Catalina Flying Boats in Inland Victoria
by Peter Carey
If you’re exploring the Mallee region in Northern Victoria, Lake Boga is worthy of a visit. It’s a 9.4 square kilometre fresh water endorheic lake, adjacent to a town of the same name, 325 kilometres north west of Melbourne or 142 kilometres from Echuca via the Murray Valley Highway, and a popular recreational locale for all things water sport.
For those interested in our military history, particularly the Pacific War; Lake Boga once served as the base for both the maintenance of the Catalina flying boats, and for covert military communication. Its inland location was strategically safer than coastal locations which were more vulnerable to Japanese air attacks such as that which Darwin suffered in 1942.
The Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum, popularly branded as “The Home Of The Catalina”, sits in the parkland on the shores of the lake. It is, from my experience, one of the most impressive facilities dedicated to an important part of our military history, rivalled only by the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and the RAAF Museum in Point Cook. Originally the brainchild of members of The Lions Club of Lake Boga, the idea started back in the early 1980’s and took about 14 years to bring the facility to its current form, before finally opening in 1997.
Visits start with a short documentary in a small theatrette, featuring a vast array of newsreel footage of the 1940’s, after which one is free to roam the large display room; a testament to the hard work of volunteers who painstakingly devoted many hours to the restoration to some 500 plus different military artifacts, including land vehicles.
I couldn’t help imagine how my late father George, an RAAF corporal of the Pacific War would have enjoyed the nostalgic fascination, had he been around to see this vast array of restored road vehicles; particularly the classic American Jeep or the GMC truck series which he typically drove as part of his role in Borneo. As a crucial communication point, the original communication bunker beside the main building has been set up as it would have been, complete with mannequins dressed with military attire, guaranteed to launch one into the environment, typical of busy military communication operations. The bunker was built in 1942 and eventually shutting down in 1947, it pays a very deserving tribute to the men and women who operated it.
Although some of the aircraft had to be represented by scale models, by far the most impressive exhibit would be full sized original Catalina PBY5 A24.30 which was rescued from scrap, painstakingly restored and now takes pride of place in the centre of the main display area. As its recovery and restoration was the original catalyst for establishing the museum in the first place, it obviously stands as the dominant aircraft exhibit.
For swimming, camping, yachting, water skiing, or fishing; it’s an ideal spot. If walking is your preference, Lake Boga has a 4.5 kilometre paved track around its perimeter. For longer stays, the nearby Lake Boga Caravan Park is pet friendly and suited to family style accommodation.