in the dark
John Wellfare searches the Point Cook heritage area for the
truth behind the ghostly sightings that have become a part of
Air Force legend.
ghosts haunt the deserted buildings of the Point Cook heritage
illustration by PTE John Wellfare
first flying training course pilots and instructors. Back
row, from left: LT Richard Williams and CAPT Thomas White.
Front row, from left: 2LT George Merze, LT Henry Petre,
LT Eric Harrison and 2LT David Manwell.
by PTE John Wellfare
old offices of the flight training school in the Point Cook
Heritage area are an eerie place to be at midnight.
by PTE John Wellfare
grass crunched beneath my feet as I approached the old flight
training school office building 10 minutes after midnight.
The sound of my footsteps seemed unusually loud, but must have
been barely audible in the night air, which bustled with a lively
wind, buffeting the Point Cook coastline and sending the treetops
into a frenzy.
A lonely shutter clattered rhythmically nearby and an enormous
iron hanger door let out a weary groan somewhere along the deserted
row of 90-year-old buildings. My nerves were frayed, and it took
all my will to shine a torch through the building’s dusty window
and peer inside.
There radiates a rich energy in the base that has been home to
some of Australia’s great men.
While they don’t pre-date many of the Army’s majestic sandstone
offices in both Sydney’s and Melbourne’s Victoria Barracks, there
is still history in the almost century-old buildings that make
up Point Cook’s heritage areas.
The wooden structures, most of which are no longer occupied, appear
little more than withered shells of buildings during the daylight
hours, but take on a much more eerie visage when the sun has gone
It’s little wonder then, that Point Cook is widely regarded as
the Air Force’s most haunted base. Numerous ghost stories have
arisen over the years, encompassing most of the heritage buildings
in the area.
Some of them can be explained, such as the RAAF Museum’s occasional
missing reference books or small items apparently being moved
Other occurrences cannot be explained, such as the heater that
turned on one night, despite being sealed in behind a false display
wall in the museum. The staff literally had to tear down the wall
to turn the heater off.
Wing Commander Ken Llewelyn’s 1991 book Flight Into The Ages has
a chapter “Guests of the Military”, detailing accounts of ghostly
encounters on Australian air bases.
All but five pages of this chapter are devoted to Point Cook.
“A RAAF guard accompanied by his dog on night patrol in December
1985 ... challenged an officer in what he took to be a WWI pilot’s
uniform,” WGCDR Llewelyn writes.
“The guard’s dog was unusually ferocious when the challenge was
made. The officer refused to obey the guard’s instructions and
continued on his merry way. The frustrated guard forcefully repeated
his challenge [but] the figure simply disappeared.”
It’s incidents such as this, or the pilot that was often seen
walking past the base’s fire section, that kept running through
my mind as I peered inside the office building.
I started to wonder what had led me to believe a midnight wander
around Australia’s most haunted airbase was a good idea for a
story. Point Cook is the oldest Air Force base in Australia and
the oldest continually operating airfield in the world.
Many of Australian military aviation’s pinnacle moments happened
on this coastal stretch of land, about an hour’s drive from Melbourne.
The Central Flying School was first established at Point Cook
in February 1914, operating two B.E. biplanes, two Deperdussin
monoplanes and a Bristol Boxkite out of canvas hangers and tents.
The site had been chosen by Lieutenant Henry Petre, an English
barrister who had taught himself to fly and had even built his
own aircraft before being selected by the Australian Government
to be one of the military’s first pilots.
Australia’s first military flight left the runway at Point Cook
on the morning March 1, 1914. It was that same afternoon when
LT Petre snared a telephone wire and crashed one of the monoplanes
– Australia’s first military aviation accident.
LT Petre survived the crash and went on to lead the first flying
training course in August, 1914, and later the ill-fated Australian
First Half Flight, which deployed to Mesopotamia in 1915.
The four pilots in this flight included Lieutenant George Merz,
the first Australian pilot killed in action during World War I.
LT Merz had been forced to land with engine trouble during a flight
from Nasiriyeh to Basra and, along with his New Zealand observer,
was set upon and killed by an Arabic tribe.
LT Merz, a qualified medical doctor, had worked through the previous
night treating wounded in Nasiriyeh before making the fatal flight.
Captain Thomas White was another distinguished member of the First
CAPT White was captured in Mesopotamia in November 1915, escaped
in 1918, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1919, commanded
a British air base during World War II and accompanied a number
of bomber missions over Europe, became the Minister for Air and
Civil Aviation in 1949 and was knighted in 1952.
there’s No. 1 Squadron’s Lieutenant (later Air Vice- Marshal)
Francis McNamara, the only Australian airman to be awarded the
Victoria Cross during WWI.
LT McNamara had seen one of his fellow pilots land with engine
trouble during an aerial bomb attack on a hostile train. With
enemy cavalry approaching, LT McNamara landed his own aircraft
under heavy fire.
Despite suffering a leg wound, he helped the stranded pilot onboard
and attempted to take off, but was unable to keep his aeroplane
straight and it turned over.
The two pilots set LT McNamara’s machine on fire and made for
the other aircraft, which they managed to start and fly 70 miles
back to the aerodrome. LT McNamara’s squadron was commanded by
Captain (later Air Marshal) Richard Williams, who was strongly
involved in establishing the Royal Australian Air Force and went
on to become the first Australian Chief of Air Staff in 1922.
These men, and many others who served with such great distinction
during WWI, trained at the newly established Point Cook airbase.
I had planned, at one point, to spend a night in one of the deserted
buildings, but the reaction of the base personnel I spoke to changed
Nobody laughed at me when I said I intended to write a feature
on the ghosts of Point Cook, and while no one was willing to go
on record, they all could relate haunting experiences – either
their own or a friend’s – and it was hearing of staff refusing
to go into buildings, day or night, that I decided to scratch
the idea of a sleepover.
I’ve never seen anything “supernatural” – never had a bad feeling
about a place – but one has to accept that unless the storyteller
is lying, there are happenings that cannot be explained.
I shone the torch through the grimy window and into what looked
like a lecture hall in the office building, which is attached
to a hanger that once housed seaplanes.
The room was empty, save for some desks pushed up against the
wall and the long shadows that stretched off into the far corner.
My heartbeat returned to a more normal rate and the hairs on the
back of my neck receded after that early hesitation, and I walked
the rest of the way along the building’s front, shining the torch
in each window to illuminate the interior.
The wind continued to charge between the buildings with no particular
direction and pushed against me with renewed strength as I emerged
into the open gap between the office block and the hanger up ahead.
CAPT White lost control of the Bristol Boxkite once while trying
to land on September 12, 1914.
He came down the runway, which runs perpendicular to the strip
of buildings, too high and too fast, and crashed into the first
permanent hanger built on the site.
CAPT White apparently walked away unharmed, but the hanger still
bears the scar, a deep indentation above its heavy iron doors.
It’s a reminder of the courage it took to fly in the early days
of aviation, when aircraft engines lacked power and reliability,
and flimsy airframes would do little to protect a pilot, even
from a minor crash.
The first flight across Australia departed from Point Cook in
1919, with Captain (later Air Vice-Marshal) Henry Wrigley in the
cockpit After WWI, in which he received a Distinguished Flying
Cross, AVM Wrigley devoted his career to developing air power
doctrine, establishing himself as Australia’s first authoritative
commentator on the subject.
Australia’s first air-sea rescue flight was also made from Point
Cook. Flying instructor Captain William Stutt and his mechanic
Sergeant Abner Dalzell left Point Cook in a De Havilland 9A biplane
on September 5 1920, to search for a missing schooner, Amelia
J, which had disappeared while crossing Bass Strait.
A second plane also joined the search, piloted by Major William
Anderson, who saw CAPT Stutt’s aircraft fly into a cloud and disappear.
Despite extensive searches, the missing aircraft and schooner
were never found.
I wandered the desolate row of buildings in the darkness. There
have been some terrifying accounts, such as some of the recorded
occurrences in the fire section at Point Cook.
Many of the Air Force firemen who occupied the fire section on
24- hour shifts, until it was closed down in the 1990s, claimed
to have a resident ghost in their building. WGCDR Llewelyn recorded
accounts of the ghost “rattling cups, opening doors and causing
the floor to creak with his footsteps”.
“Leading Aircraftman Nick Dennis had no experience or knowledge
of the haunted fire section when he was awakened around 2am in
May 1989 by tapping on the window and the sound of someone talking.”
According to LAC Dennis, the voice was saying, “Can you remember
back to 1980?”. As he rolled over, the voice said, “I saw your
leg move”. Another Air Force fireman had a more terrifying experience
while sleeping in the firehouse during the same year.
“This young fireman actually felt unseen hands pressing down on
his legs and shoulders,” WGCDR Llewelyn writes. “Although a powerfully
built man, he was unable to raise himself from his bed.” This
happened to the same man on three different occasions during mid-1989,
after which he refused to work on night shift.
As I neared the western end of the row of hangers, I couldn’t
help but glance at the air traffic control tower. A figure has
been seen in the unused tower on several occasions, although the
tower’s not particularly old. The previous air traffic control
tower was also the centre of a string of unusual occurrences before
it was pulled down.
An airman hanged himself there and the base firemen claimed to
see his outline in the vacant building as lights turned on and
Having reached the end of the row, I’d successfully challenged
my fear and kept my nerves in check. The hanger building I had reached
was a little different to the others.
Grey in colour and with no windows, it once held a German aircraft,
brought back to Australia after WWI in secret, which was kept on
the airbase and examined by some of the military’s top technicians.
The unnamed but highly advanced aircraft apparently took Australian
aviation in new directions and shaped the future of aircraft technology
Having reached the end of my selfguided tour, I’d explored at midnight
a section of Point Cook that some of the base’s guard patrols have
apparently refused to enter after dark.
I’ve walked the same ground that the Air Force’s founding fathers
walked as they built an entirely new kind of warfare based on emerging
The old buildings have stood through some of Australian aviation’s
pioneering moments, its greatest successes and most tragic disasters.
The wind was beginning to die down as I turned to look back along
the row of buildings. Having made it this far, I didn’t expect it
would be too much trouble to walk the 500m back through the strip
of old buildings and return to my car.