Rose Bay International AirportLocation: Rose Bay, Eastern Suburbs, Sydney
As you walk along the foreshore of Rose Bay, were it not for the occasional buzz of a float plane as it lands and takes off across the bay and the fact that a restaurant on the bay is called Catalina's, you would never know the bay played a short but important role as Sydney's international airport. It began in May 1914 when a Farman Hydro-aeroplane made an emergency landing there.
Twenty years later a flying boat base was established on a 'temporary basis' and became a terminus for Qantas Empire Airways and Imperial Airways for their London to Sydney passenger services. The first passenger flight, by an Empire class Coo-ee, left for Southampton on 2nd February 1938. The service continued until the end of 1947 when Lockheed Constellation airliners replaced the flying boats that had pioneered the "Kangaroo Route", the name Australians gave the England to Australia run.
Flying boats were used in the 1930s to pioneer the concept of international air travel. As the clouds of World War II gathered, aircraft builders were developing larger, faster, more luxurious flying boats and the airlines began developing flying boat bases such as the one at Rose Bay in anticipation of a boom in air travel.
A trans-Tasman flying boat service began in April 1940 which at its peak, saw a fleet of four Sandringhams servicing the route and making the seven hour crossing to Auckland. Services to Lord Howe Island, Fiji and Tahiti were introduced using Sandringhams, Hythes, Solents, Sunderlands and Catalinas. The hangars of the Qantas base provided maintenance for the flying boat fleets of Qantas, Tasman Empire Airways Limited, Barrier Reef Airways and Imperial which operated these services, as well as the Qantas flying boats on the Perth to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) route.
After the war, the anticipated boom in air travel came, but advancements made in the design and performance of land-based aircraft during the war made the flying boats obsolete before they had a chance to make their mark. Elaborate plans to build an international airport and hotels on the Rose Bay foreshore were first put on hold, then abandoned completely as flying boat services were quickly replaced by land-based aircraft which could not land at Rose Bay.
Rose Bay today
The last Qantas flight from Rose Bay took off at midnight on 16th August 1955. By 1962, the number of personnel at the base had dwindled to 11. The final commercial flight from Rose Bay, an Ansett service to Lord Howe Island, left on 10th September 1974, closing a brief but important chapter in Australia's aviation history and returning the bay to being the quiet harbourside community it was before the arrival of the flying boats. The site of the Rose Bay flying boat terminal is today used by a company offering joy rides in a float plane. UBD Map 237 Ref K 10