On Saturday 3rd of November 2001, in overcast conditions, the Memorial Garden at the former HMAS NIRIMBA site, was formally dedicated.
The service was conducted in front of some 150 people, made up of former Naval Apprentices, families, former Civilian Instructors, ex Naval, ex RAAF members and others who had served at the site, either during Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm occupancy, or who had served in many other capacities, with the Honourable John Aquilina, Minister for Education, representing the NSW Government.
Mr Bob Parrish, of the Rooty Hill Sub Section of the Naval Association of Australia, was the Master of Ceremonies and speakers, in order of appearance were Professor Robin Woellner, Dean of the College of Law and Business and Provost of the Blacktown Campus of the University of Western Sydney, who spoke on the Campus as it now exists.
He was followed by Vince Fazio, President of The Naval Historical Society of Australia, who gave an address outlining the history of the site, dating from 1816. He also gave acknowledgments to Jeff Kerrison (NHS Member), who originated the idea for a memorial; CDRE Nick Helyer who assisted in the production of the Society’s bronze plaque; Mrs J. Munro and Bob Parrish for their input on behalf of the Naval Association, as well as to the NSW Department of Education and Training, for the invaluable physical and financial assistance, which was so readily given, in order to ensure that a fitting memorial was designed and constructed. Peter Ross of the Department was a tower of strength as well.
A service was then conducted by the Reverend John Powell RANR, who formally blessed and dedicated the Memorial Garden in a due and appropriate manner.
Among those present, was Jim Reilly, an Apprentice in the initial intake. He approached me and asked if I remembered him (some 45 years later!) Yes, I said, you were in the first intake, you were an ERA Apprentice, you come from Coonabarabran in NSW and you played a mouth organ. That floored him!!
On completion of the formalities, all present were invited to retire to the old Wardroom, where light refreshments were served, courtesy of the Education Department. This informal gathering allowed many acquaintances to be renewed and recollections exchanged. Some publications, covering the history of NIRIMBA from 1816, occupancy by the RAAF, Royal Navy, Migrants, RAN FAA and finally, Naval Artificer Apprentice Training were available, courtesy of the Naval Historical Society and LCDR Ron Robb RAN Rtd.
The Memorial Garden is now a prominent feature of the entrance to the NIRIMBA precinct, and will be a permanent reminder of, and memorial to, all those who have served there and gone before.
In conclusion, another initiative of The Naval Historical Society has come to fruition, assisted by the people and organisations previously mentioned, to ensure that although NIRIMBA has gone, the former Establishment will be remembered forever.
TEXT OF THE PLAQUE AT THE MEMORIAL GARDEN
A HISTORY OF THE ESTABLISHMENT KNOWN AS RAAF SCHOFIELDS AND HMAS NIRIMBA – 1941 to 1994
Originally a land grant of 700 acres to Major West in 1814
In 1816 John Pye was granted 695 acres in the area encompassing the site of the Schofields aerodrome, where the family home ‘Waawaar Awaa’ was built . The family retained the land until 1941, when it was acquired for use as a satellite aerodrome for RAAF Richmond. Work commenced in June 1942 on the construction of an air base for the RAAF. In 1944, following the formation of the British Pacific Fleet, Mobile Operating Naval Air Bases (MONAB) were required and Schofields was handed over to the Royal Navy, being named HMS NABTHORPE on 5.2.1945.
In August 1945 the base was renamed HMS NABSTOCK, with former RAAF pilots being trained there for conversion to the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm due to shortage of pilots in the BPF.
Following the end of the war, the Royal Navy moved out and the RAAF resumed control in 1946. The post war ‘Iwakuni Mail Run’ to Japan by 38 Squadron RAAF operated from Schofields for a two year period. In 1949 provision was made to upgrade some of the accommodation to house post was migrants, some 21 huts being upgraded to house 300 people. The so called Schofields Migrants Hostel closed on 04.2.1951. Many people from a number of countries commenced their working life from that place and subsequently made a new life for themselves and their families. This aspect was concurrent with RAAF activities at the base.
In November 1950 Schofields was evaluated for hand over to the RAN as an Aircraft Repair Yard, following the formation of the RAN Fleet Air Arm. In 1951 the RAN moved in and Schofields was temporarily commissioned as HMAS ALBATROSS II with a large number of Royal Naval Officers and sailors supplementing the RAN component. In January 1952 the RAAF relinquished control of the base, although that Service remained in residence until September 1952.
On 01.4.1953 RANAS (Royal Australian Naval Air Station) Schofields was commissioned as HMAS NIRIMBA when technical training was undertaken. Due to circumstances beyond the control of the RAN, the Aircraft Repair Yard was closed down in early 1955 and reverted to ‘Care and Maintenance’ status.
In September 1955 preparations began to recommission NIRIMBA as the RAN Apprentice Training Establishment (RANATE) for Naval Apprentice training. In January 1956 Captain F L George RAN assumed command. After ‘Paying Off’ on 01.4.1956 HMAS NIRIMBA recommissioned the next day as the RANATE. The first intake of the Apprentices arrived in July 1956 with the last arriving in January 1992.
HMAS NIRIMBA decommissioned on 25.2.1994. In the intervening period from 1956 some 13,000 young men and women from the RAN and other Commonwealth Navies were trained there, together with several thousand trainees undergoing other courses of varying categories, making an extremely valuable contribution in later years to the wellbeing of their respective nations.
Truly a ‘SUCCESS FROM ENDEAVOUR’
This plaque was erected by the Naval Historical Society of Australia (Inc) in 1999 to commemorate the contributions made by NIRIMBA in the development of this Nation.