The Aviation Heritage Museum – Bull Creek, Perth, Western Australia

Note: Click on the smaller images to enlarge and read caption information.

The Aviation Heritage Museum of Western Australia is owned and operated by the Royal Australian Air Force Association Western Australian Division (RAAFA) and is housed in the Association’s Memorial Estate in the suburb of Bull Creek, approximately 15km south of the Perth CBD. The Museum can trace its origins back to the formation of RAAFA in 1929 when former members of the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) decided to form the association to recreate the solidarity they experienced during their service. Their first acquisition was the Kalgoorlie Biplanewhich was the first aircraft built in Western Australia.

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The Kalgoorlie Biplane. Built in 1915 by three Kalgoorlie based mechanical engineering students, studying at the Western Australian School of Mines [WASM]. It was the first aircraft to be built in Western Australia. The plane was built using a second hand engine out of a monoplane that crashed in New South Wales, while steel sheets and hickory were used to build the frame. The aircraft made several flights, until it was mothballed in early 1916 because of cracks in the engine. It was acquired by the RAAFA in 1929 and after restoration, donated to the WA Museum. Photograph: Archive of the State Library of Western Australia

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Spitfire F Mk 22 at the entrance to the Aviation Heritage Museum of Western Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

In 1959, RAAFA acquired the Spitfire Mk22 which currently sits in the memorial garden area at the front of the museum. Then in December 1962, the association acquired a Lancaster bomber to commemorate the activities of its members who flew with Bomber Command during WW2. The association was also acquiring donations of several other aircraft, engines, parts, books and other artifacts. Plans were established to construct a museum at the Association’s retirement village site at Bull Creek, approximately 15km south of the Perth CBD and on 17 November 1979 the South Wing of the museum was formally opened to the public.  The museum’s acquisitions did not stop and in December 1983 a second, North Wing, was opened to house the expanding collection.

Despite being owned and operated by an ex-service organisation, the museum’s focus is not restricted to military aviation and the collection features a lot of exhibits related to civil aviation in Western Australia. Most of these items which include uniforms, insignia, aircraft are housed in the South Wing, which also includes their First World War collection and features a small section of the famous Red Baron’s Fokker Dr.1 triplane.

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Aviation Heritage Museum of Western Australia, South Wing hangar. The aircraft in the foreground is a Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation CA-6 Wackett Trainer which was the first Australian design to be mass produced, entering service in 1941. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Australian Flying Corps (AFC) pilot standing by a replica of a Sopwith Camel fighter. Photo: Julian Tennant

The North Wing is home to the larger aircraft in the collection and has a greater emphasis on the Royal Australian Air Force and its operations during peace and war. This is very much an ‘old-school’ type museum with an emphasis on artifacts rather than interactive displays or gimmicks to keep the kids entertained. Naturally there is a greater focus on Western Australia’s role and the Second World War does have a much greater emphasis than subsequent conflicts, with Vietnam and more recent conflicts almost entirely absent.

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Entrance to the North Wing of the RAAFA Aviation Heritage Museum of WA. Photo: Julian Tennant

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1934 period RAAF Mess Dress uniform worn by (then) Flight Lieutenant Ivor. J. Lightfoot. Photo: Julian Tennant

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RAAF mechanic servicing a De Havilland Tiger Moth training aircraft. Photo: Julian Tennant

The layout of the museum may also appear somewhat random, rather than following a cohesive timeline and this may have been dictated due to space considerations. I suspect that it may also be due to the nature of the museum and what it represents in terms of preserving the history of aviation in WA, rather than trying to explain a linear sequence of conflicts or historical events. Many of the items have been donated by members or their families and it is nice to see some of the more unusual (and sometimes banal) objects on display rather than being hidden from public view in a storage facility somewhere. This more than makes up for the somewhat cluttered and disorganised feel of the museum in my opinion.  

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Second World War period Middle East Issue Fly Swat, RAAF officers issue Pith Helmet issued in the Burma / Indian operational theatres and a souvenir dagger from Somalia. Photo: Julian Tennant

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British Airborne Forces Welbike Paratrooper’s Motorcycle. The Welbike was a single seat motorcycle produced during WW2 at the direction of Station IX (the “Inter Services Research Bureau”) for use by the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Between 1942 and 1943, 3641 bikes were built and although not much used by the SOE, some were issued to the British 1st and 6th Airborne Divisions, seeing use during Operation Market Garden at Arnhem. Photo: Julian Tennant

As can be expected, the ‘draw-card’ exhibits for most visitors would be the aircraft on display, however as an insignia collector, it is the uniforms and badges that attracted me. The Aviation Heritage Museum does not disappoint in this aspect. It displays some rare and unusual insignia, including what appears to be an Australian Flying Corps patch (see images above), the likes of which I had never seen before, despite having the AFC as one of my primary areas of collecting interest. It also shows some of the older Squadron patches and some more recent items from the more obscure RAAF support units.

My one criticism re the insignia is that some of the displays include obvious (to the knowledgeable collector) fakes such as the AFC wing which is featured on the pilot by the Sopwith Camel in the South Wing. The brevet is one of the copies sold by Lukus Productions and is even available in the museum shop and yet there is no information stating that the uniform being displayed is not authentic in all respects. There were also others that I was not convinced were genuine, but were not marked as being replicas. This is not a good practice IMO as it does potentially undermine confidence in the descriptor didactic panels for other displays as well. However, I only noticed this in a few displays and overall was very impressed by what I uncovered as I made my way through the museum. 

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Leather patch (with photo showing reverse) and Observer wings of the 531st Squadron, 380th Bombardment Group (H), 5th Air Force (USAAF) which flew B-24 Liberator bombers in the South Western and Western Pacific during WW2. The 380th was placed under the control of the RAAF and operated out of Darwin from May 1943 until February 1945. Photo: Julian Tennant.

 

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View of the North Wing of the RAAFA Aviation Heritage Museum of WA. Photo: Julian Tennant

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3 Control Reporting Unit Patch and Disruptive Pattern Desert Uniform (DPDU) worn by a RAAF airman when he arrived at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan on Christmas Eve of 2008. Photo: Julian Tennant.

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Bell UH-1 Iroquois (Huey) Helicopter of 9 Sqn RAAF. Photo: Julian Tennant

In addition to the two display hangars the museum also has a separate library, photo archive, model aeroplane club room and of course a gift shop which features a good selection of aviation related books, including some out of print, second-hand publications, models and other related memorabilia.

The museum is easily accessible by car, or if using public transport by train with Bull Creek train station located approximately 500m away.  It is open every day, except Good Friday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day from 10:00 until 16:00 and along with the Army Museum of Western Australia, should definitely be one of the museums you see when visiting Perth.

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RAAF Squadron patches and reproduction pilot’s wings on sale in the Museum shop. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Aviation Heritage Museum
Air Force Memorial Estate
2 Bull Creek Drive,
Bull Creek WA 6149
Australia

Website: https://aviationmuseumwa.org.au/
Email: museum@raafawa.org.au
Phone: +61 (0)8 9311 4470

Open: Every day from 10:00 until 16:00 (except Good Friday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day).

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