The Defence Force Establishment at Quakers Hill, N.S.W. spent most of its life as part of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). This is fitting since the first non-Aboriginal people to explore the area were led there in 1790 by Captain Watkin Tench, Royal Marines (RM), of H.M.S. SIRIUS.
The site was acquired by the Australian Government in 1941 as a diversion airfield for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) at Richmond but no serious flying operations were conducted until 1944 when the nearly completed runways and such buildings as were erected were taken over by the Royal Navy (RN) Fleet Air Arm (FAA) as a support base for aircraft of the British Pacific Fleet. It was commissioned as RN Air Station (RNAS) H.M.S. NABTHORPE on the 18th February, 1945. It was renamed H.M.S. NABSTOCK on 15th November the same year. During the RN tenure, RN Squadrons such as 887, 894, 1770, 1772, 1840, 885, 706, 899, 1843, 801, 880, 1790, 1771, 702, 814, 723 and others were based at the site as whole or part units.
On 9th June, 1946 the RN handed the site back to the Australian Government and at the same time it became RAAF Schofields. No. 78 Wing RAAF (Nos 75 and 78 Squadrons, and 114 Mobile Flight Control Unit), under the command of Group Captain A.C. Rawlinson, took up residence. Later arrivals were at various times: No. 86 Wing (36, 37 and 38 Squadrons), 386 Base and 486 Maintenance Squadrons (under 86 Wing Headquarters), Nos 30 and 22 Squadrons.
From 1949 to 1951, a section of RAAF Schofields served as a migrant Hostel as part of Australia’s great immigration period.
In March 1952 the RAN began to take over the site as a RAN Air Station (RANAS) and School of Aircraft Maintenance to support the revised and much enlarged RAN FAA. The Acting Commanding Officer (CO) was Commander V.A.T. Smith, DSC, RAN; he later became Australia’s first full Admiral as Sir Victor Smith. On 1st April, 1953 RANAS Schofields was commissioned H.M.A.S. NIRIMBA, with Captain Dennis Sanderson, DSC, RN, as the CO and Commander Smith as the Executive Officer (XO).
On the 4th January, 1956 the Establishment ceased operations as a RANAS and the next day was recommissioned as H.M.A.S. NIRIMBA, RAN Apprentice Training Establishment (RANATE). In July of that year the first intake of Apprentices (50 in number) arrived and, in increasing numbers, continued to do so every six months till the last intake of January 1992.
The first RANATE CO was Captain Frank L. George, RAN, who can justly be credited with having played a major part in having laid the foundations of the post World War II (WWII) technical era in the RAN. The benefits of his efforts are still being reaped by the Navy to this day.
By the mid 1970s Adult trainees, alongside the Apprentices, began to comprise a significant part of NIRIMBA’s training task as well as the conduct of certain specialised courses to meet the need for the high-tech requirements of a modern Navy. Thousands of NIRIMBA graduates, male and female, have fully met both RAN and civilian trade requirements at a variety of levels, providing most of the technical population of the Navy over more than 40 years, while many hundreds have gone on to various colleges and universities leading to commissioned rank in the RAN or to become senior executives in widely scattered parts of Australian industry.
December 1993 marks the end of a major Defence and Navy presence at Quakers Hill.
Throughout its life, H.M.A.S. NIRIMBA has fostered a close and happy relationship with the surrounding civilian population and been highly active in supporting civic affairs. A special bond existed with the City of Blacktown, in which the Establishment had the privilege of Freedom-of-Entry.