A former Catalina ‘flying boat’ base in Lake Macquarie is a nationally significant site with ‘exceptional’ historic value, according to a draft Lake Macquarie City Council Conservation Management Plan.

Consultants Umwelt Australia were contracted by Council to assess the significance of Rathmines Park, which served as a RAAF seaplane base during World War II.

Council acting Manager Community Planning, Wes Hain, said the resulting draft Conservation Management Plan was the first step in creating a future master plan for Rathmines Park.

“Any future use of Rathmines Park must be mindful of the site’s heritage significance,” Mr Hain said.

“The site has a fascinating and incredibly significant wartime history, which we wanted to fully understand before moving forward

“At its peak, this was Australia’s main seaplane base, responsible for launching airborne anti-submarine patrols right along the east coast.”

The RAAF operated the base from the start of WWII in 1939 until 1961, with Catalinas and other aircraft moored just offshore. Others were hauled onto dry land for maintenance inside the site’s giant hangar.

Mr Hain said Council and Umwelt had undertaken a number of stakeholder workshops and site visits over the past six months to document the history of the site.

An assessment of heritage significance within the draft Conservation Management Plan concluded the base overall has historical significance on a national level, being ‘strongly representative’ of Australia’s defence force activities during WWII.

Rathmines was viewed as a ‘critical representative example’ of a WWII flying boat base and the scale of the surviving elements made it an important benchmark for such sites.

According to the draft Conservation Management Plan, 230 buildings were erected throughout the life of the base, of which only 10 remain today.

Part of the former hangar still survives and is now owned by the Christadelphian Bible School, while Council owns other buildings used for various purposes including a bowling club, scout hall, workshop, music centre and storage sheds.

The site is also home to a RAAF Catalina memorial, opened in 1972 in dedication to all who served at the base.

“Council will continue to ensure that any future community or commercial use does not negatively affect the interpretation or appreciation of this picturesque historical site,” Mr Hain said.

“Now is the opportunity for the community to assist in providing copies of historic photos and documents associated with the former RAAF base.

The draft Conservation Management Plan is on public exhibition at shape.lakemac.nsw.gov.au/rathmines-park until Friday, August 24.

Copies of the Plan are also available at Council’s administration building and at Speers Point, Morisset, Wangi Wangi and Toronto Libraries.

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