Group Captain Steve Roberton at RAAF Base Amberley.
Group Captain Steve Roberton at RAAF Base Amberley. Rob Williams

Air base still flying high

ONE of the cornerstones of RAAF Base Amberley has been the strong relationship the base has shared with the local community of Ipswich.

The past 70 years has forged a special bond between the base, its personnel and generations of Ipswich residents.

This bond was formed with the establishment of the base, where 300 men were initially expected to be stationed at Amberley, and Jos Francis, the member for Moreton at the time thought this number could eventually rise to at least 500.

He noted that “three hundred trained officers and men would make an important contribution to the commercial, sporting and social life of the city.”

And over the past 70 years, these words have proved to be true.

Tomorrow the base will celebrate 70 years in Ipswich, a symbolic milestone that instils pride and achievement in the region.

It is hard to believe that a parcel of land the size of RAAF Base Amberley could be purchased for $21,600.

But, in 1938, before anyone had heard of Springfield or Ripley, that's exactly what was paid for this aerodrome that has become Australia's largest air force base.

RAAF Amberley is home to the RAAF Security and Fire School, which undertakes the basic training for airfield defence guards, airfield engineers, security police, military working dog handlers and firefighters.

By June 1940 the airfield was ready for operation, and on the 17th of that month, 24 Squadron commenced working at Australia's newest RAAF Base.

Since then, local community has listened to the sound of aircraft often described by Mayor Paul Pisasale as the sound of freedom.

One of Amberley's early recruits Andy Emmerson said the base initially didn't even have any beds.

“They gave us palliasses, which we filled with straw, and we slept on those,” he said.

Accommodation for the new recruits consisted of lines of weatherboard huts with a door at both ends, unlined and without a ceiling, sleeping 30 or more trainees in two rows of stretchers with a passage down the middle.

On July 4, 1940 the first RAAF aircraft arrived on base.

It was a Moth Minor of No 24 Squadron. July 10 saw the arrival of the first four Wirraway aircraft, and a further two Moth Minors.

Beau Palmer was among the first four pilots to land a plane at RAAF Base Amberley on July 10. When he first landed, there were no runways, buildings were yet to be completed and there were sugar gliders everywhere.

Sixty-three years on, in an interview with The Queensland Times, Mr Palmer remembered the sugar gliders as pets, carried around in the 21-year-old Flying Officer's pockets.

“At night time, we used to be drinking at the bar and put them on the bar and they loved the Drambuie,” he said.

“They used to reach up and lick it out of the glass and then you'd stand back from the bar and they'd leap on to you and hop back into your pocket.”

Former airwoman Jill Forrest served with the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force at RAAF Amberley more than 60 years ago.

“It's all changed but we had fun I'll tell you,” Ms Forrest said.

“We didn't like the straw beds; we never had nothing warm; we had the blankets but no heating.”

While living it rough, the boisterous atmosphere of a wartime base made the old RAAF Amberley the place to be for a good night out.

“We had a marvellous time, and yes I'd do it all again.

“If I was young enough I'd be up here again,” she said.

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