The University of Western Australia

The Catalina Base

Further information

  • UWA Archives Collections
  • 100 Treasures - UWA Boatshed

The flying boats of the Swan, the US Navy Catalinas, flew into Matilda Bay in 1943.(1)

The Japanese invasion of the Philippines had resulted in their evacuation from in and around Manila. They went first to Java but due to other threats of invasion, were again relocated, this time to Australia.

  1. Matilda Bay site
  2. Effect on the University
  3. Acknowledgements

Matilda Bay site

The US Navy relocated the Catalina Patrol Wing No. 10 to Matilda Bay. They brought with them approximately 60 – 70 Catalinas, or flying boats, and 1200 Americans, including both members of the Navy and their support personal.

The Swan River became their base and training ground between missions that took them as far north as Colombo and Ceylon.


Effect on the University

The face of the University changed dramatically during the residence of the Catalinas.

"They’d established this Catalina base in a kind of huddled village of prefabs next door to St George’s, and of course the whole University precincts were behind barbed wire and shut off to the general public, and you had to have permits to move around in it."(2)

They acquired the boat shed for their headquarters, and the Catalinas rested in the Bay when not out on missions. The officers’ quarters were built on the site where University Hall is now situated. The photo lab (responsible for all photo-work from aerial reconnaissance) took up a large portion of the Engineering Building (now the Guild Tavern) and Riley Oval was often used as a parade ground.

The pilots put even the roofs of Winthrop and Hackett Halls to good use. Made of red terracotta tiles they apparently acted as very good markers to guide the Catalina pilots back to their base.

The International Catalina Reunion was held at Matilda Bay in 1994. During this occasion, the Hon Sir Charles Court unveiled a memorial dedicated to the Catalina Flying Boat pilots.(3)



(1) Old General File 746
(2) Member of staff in Shervington, C. (1987). University voices traces from the past. pp 49.
(3) Campus News, 1994: 13(20): 3
Ferguson, R.J. (1993) Crawley Campus. The planning and architecture of the University of Western Australia. Perth: University of Western Australia Press.

Back to top