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Airmen's duty of care

RAAF Base Learmonth caretaker staff (from left) Corporal Andy Nicholson, Corporal Rodger Shordon, Flight Sergeant Phil Jones and Corporal Steve Lawrence.
RAAF Base Learmonth caretaker staff (from left) Corporal Andy Nicholson, Corporal Rodger Shordon, Flight Sergeant Phil Jones and Corporal Steve Lawrence.
Photo by CPOPH Mal Back
For four Airmen their current posting is something different than that normally experienced by most Air Force personnel.

They are the caretaker staff at Learmonth Air Base, 1300km north of Perth on the remote North West Cape, near Exmouth.

For SNCOIC Flight Sergeant Phil Jones and his team of Corporals Steve Lawrence, Andy Nicholson and Roger Shordon, their posting to Learmonth is a highlight of their careers in the Air Force to date.

As members of No. 396 Combat Support Wing HQ based in Darwin, their role at Learmonth is to maintain the base in an operational condition to permit a Squadron or Training unit to begin operations very shortly after arrival.

Between February and November the base has regular deployments from squadrons and units, such as No. 79 Squadron and No. 2 Flying Training School. Hercules and P3C Orion aircraft that call in regularly for refuelling also keep the caretaker team busy.

On top of their normal employment, the current crop of personnel at Learmonth has been called on to provide assistance to the civil community, such as providing assistance to victims of a car accident near the base when roads to Exmouth, 36km to the north, were isolated by floods and emergency services could not get to the accident from the town.

Similarly, some 70 civilians were fed and accommodated by the Air Force when they could not proceed owing to the flooded road conditions.

A normal posting cycle to RAAF Base Learmonth is for two years, with the option for a one-year extension.

It is recommended those who have financial, welfare or family medical issues should not consider a posting to Learmonth. The Exmouth District Hospital provides medical and dental services, while specialist medical support entails a trip to either Perth or a large regional town such as Geraldton 700km away.

Outdoor and sporting interests are strongly recommended, as is the ability to "make your own entertainment" as the infrastructure available in most towns is either non-existent or rudimentary. The current incumbents pursue recreational interests such as diving, fishing, camping, 4WD and shooting.

The cost of living is high, although it is offset by district allowance and tax concessions.

RAAF Base Learmonth came into existence in the dark days of World War 2 in 1942 as an east-west dirt strip. During the 1950s the Western Australia Government tried to seal the runway with little success. In 1971 No 5 Airfield Construction Squadron began rebuilding the runway with a north-south aspect of 3.3km in length and establishing the necessary base infrastructure. This work was completed in 1973.

In 1997, an $80 million upgrade began with new hangars and revetment spaces being constructed. At the start of March 1999 all work had been finished, just in time for Cyclone Vance to rip through on March 20, demolishing much of the infrastructure. The Air Force rebuilt the damaged base to its current modern standard, with the Caretakers Married Quarters being completed in November 2001.
  • By Gary Booth


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