Melbourne’s abandoned airfield

For anyone who frequents the western suburbs of Melbourne, this sight should be familiar.

Sun sets on the abandoned control tower

Located beside the Princes Freeway at Laverton, these aircraft hangars and control tower are all that remains of the airfield that once operated at the RAAF Williams base. Two runways once existed: closest to the freeway was runway 17/35, facing roughly north-south and 1056 metres long, and at a right angle was runway 05/23 which was 1526 metres in length.

The airfield dates back to 1920 when the 160 acre site was acquired by the RAAF, with aircraft manufacturing commencing on the site in 1926. By end of the Second World War flight operations at Laverton had intensified, with various jet fighters and bombers stationed at the airfield, including Vampires, Sabres, Meteors and Canberras.

The tower

As for the control tower itself, it has an interesting history as one of the former air force technicians describes:

This tower was originally the jet engine testing facility for the Rolls Royce Avon jet engines used in the RAAF Sabre aircraft in the 1950′s. The Building was subsequently converted into a ATC control tower in 1980 by RAAF No. 1 Aircraft Depot technicians, I was a member of the installation team.

The CA-27 Sabre jet fighter designed and built by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) at Fishermans Bend, Melbourne. Based upon the North American Aviation F-86F Sabre, the Australian variant was built around the Rolls-Royce Avon engine, instead of the General Electric J47 that powered the original jet. Today one Australian built aircraft is still in flying condition: serial number A94-983 has been restored by the Temora Aviation Museum and is see at airshows and flying displays around Australia.

RAAF CA-27 Sabre on the taxiway

The Avon RA-7 jet engine was another instance of Australian companies building foreign equipment under licence, with a total of 218 Avon engines being built by CAC. The Mk. 26 was used on the Sabre, while the Mk. 109 Avon was used on the Australian-built Canberra jet bomber. The Temora Aviation Museum also has an example of the latter engine, being serial number 3285.

Rolls-Royce Avon RA-7 Mk 109 jet engine

Back at the test site, the main building contained a large set of baffles, since removed.

You got me baffled...

Located on the second storey, the baffle room opens out to the exterior via the roller door.

Looking out from the baffle room

Back at ground level was the main testing room.

Pigeon crap

Unfortunate the conversion to control tower stripped out anything of interest, such as engine mounts or exhaust ducting.

Don't step in the crap

The other side of the wall appears to be where the exhaust led.

Intake

A secondary building was located a short distance away, and contained I assume were fuel tanks for the jet engines under test.

Fuel tanks

The conversion of the test building to a control tower was relatively simple: a steel and glass structure was just placed onto the roof of the building, with lightweight wall cladding, and lots of glass.
By the time the tower was complete in 1980, the RAAF mission had changed to protecting northern Australia, with Laverton falling into a support role, as the RAAFs modern jets such as the Mirage III, F-111, and F/A-18 Hornet were based at airfields elsewhere in the country.

One role the airfield retained was hosting the RAAF Laverton Air Show, which continued until flight operations officially ceased in September 1996. The last aircraft at Laverton departed in February 1998, being a de Havilland Vampire jet from the RAAF museum fleet.

Decent to flight level 15

Since the closure of the airfield, suburban development has filled the paddocks to the south of the freeway, now unhindered by aircraft noise. The tower itself has been heavily vandalised, with the glass windows shattered and much of the wall panels and floor scattered around the nearby area.

Looking out on the continually expanding suburbia

The airfield land itself was sold in 1998 to property developer Cedar Woods for $10 million, and in 2007 the area was given a new suburb name – “Williams Landing”. Removal of the north end of the runway commenced in 2010, with the control tower finally demolished in March 2011. Today houses continue to creep south towards the freeway.

Houses at Williams Landing covering the remains of the former airfield

More links to read

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

20 Responses to “Melbourne’s abandoned airfield”

  1. Dave says:

    Good article Marcus. I’ve driven past many times and your photos and article give a good overview of its historical importance. I wonder if any effort will be made by the developer to display its history eg even some simple photoboards in a park with images and explanation of the development of the airfield?

    Minor point is that it is beside the “Princes” Freeway, not the “Princess” Freeway.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Given developers these days I wouldn’t be surprised if they put houses right up against the railway line: on the opposite side of the freeway the ‘Waterhaven’ estate by Hallmarc Developments is cramming houses on a narrow strip of land between Skeleton Creek and 5 metre high noise barriers.

      For Williams Landing, they mention the history of the site on their website, but their master plan shows not much else of the airfield is retained:
      http://www.williamslanding.com.au/About_Williams_Landing.asp

    • Marcus Wong says:

      As for the spelling of the “Princes” Freeway I’m usually a pedant on that point – too bad I can’t fire my current proofreader, as it is me!

  2. [...] A few months ago I took a look at the control tower that once stood sentry over the former RAAF Williams airfield in the Melbourne suburb of Laverton – today I’m [...]

  3. Charles Thompson says:

    As much of a shame it is to see things abandoned and destroyed, it CAN be given a new life!!
    A few friends and myself from around geelong and melbourne run a short film business, LoneSoldier Films, Check us out on YouTube:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/LoneSoldierFilms

    And this looks like one hell of a filming location for one of our up coming films!! Does anyone own it, or if not, is it publicly accessible?
    Cheers!
    -Charles

  4. Jake (film student) says:

    is it possible to get permission from a certain individual to film a movie in a certain section of the building?

    • Marcus says:

      Unfortunately there is nothing left of the old control tower: it went in March 2011. As for the disused aircraft hangars, they are all on land still used by the RAAF: I doubt they would let outsiders visit.

      However, there is an aircraft hangar down the road at Werribee that is managed by heritage group: they would be much more likely to work something out for you:
      http://b24australia.org.au/

  5. Kathleen says:

    Thanks for this info Marcus, which has helped me string together some photos. I landed at Williams in December 1979, in a RAAF Caribou, for a home Christmas visit before returning to work in Malaysia. Handy to Melbourne!
    Sad to see the abandonment and degradation of the site over the years, but that’s progress I guess.

  6. Morgan says:

    In between the closure of the airfield and the demolition of the tower building, it was in use for a while by a company running motorcycle licence testing and training courses. They used a portable building placed beside the tower as a classroom, but the tower building itself was used as storage and workshop space for the fleet of motorcycles they used. That’s where I got my licence.
    But I also remember a previous visit in 1983 or 1984, when I was a cadet in the Air Training Corps – at that time the only regular flying at the base was the Glider Club, which used a launching winch which I think was at the runway 17 end. There were still a fair few planes there, but they were mostly a large group of decommissioned Hercules transports that were lined up out the front of the main hangars.

  7. Morgan says:

    Actually, I just took a look at the site via Google Earth – on the Runway 35 threshold you can still see some odd painted lines surrounding the number 35 – these are actually the markings that were used by the motorcycle school as the testing course!
    https://maps.google.com.au/maps?q=point+cook&ll=-37.868366,144.748242&spn=0.001645,0.003484&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-a&hnear=Point+Cook+Victoria&gl=au&t=h&z=19

    • Marcus says:

      Ah – I’ve seen those markings in Google Maps before, and wondering what they were doing there! Here is a screenshot of said markings, in case Google updates their imagery in future.

      Motorbike training school markings at RAAF Laverton

  8. Andrew S says:

    It is worth noting that the former course of Geelong Road ran through RAAF Laverton prior the Federal Government acquiring it in 1939 to expand the airfield. The former runway 05/23 (the bearings of the runways, minus a zero by the way) roughly corresponds to the route. The old route then crossed the rail line at ‘Hopper’s Crossing’ to continue to Werribee …

    http://mrv.ozroads.com.au/southwest/M1princes/old.htm

    The deviation was therefore federally funded and included an overpass at the rail line (since modified/rebuilt several times) and underpass at Merton Street (Explosives Road) which has since been lost in the mists of time – presumably when the Kororoit Creek Road interchange was built around 1970.

    A strange quirk was the Point Cook Road overpass over the deviation-turned-freeway which was presumably opened in the early 70′s along with the interchange, but has a design matching the Maltby Bypass overpasses from the early 60′s in terms of construction and bridge barriers – completely different to other freeway overpasses of the same vintage.

  9. Royce says:

    I was passing RAAF Laverton Airfield today after visiting a good friend of mine who lives in Werribee. I was an instructor at the Gliding Club there and started flying there in 1978. My last flight there was around 1992 and its sad to see it all gone.
    Regarding the winch it was a great way to launch but we always had to be on the ground when the RAAF was operational.
    I spent many weekends there and still contact some old friends from there who now fly the Qantas A380 and some like my friend in Werribee still enjoy to glide but in other parts of Victoria. I live overseas now and miss that wonderful part of my life….

  10. ixion says:

    I attended the 1958 airshow when some of the RAAF buildings were open for display. Also saw AVRO Vulcan or 707 (too young to know the difference at the time) in flight. In early 2000 I competed in a motorkhana there run by the Porsche Club of Victoria. Anyone know what happened to the AVRO?

Leave a Reply