Cruise your RV to a secret base in a wartime world

August 11, 2005

Recreational Vehicles (RVs) on the Murray Valley Highway route between Kerang and Swan Hill find Lake Boga a peaceful place to stop, but the Catalina Flying Boat parked permanently on the lake shore pays tribute to a vital secret part of the Allied defenses during World War 11.

Drive past the caravan park and turn your RV to the right about 26km from Swan Hill into Lake Side Drive and then right again into Willakool Drive and as you follow the lake Catalina Flying Boat A24-30 will confront you.

It marks a desperate time in our recent history. After a Japanese attack on Broome, WA, on March 3, 1942 destroyed 16 Allied Flying Boats the Government chose Lake Boga as a safe inland haven for Flying Boats engaged in the Allied defense of the South Pacific.

Broome was used as the Australian end of an air shuttle service from Java which ferried evacuees to Broome in Dutch, American and Australian military and civil aircraft, including Flying Boats of Qantas Empire Airways.

The Broome attack lasted about 20 minutes, in that short time at total of 25 Allied aircraft were destroyed and dozens of people were killed or wounded. Many victims were Dutch women and children who were packed into flying boats on the harbour either waiting to be unloaded and ferried ashore or waiting to depart for the southern states.

Many of the Dutch women and children died trapped in the Flying Boats. Others were incinerated, drowned or taken by sharks as they attempted to swim ashore.

Another 30 crew and passengers, mostly military personnel, were lost when an American Liberator bomber was shot down shortly after taking off. How many people died in the raid, and who they were, will never be known.

The first RAAF personnel arrived at Lake Boga on June 28, 1942 and the first Catalina Flying Boat touched down on the lake with stores and equipment for the booming base on July 12, that year.

For its time the Catalina was a long-range aircraft, its graceful hull and huge wing span propelled by two 1200hp, 14 cylinder, Pratt and Whitney engines.

At its peak the secret Lake Boga home of the No.1 Flying Boat Repair and Service Depot was staffed by 39 Officers, 802 Airmen and 102 WAAFs. From 1942 to its close down in 1947 wartime personnel kept Catalina, Dornier, Sikorsky Kingfisher, Sunderland, Walrus and Martin Mariner aircraft in fighting trim.

In more than five years of wartime life more than 1050 aircraft came and went without mishap. There were 800 test flights plus some unofficial aerobatics so the Lake Boga safety record is remarkable. In all 416 aircraft were serviced, repaired, restored, rebuilt or overhauled.

The first Catalina to be serviced at Lake Boga was A24-17. Crewed by four on marathon assaults on the Japanese the Catalinas range allowed attacks on enemy shipping to New Guinea and beyond. Squadrons 11 and 20 flew the aircraft relentlessly on reconnaissance and attacks on enemy shipping.

In addition to RAAF aircraft the repair base catered to US and Netherlands fliers.

For night work the Catalinas were painted black and these hard to spot warriors became know as the 'Black Cats'.

On the original site of No. 1 Flying Boat Repair Depot is an underground Communications Bunker, it is now the Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum. It is a real education. The 20 minute film in the theatrette is essential to get a feeling for the key role this secret base played in defending Australia. Then take the time to get down to the detail, read pay slips. Scan the pictures, articles and pieces of a world wartime world. See how these young fliers stretched their luck on marathon flights by lighting up the interactive map of the Pacific region.

The Flying Boat Museum is a Lions Club of Lake Boga project. It is open from 9.30am to 4pm daily. (It is not open on Christmas Day). Phone 03 5037 2850. The museum is in theoriginal communications bunker which was part of the RAAF No. 1 Flying Boat Repair Depot during the Second World War. Lake Boga Caravan Park is just off the Murray Valley Highway.

GoSeeAustralia suggests some things to do around Lake Boga:

Swimming, fishing, boating, water skiing, Jet skiing, sailing, barbecues, picnicking, camping, caravan park; and see: Bests St Andrews Winery and Bests Great Western Winery. Little Murray Weir. The 'Faberge style' of the Imperial Egg Gallery art. Cannie Ridge Pump. Winters Stone Fruit Packing.