Another life for Cats of war

Tales to tell on tour of former WWII Catalina seaplane base


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OFF TO SEAPLANES: A tour group at Rathmines on a tour of the former RAAF site.

OFF TO SEAPLANES: A tour group at Rathmines on a tour of the former RAAF site.

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Planes may be gone but stories remain at Rathmines, south of Newcastle.

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ONCE it roared with the sound of 1200hp Pratt & Whitney engines breaking the stillness of wartime Lake Macquarie.

Today the site of the former RAAF base at Rathmines, south of Newcastle, NSW, is a peaceful place where the echo of Catalina seaplanes is just a memory.

But intriguing remnants remain to be seen, thanks to the Rathmines Catalina Association, which runs bus group tours of the heritage-listed site.

It's a fascinating story. RAAF Rathmines was the largest seaplane base in the southern hemisphere during WWII.

Association president Bill Anderson told The Senior that Cats were deployed in various roles, including anti-submarine operations.

"But they also did an enormous amount of minelaying, which was probably their biggest addition to the war effort," Bill said.

"The Japanese fleet was tucked in harbours and bays all around New Guinea. By dropping mines at the entrances, the Catalinas basically trapped them - they knew they stood every chance of being blown up if they sailed out."

"One of the Rathmines Catalinas is also acknowledged as being the aircraft that found the Japanese fleet and commenced the Battle of Guadalcanal.

"So there's quite a lot of history of what it achieved during the war and I think the claim is right that it stood the test of the war from start to finish."

The tour takes about three hours and begins with morning tea at Rathmines Bowling Club (the former officers' mess), a brief discussion about the base's history and a look at the club's historic display and memorabilia.

Then it's a short walk to the Catalina memorial overlooking Catalina Bay followed by a guided tour of the 50-hectare site. The group then returns to the club for lunch, which is included, as is a keepsake brochure detailing the base and its layout from 1944.

Tours for 15-60 people are available to book in advance Wednesday-Sunday (excluding December-January) and generally kick off at 10.30am. Groups must arrange their own bus transport.

Tickets are $35 per person. All funds raised go towards restoring the association's Catalina flying boat. Upon booking, meet the guide in the carpark of Rathmines Bowling Club (aka Club Catalina), Stilling Street, Rathmines, at 10.15-10.30am.

For further information or bookings contact Bill Anderson on 0418-770-400 or email info@rathmines-catalina.com

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