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Airport huts restored to former glory

22 February 2019

Three huts at the historically significant former RAAF Air Base at the Ballarat Airport have been restored to their former glory.

Huts 48, 50 and 52 include the former officers’ mess, the former boiler house and the former laundry and drying room.

About 160 P-Type huts were built on the Ballarat site and were used for accommodation, teaching classrooms, messes, kitchen, equipment and clothing storage, and maintenance and administrative functions, of these only 45 remain.

The restoration works were completed by the City of Ballarat, with assistance from a $200,000 Heritage Victoria Living Heritage grant.

The buildings are included in the listing of the former Ballarat RAAF Air Base on the Victorian Heritage Register.

The RAAF base was built in 1940, at the start of WWII, as a wireless air gunners training school under the Empire Air Training Scheme.

The scheme was set up by Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to rapidly train air crews for the British Bomber Command to fight the German Air Force, with 28 schools established across eastern Australia by the end of 1941.

By the end of March 1942, a total of 1238 air men had been trained in radio equipment operation using Avro Anson and Wackett Trainer aircraft at Ballarat.

An American Air Force heavy bomber squadron also camped for two months in the field to the south of the RAAF base, while a radar training wing was established on the site in 1945.

By May 1945, 5025 trainees had been through the school, which was disbanded in January 1946.

The RAAF continued to operate the airport until 1961 when it became the property of the City of Ballarat.

It continues to operate as a civil airport, with the surviving WWII buildings providing accommodation for a large number of community organisations, including an aviation museum.

The conservation works undertaken at the three huts included:

  • Removal of hazardous materials
  • Restumping
  • Floor replacement
  • Restoration of original external cladding
  • Remediation of the wall and roof structure
  • New roof cladding
  • Renewal of internal mechanical, electrical and plumbing services
  • Construction of compliant accessible entry and toilet
  • New internal wall and ceiling linings
  • Consolidation of the incoming electrical supply

The works have been completed in accordance with the Ballarat Aerodrome Conservation Management Plan.

The huts will be tenanted by the Small Engine Preservation Society and the Air Force Association, as well as improving storage for the Rotary Club of Ballarat East.

The overall project has also resulted in improvements in the neighbouring huts occupied by the Central Highlands Dart League and Ballarat Billiards & Snooker Association.

The City of Ballarat is in ongoing discussions with other interested community groups to further use these spaces.

Mayor Cr Samantha McIntosh said the former RAAF Air Base and its huts were an invaluable part of Ballarat’s rich history.

“Ballarat played a vital part in helping Australia and its allies in World War II,” Cr McIntosh said.

“It’s vital that we restore these huts back to the glory of their heyday to ensure we always remember our contribution to the war effort but also so they can play a valuable role as community facilities today as well.”

Hut 48, located on Airport Road, Mitchell Park, will be officially reopened on Tuesday 26 February 2019 at 12pm.