If you were in the market for a second hand WWII flying boat, it’s a safe bet that the University of Western Australia’s Archives office would not be the first place you’d call.
However, that was exactly what the UWA Centenary Planning committee did, and there’s a reason why.
The enquiry is less surprising when you realize that the US Navy used various sections of the University during the period from March 1942 to February 1945.
The United States Navy relocated the Catalina Patrol Wing Number Ten (10) to Matilda Bay. They brought with them approximately 60 to 70 Catalina flying boats and 1200 Americans, including both members of the Navy and their support personnel.
The Swan River became their base and training ground between missions that took them as far north as Colombo and the then Ceylon, now Sri Lanka.
It was a very different looking University during the base’s occupation. 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 photography 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 even put 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.
Sadly, while we were able to locate many records relating to the Catalinas in the Archives, we were not able to locate an actual flying boat!