Point Cook Air Base, south-west of Melbourne, is the oldest surviving military airfield in Australia. As the country’s first military flying school and the birthplace of the Royal Australian Air Force, the air base played a pivotal role in the history of Australian military aviation for more than 90 years.
The Federal Government acquired Point Cook in 1913 to establish the nation’s first military flying school: the Central Flying School. The school began with two officer instructors and a few mechanics. The first military flight in Australia took place on 1 March 1914 and the first training course began in August 1914 with four student pilots.
During the First World War the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) was established at Point Cook. Many of its pilots saw duty overseas in New Guinea, Mesopotamia (Iraq), Palestine and on the Western Front. Lieutenant Frank McNamara, who trained at Point Cook, won Australia’s sole air Victoria Cross.
The base was the setting for many epic aviation events. In 1919 it served as the start-point for the first north-south crossing of the continent; in 1924 the first air circumnavigation of the Australian coastline; and in 1926 the first flight from Australia to the Pacific region. Charles Kingsford-Smith departed from Point Cook in 1929 for the first non-stop, east-west crossing of the continent.
The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) was formed on 31 March 1921 at Point Cook as only the second independent air force in the world. From 1936 the base rapidly expanded as the threat of war loomed. During the Second World War, Point Cook was the core training base for the RAAF and a new Service Flying Training School was established there. By the war’s end more than 2700 pilots had graduated. The air base continued in its role as the key pilot training centre for the RAAF until 1992.
Point Cook is associated with notable people in Australian military aviation. Richard Williams and Thomas White graduated from the first AFC training course in 1914 and served during the First World War. For his role as Chief of Air Staff from 1922 until 1939, Sir Richard Williams became known as the ‘father’ of the RAAF. White was the Minister for Air and Civil Aviation from 1949–51 and was later knighted.
The master plan for Point Cook was completed in 1917 and implemented under JS Murdoch, the first Commonwealth Architect. The layout and buildings today comprise the only example of a military air base exhibiting all major periods of development: pre-First World War, First World War, the inter-war years and the Second World War. The base has the oldest hangars and workshops (1914–17) in Australia and includes the water-plane hangar of 1914, the internationally rare 1916 seaplane jetty and the 1920s seaplane complex.
Today, Point Cook is home to the RAAF Museum. Initiated in 1952 by Air Marshall Sir George Jones, the Museum provides for the restoration and display of historic aircraft.