AUDIO: Catalina found to display at Rathmines

AUDIO: Damon Cronshaw speaks to Herald history writer Mike Scanlon

A CATALINA flying boat has been purchased for $20,000 in Puerto Rico to put on display in a museum at Rathmines.

Enthusiasts have been searching for a Catalina for years to display in the former RAAF base at Rathmines Park.

Catalinas were made famous in World War II for defending Australia from Japanese invaders.

The seaplane was credited with playing a key role in winning the war in the Pacific.

The flying boat in Puerto Rico would be dismantled and shipped to Australia, Rathmines Catalina Memorial Park Trust registrar Penny Furner said.

"This is one of the models that flew out of Rathmines during the war," Mrs Furner said.

Mrs Furner plans to store the plane on a property until a museum is built.

"We need Lake Macquarie City Council to get cracking and approve a hangar for us," she said.

The plane will be a static display and won't fly, but restoration work will be needed.

Mike Usher founded Rathmines' Catalina Festival to raise money to buy a Catalina.

"We had a dream and many people said it would never happen," Mr Usher said.

Newcastle Herald history writer Mike Scanlon said Catalinas were rare because most were cut up for aluminium after the war.

"To find one is extraordinary," Mr Scanlon said.

Mr Usher said the Catalina had been used to carry freight in Central America and South America.

"It got to a point where it was no longer economical to fly and was left sitting on tarmac for some years."

In September 2011, the council agreed to spend $35,000 on a business plan for an open-air museum for an airworthy Catalina at Rathmines.

That followed the council spending $60,000 on a study which found the museum was feasible.

The arrangement was to involve the council contributing $1 million to the museum and shore improvements, but plans may change because the plane will not fly.

Rathmines was once the largest flying boat base in the South Pacific and key to Australia's war effort.

About 3000 personnel were stationed at Rathmines at the height of the war, and 332 lost their lives in combat.

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