National Trust objects to proposed demolition of national heritage at RAAF Base Point Cook

Feature Image: Phil Vabre (GFDL or GFDL), via Wikimedia Commons

The Australian Council of National Trusts and the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) have written to the Department of Defence strongly objecting to its demolition proposal at RAAF Base Point Cook, which presents a significant and irreversible threat to the National and Commonwealth Heritage values of the site.

RAAF Base Point Cook, also known as RAAF Base Williams, was the birthplace of the Royal Australian Air Force in 1921. Constructed near Melbourne in 1914 and still used today by some squadrons, it is Australia’s oldest air base and one of the world’s oldest continually operating airfields. Although the airfield has been decommissioned by the RAAF, the site continues to play an active role 110 years later, and is home to the RAAF Museum.

The National Trust classified RAAF Base Point Cook  at the level of international significance in 2004 (B5572) and we have worked with stakeholders to campaign for the protection of the site for more than 20 years. In 2007 the base was was included on the National Heritage List (NHL).  The summary Statement of Significance for the NHL notes the following, 

RAAF Base Point Cook is the only remaining World War One military airfield complex in Australia and features the oldest, most extensive complex of military aviation buildings in Australia. Together, the planning, layout and built fabric comprise the only example of a military air base associated with all the major formative periods of development: pre World War One, World War One, Inter-war and World War Two. The base includes uncommon examples of building types specific to each of these periods. In particular the fabric of the base includes examples of the oldest hangars and workshops, military or civilian, in Australia…This makes RAAF Base Point Cook perhaps the only remaining relatively intact early military airfield in the world.

Since 2010 the National Trust has warned that the lack of commitment to maintenance and appropriate reuse of heritage structures at the base are inadequate to ensure the protection of one of the most important heritage places in Australia.

In 2019 Defence referred a proposal to demolish 19 structures at RAAF Base Point Cook to the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act)

Reasons for the demolition included that the buildings are redundant to Australian Defence Force requirements, present safety concerns arising from their poor condition, and their removal would reduce on-going maintenance costs. 15 of the 19 structures slated for demolition are listed on the National and Commonwealth Heritage Lists, including possibly Australia’s only remaining World War II British-built hangars and the armament store built between the wars – irreplaceable buildings of international historic importance.

In 2020, the Environment Minister determined the proposed removal of heritage buildings was a ‘Controlled Action’ and required Defence to prepare a Preliminary Documentation (PD) Report as the assessment method, which closed for public consultation on 11 April 2024. Defence will now review public comments to update the PD.

The National Trust has submitted that the deterioration of the buildings and the resulting request to demolish them demonstrates a case of ‘demolition by neglect.’ In many cases arguments to support the demolition proposal reference prohibitive costs to repair the buildings for adaptive reuse. We maintain that the reason many of the building repair and maintenance costs seem prohibitive now is due to a lack of implementation of the regular maintenance regime provided in the site Heritage Management Plan (2012)

It is vital that all levels of heritage protection stand as a control that cannot be circumvented via deliberate disrepair. Costs due to a refusal to implement the policies of the site Heritage Management Plan for over a decade should not be paid for by the Australian community through the deterioration and loss of our nationally significant heritage places. We believe the demolition of these buildings would signal an unacceptable double standard to the Australian community: that the Commonwealth Government allows the deterioration and resulting demolition of its own nationally significant heritage assets.

A final version of the PD will be submitted to DCCEEW for the decision stage of the assessment.

Read our full submission here.


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  1. 1

    Another Dept Defense short sighted decision not to maintain the historic buildings.
    Keep pushing to preserve this valuable site.

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