft displays.
Despite forecast for winds and rain, it was initially cloudy and turned into a sunny day. Massive rising, tumbling and grey/white clouds to south and north kept people and pilots in awe…
The reason the Catalina Festival event is held is due to the base in 1930s-1960s became a very popular place and also as a result of WW2, it is deeply connected with Australian war history. The RAAF Catalina flying boats arrived at the Rathmines in early 1941 and started to do training and fly operational missions deep into Asia from the base up to end of the war. Rathmines played a massive part in the defence of Australia in WWII and it is said that the Catalina essentially helped saved Australia as it spotted many Japanese invasion fleets in the Pacific, helped mine and destroy the Japanese navy and also saved many downed pilots lives. The RAAF’s flying boats were involved in missions such as the mining of Manilla Harbour and played an important role in the Battle of the Coral Sea which saw the tide turn against the Japanese forces. During WW2, the base at Rathmines became the largest RAAF flying boat base in the southern hemisphere with almost 3,000 RAAF personnel based there during 1944-45. Between 1941 and 1952 the RAAF operated a total of 168 Catalinas, flown by four front line squadrons, two communications units and three air-sea rescue flights. During WW2 at times up to 40 aircraft were on strength and included types such as Sunderlands, Kingsfishers, Mariners and others. Across the large base was once 230 buildings a handful remain as most were sold off in last few decades once it was closed.
The draw card for people visiting today at the the festival was a few warbirds mainly the HARS Catalina which conducted a few passes over the base, a Wirraway trainer, Avenger and a L-39. A RAAF P-3 Orion flew over 2 times. Aerobatics from Matt Hall and Paul Bennet also helped to thrill the public. Fly over from civil pilots also took place.
A few former WW2 RAAF Catalina veterans were able to still come despite being in their advancing 90s, to reminisce and talk about what they did at the base and during their time mostly during WW2 period.
I talked to a few of these brave men and learnt more about their time in service, what they did and experienced and was left very impressed.
A new display on the former ramp was that the Rathmines Parks Trust has gained on loan from HARS, a forward Catalina section to display. A gun blister will be eventually put in the nose.
I assisted in the event, by donating my time and by wearing my WW2 RAAF pilot flightgear to educate people on what aircrew wore in the aircraft in flying. Some of the public were impressed at what aircrew wore and could tell what it was very easily, some couldnt. I also spoke to Federal and Local politicians who are keen to see Rathmines project groups preserve the RAAF and the base’s history. One photo supplied by John Richard.
Civil seaplanes from Sydney flew in to give rides for locals. The Seaplane Association also spent time at Rathmines during last few days and many pilots attended conferences and flew in with their own civil seaplanes which were flown in from around Australia were on display on the ramp.
Various stall holders were found across the site selling foods, different types of merchandise and local items to the public. A better organising schedule this year saw easier crowd control and access to the Rathmines site much easier, compared to last year due to the popularity of seeing a real Catalina on the ramp…. saw nearly 15,000 attend and was very crowded. This year with no Catalina landing, there was slightly less people but still many came…. It was seen that many people took up all kinds of vantage spots from boats, to under trees in shade to sitting on pier wharfs to see the flying displays.
Many hard working volunteers of the Rathmines Park Trust and Catalina Festival deserve recognition in donating their time and efforts to make this Festival worthwhile.
The Rathmines Catalina Memorial Park Trust had on display various artifacts and memorabilia from the original base in the main hall. A large model of the base was again on display and attracted most of the attention along side models and photos.
The aim of the festival now in its 7th year, is to help in towards a common goal which is to see the Rathmines Catalina Memorial Park Trust to establish a hangar and museum on the former base site, which will allow it to educate visitors at a museum and display the Catalina VH-CAT which is still undergoing repairs to airworthyness and is currently at Bankstown airport.Some of the sites former buildings are still present as is part of the ramp where the aircraft came shore during the operational days.
Also a static Catalina restoration project undertaken by the Rathmines Catalina Memorial Park Trust which is being imported from South America in late 2013, has already several parts arrived such as the engine and rudder seen below.
If interested in the Rathmines base and the Catalina projects it is recommended to view these links for more information