Fishermans Bend Aerodrome

Fishermans Bend Aerodrome was located near the confluence of the Yarra River with Port Phillip Bay. The area was mainly a vast swamp, and was owned by the Commonwealth Government. In the early 1930s, a primitive airstrip had been built there, used by gliding and light aircraft enthuasists.

In 1935, the Goverrmnt built the Conmnonwealth Aircraft Corporation factory there, together with a long sealed airstrip. The Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation is the best known of the Australian aircraft manufacturers of the Word War II era and post war era. The aircraft began as a private corporation founded by Lawrence Wackett who had been a Captain with the Australian Flying Corps and known for his engineering ingenuity. After World War I, Wackett had begun manufacturing and designing Civil Aircraft.

The Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation was conceived in 1935 by Essington Lewis (1881-1961), the managing director of BHP. It was a private company formed by a consortium including BHP and GMH to manufacture military aircraft with the intention of providing Australia with the tools to fight the modern war that was looming. Land was selected adjoining the recently completed GMH factory at Fishermans Bend. The manager of the new factory was Lawrence Wackett (1896-1982), pilot, designer and manufacturer. The factory manufactured under licence a modified US designed advanced trainer which became known as the Wirraway. Other wartime aircraft to come from the factory included the Wackett elementary trainer, the Mustang and, famously the Boomerang, a fighter aircraft conceived, designed and manufactured in little over three months.

Bristol Beaufort Mk VIII being manufactured at Fishermans Bend in 1943

Fishermans Bend became a centre of wartime aircraft industry with the adjacent Department of Aircraft Production factories and the Aeronautical Research Laboratories. During the war CAC produced two interesting prototypes which unfortunately never made it into production. The Woomera which was a three seater medium bomber that had remotely operated turrets in the rear engine nacelles. The second was the interceptor, the CA-15 or Kangaroo. A 721 km/h fast fighter with a range of 4000 km's. After the war CAC produced the CAC Sabre, one of the ultimate Sabres of the type. With a more powerful Avon turbojet and twin 30mm cannons the frame was 60% redesigned.

After World War II these facilities have continued manufacturing and assembling aircraft. In the years 1948 to 1958, the aerodrome and CAC were opened to the general public once a year, for viewing the factory complex, and static and flying displays of aircraft. The Aerodrome was also the location for public car and motorcycle racing in the years 1949 to 1959, using the main airstrip and the 3 km perimeter road. The Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation was taken over in 1986 and the majority of its buildings were demolished in 2003-04.

Westgate Park now occupies part of former CAC land. The aerodrome's runway became Todd Road, with the taxi runway becoming Wharf Road. A legacy of the past is found the names of some of the streets in the area, such as Sabre Drive, Wirraway Drive, and Canberra Drive. The railway line which serviced industry in the area remains but is no longer used and is not connected to the suburban rail system. It branched off the Port Melbourne line where Graham Street light rail station is today, through what is now a Garden City reserve. It then ran down the middle of Howe Parade, linking up with the remnants of the line to the west of Todd Road before swinging right, following Wharf Road, Todd Road and then Lorimer Street upon reaching the river.

The former Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation factory, at 344-370 Lorimer Street and 231-249 Todd Road Port Melbourne, was constructed from 1937 to manufacture military aircraft. The only remaining buildings of the extensive factory are a section of saw tooth factory to the west (now part of Hawker de Havilland/Boeing) and four hangars at the eastern end of the former factory at the corner of Lorimer Street and Todd Road. These hangars, dating from the Second World War, comprise one US made Butler Hangar and three British designed Bellman Hangars. The remaining Butler Hangar is one of two erected in 1942 for the assembly and flight testing of US aircraft. The other was relocated out of Victoria in 1943.

History of the Conmnonwealth Aircraft Corporation

CAC Butler Hangar, Fishermans Bend, 2006

The railway line follows Todd Road, which was the aerodrome's runway