National Heritage List inscription date 31 October 2007
RAAF Base Point Cook was the first military aviation base in Australia and features our oldest, most extensive complex of military aviation buildings. As the home of Australia's first military flying school and the birthplace of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), the air base played a pivotal role in the history of military and civil aviation in Australia for more than 90 years.
Click an image for a larger view.
Birthplace of military aviation in Australia
The story of Point Cook, as the oldest continuously operating military airbase in the world, is an essential part of the story of the RAAF and the development of military and civil aviation in Australia.
The Australian Government acquired Point Cook in 1913 to establish the nation's first military flying school. The newly formed 'Central Flying School' started with two officer instructors, a few mechanics, two biplanes, two monoplanes and a Bristol Box-kite. The first military flight in Australia took place on 1 March 1914, and the first training course began in August with four student pilots, including Richard Williams and Thomas Walter White.
During World War I the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) was established at Point Cook as a new element of the army. Many of its pilots saw active duty overseas, in the Middle East and the Western Front.
The first Australian airman to die in action was Lieutenant George Merz—one of the first pilot graduates from Point Cook—who was killed in Mesopotamia. During the war 65 Australians became 'aces' by shooting down at least five planes, and Lieutenant Frank McNamara, who trained at Point Cook, won Australia's sole air Victoria Cross while serving with No 1 Squadron, AFC.
Throughout this period Point Cook remained the focal point of military aviation in Australia, serving as a flying training unit as well as the assembly point for most AFC units travelling overseas.
Williams and White served in the Middle East and are noted for their distinguished service and special association with RAAF Base Point Cook. Williams is known as the father of the RAAF, for his efforts in promoting air power in Australia’s defence. White wrote Sky Saga, a Story of Empire Airmen in the Second World War, and in 1949 was appointed Minister for Air and Civil Aviation in the Menzies Government.
The Royal Australian Air Force
The RAAF, formed on the 31st of March 1921, was the second professional air force in the world, established three years later than the British Royal Air Force.
With the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, RAAF Base Point Cook became the focus of RAAF training in Australia, a role it maintained until the 1990s. RAAF Base Point Cook is recognised as the oldest military aviation base in Australia serving between 1914 and 1992.
The parade ground at Point Cook, completed in 1930, became a prominent feature of RAAF bases elsewhere in Australia. The Air Force Memorial, unveiled on the edge of the parade ground in November 1938, was the first and principal monument to Australian airmen killed in World War I.
After World War II, the base also became home to a range of significant units and facilities, including the RAAF Staff College (1949 to 1960), the RAAF College (later Academy) for training officer cadets from 1947, and the RAAF School of Languages (1950 to 2000).
The military airbase complex
The Point Cook air base occupies an area of about 250 hectares southwest of Melbourne on the shores of Port Phillip Bay.
When the base was established, the proximity of Port Phillip Bay made Point Cook a choice location for seaplanes as well as conventional land planes. Flying was in its infancy and still experimental, so the area's sea-level altitude and absence of hills made it ideal for training and development purposes.
The design of the air base influenced the planning and development of later military aviation bases in Australia. The base includes rare examples of buildings specific to the pre-World War I, World War II and inter war periods. These include the oldest hangars and workshops in Australia, built in 1914; the AFC complex, including the seaplane jetty, dating from 1916 and operating until 1937; the water-plane hangar, built in 1914; and the seaplane complex dating from the late 1920s.
Today Point Cook is home to the RAAF Museum. Initiated in 1952 by Air Marshall Sir George Jones, the Museum has provided for the restoration and display of historic aircraft.