Saturday, 6 January 2018

Rose Bay Flying Boat Base

When I interviewed my mother in 1994 she talked about living in Rose Bay in the 1940s and, at school, being distracted by the flying boats that often could be observed from classroom windows.  This observation made me interested in finding information about the flying boats.

The flying boat base at Rose Bay was Australia's first international airport. It was chosen 'primarily because it was a large bay with calm water located close to the city'. (Sydney Living Museums website).
Rose Bay Flying Boat Base 1939
The flying boat base was opened on 4 August 1938 by Lord Huntingfield, acting Governor General of Australia. The Sydney Morning Herald (4 August 1938 page 11) described the opening procedure:

The Minister for Defence and Civil Aviation, Mr Thorby, will speak, followed by the Post-Master General, Senator McLachlan who will hand to the Acting Governor-General, Lord Huntingfield, a special bag in which letters to the King, the British Prime Minister, and the British Post Master will be placed.
After a number of speeches Lord Huntingfield will hand the mail bag to the commander of the flying-boat, Camilla, Captain Lester J Brain. The Camilla will be moored as close inshore as weather conditions will permit and will be connected to the shore with a red, white, and blue ribbon, which will be severed by Lord Huntingfield.
When the Camilla takes off for Brisbane it will have an escort of planes from the Royal Aero Club of New South Wales. The flying-boat Camilla will depart from Rose Bay to-day about noon, instead of tomorrow at 7 am. The Camilla will carry two passengers for London, one for Singapore, one for Penang, one for Darwin, one for Groot Eylandt, and two for Brisbane. It will also take 150lb of freight, and some mails. The remainder of the British and foreign mails will be sent by air to Darwin, by way of Adelaide. The Camilla will not leave Darwin for Koepang until Sunday.
View of Rose Bay base c1938. Note swimming pool on right.
Initially the flying boats were used primarily to carry mail but, on 5 July 1938, Cooee made the first designated passenger flight from Rose Bay to Southampton in England. The Qantas flight took ten days with 30 stops. As the flying boats did not operate at night there were nine overnight stops with passengers usually staying in luxury hotels.
Daily Commercial News and Shipping List 6 July 1938
The passengers were provided with first class service, including meals, during the flight. There were fifteen passenger seats, two crew and three cabin crew. Passengers could walk about during the flight. As well as the main cabin there was a smoking cabin and a promenade deck where they could look out at the clouds or the countryside. The flying boats flew at 150 mph.
Flying boats of Australia
The flying boat base at Rose Bay was often busy with flying boats carrying, mail, cargo or passengers arriving or departing. It is no wonder that this activity may have distracted school students from time to time, especially when the base was so close to school.

During the Second World War flights to and from England were suspended in 1942 and flying boats were requisitioned for service in the Australian Airforce.

It was not until 18 May 1946 that the passenger flying boat service to London resumed. In 1955 Qantas discontinued its flying boat service. Ansett Airways purchased the flying boats to fly passengers to Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island, a service that continued until 1974.

References and further information:                                                                               
There is much of information online about the flying boats and the base at Rose Bay. Four websites are listed below.

Airways Museum - Rose Bay flying boat base - There is much useful information on this site but not easy to navigate

Australia Government - About Australia - Flying boats of Australia

Dictionary of Sydney - Rose Bay Airport

Sydney Living Museums - Flying boats: Sydney's Golden Age of Aviation

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