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Essendon Airport, Tullamarine Fwy, Strathmore, VIC, Australia

Photographs None
List Register of the National Estate (Non-statutory archive)
Class Historic
Legal Status Registered (20/05/2003)
Place ID 102718
Place File No 2/13/005/0010
Statement of Significance
The Essendon Airport is historically significant as Melbourne's main civilian airport and one of Australia's major civilian airports from 1921 to 1971. The airport's layout, runways, control tower, certain buildings and elements of the grounds, contribute strongly to the overall story of Australia's aviation industry during this period. Essendon was selected in 1921 by the Commonwealth's Civil Aviation Branch as a means of amalgamating Melbourne's aviation activities into one location, replacing four previous aerodromes at Glenhuntly, Glenroy, Fisherman's Bend and Coode Island. It survives today as the oldest intact substantial civilian airfield in Victoria and, after Sydney (Kingsford Smith), is the oldest main capital city airport in Australia. In the ensuing years the airport grew in association with the aviation industry, including the development of Australia's key commercial airlines. By the 1940s it had become the busiest airport in Australia, and one of the busiest in the British Commonwealth. (Criteria A.4, B.2 Australian Historic Themes 3.8.9 Moving goods and people by air; 3.23 Catering for tourists).

Essendon Airport has had some notable moments in its history. It played an important role in regulating and accommodating air traffic in two of the most important events in Melbourne's 20th Century history, World War II and the 1956 Olympic Games. The airport was substantially commandeered by the RAAF and played a strategic role in Australia's defence during the war. It became Melbourne's first International Airport in 1950 and received significant levels of domestic and international air traffic during the Olympics. In 1964 Essendon became home to Australia's first domestic jet airliner, an Ansett Boeing 727. (Criteria A.4, B.2.)

Essendon Airport is also historically significant for its role as Victoria's main airport and Australia's second international airport, and therefore a main gateway into Victoria and Australia over five decades. It was the backdrop for many significant historical events, especially visits to Melbourne by Royalty, international dignitaries and celebrities, such as the infamous visit by the Beatles in 1964 (Criterion A.4).

Essendon Airport is significant for its association with and role in the development of Australia's key domestic airlines. Ansett Airways Ltd, established privately in 1935, was incorporated as a public company from 1937 and was based at Essendon from 1937 until the 1970s. The Holyman company, which came to Essendon as Tasmanian Aerial Services and merged with Adelaide Airways to form Australian National Airways, was based at Essendon for two decades before merging with Ansett in the 1950s. The 1937 Ansett hangar was the first building erected and used as home base by the recently incorporated Ansett Airways and is the oldest surviving building known to be associated with the establishment of this airline. The ANA and Holyman hangars and terminal building, built between 1936 and 1938, demonstrate the early activities of ANA and Holyman, two of the pioneer companies of the domestic airline industry (later to be absorbed into Ansett). The 1944 Beaufort buildings were the first home depot of the government-owned Trans Australia Airways, which later became Australian Airlines, then merged with QANTAS as its domestic arm (Criteria H.1, A.4).

Essendon Airport is an operational air transport terminal facility with a continuous history dating back to the introduction of aircraft and air services into Australia, whose expansion and growth has occurred in line with the growth and development of this industry. Its history, associations and its present fabric reflect the changes associated with over seventy five years of continuous use as a large and busy airport and also as an important urban transport terminal for a major Australian city for a significant part of this time. It is also significant for its role as a major general aviation airport in Melbourne after the opening of Tullamarine International Airport in 1970. The airport supports a range of smaller commercial aviation franchises, flying schools and community services, including the Victoria Police helicopter squadron and the Air Ambulance (Royal Flying Doctor Service) (Criteria A.4, G.1, C.2)

The former Government Hangar, which was built in 1924, was moved from its original location to another site in the airport complex. It is an important link to the pioneering phase in Australia's civil aviation history. It was one of the four earliest structures to be erected at Essendon Airport and is the only surviving structure from Essendon's establishment period, although its fabric has undergone major modification. The hangar was originally located within the Wirraway Road precinct, facing the airfield and its present location makes no contribution to its national estate values. (Criteria B.2, A.4).

Essendon Airport retains a number of adjoining buildings from the pre World War 11 phase of its development and retains some evidence of its original layout in its arrangement of roads and buildings. Owing to the rapid growth of airports through the Twentieth Century, the survival of this historic fabric is unusual and reflects the circumstance of this major airport being superseded by a newer facility at a different location. The Wirraway Road complex of buildings, especially those ANA, Ansett and Holyman buildings constructed in the 1930s, form an especially intact example of a 1930s commercial airline precinct at a major Australian airport. Together, the buildings and the alignment of Wirraway Road provide insights into the important characteristics of major airports of this period (Criteria D.2, B.2).

The 1959 International Terminal is an outstanding example of an Australian airport terminal prior to the days of domestic jet services. It displays characteristic architecture of the Postwar International Style, and period features, such as a ground-floor terminal with air side / land side passenger flows, walls of glazing, enclosed upper level Lounge Bar with viewing windows, covered walkways to the boarding gates and external viewing verandahs. This terminal has avoided the extensive re-modelling of other contemporary terminals that have been upgraded in line with progress in the aviation industry, due to the relocation of Melbourne's main airport facilities to Tullamarine (Criteria D.2, B.2).

The former ANA Terminal and Hangar, constructed in 1938, is a notable example of the architecture of respected aviation building designer Howard Garnet Alsop, a member of a well-known Melbourne family of architects. At the time of its completion, the terminal was regarded as the largest and most impressive in Australia and one of the largest in the world. The former ANA Airframe shop, opposite the terminal, was also designed by Alsop to match the Terminal, forming a corridor precinct on Wirraway Road (Criterion F.1).

Essendon Airport is historically associated with military aircraft manufacture during World War Two with several large buildings, such as the Beaufort Buildings erected to house the construction of Beaufort Bombers and other aircraft, surviving on the site. This historical association is reflected in the local community, with the local Australian Rules football team, the Essendon Football Club, known as The Bombers. The Beaufort Buildings, later associated with TAA, are also notable as examples of the work of prominent Australian architect Arthur Baldwinson, a respected practitioner of the Postwar International style and then official architect of the Beaufort Division of the wartime Department of Aircraft Production (Criteria A.4, G.1).

The history of Essendon Airport in the local context is also symbolic of community tensions surrounding the juxtaposition of large commercial airports and densely populated residential areas. These tensions were heightened by the tragic crash of light aircraft bound for Essendon Airport in a nearby suburban street in 1978 (Criterion A.4).

It is possible that features of historical archaeological significance may be present at this site. As yet the Commission has not been able to identify or assess these items.
Official Values Not Available
The entire Essendon Airport occupies approximately 305 hectares of flat, grassy land, the majority of which is occupied by the two intersecting runways, the east-west runway set at the southern end of the north-south. The control tower, terminals, hangars and other buildings are grouped together in a cluster around several streets on the western side of the airport, with a small service precinct on the southern boundary. Together, these elements help to illustrate the unfolding of aviation history in Australia. The airport is bound on its west and south sides by the Tullamarine Freeway and by residential housing along the north-east.

The main buildings of the airport are grouped on either side of what is now Wirraway Road, a remnant of the original alignment of Bulla Road, sections of which were later absorbed into the airport (the alignment continues to the north of the airport as Bulla Road and to the south as Mount Andrew Drive). The four oldest hangars and terminals built by Holyman, Ansett and Australian National Airlines (Buildings 3, 4, 5 & 6) are located on the eastern side of this road, with the former ANA Airframe Shop (Building 44) opposite the ANA Terminal (Building 4) on the western side of Wirraway Road. The earliest building on the site, the former Government Hangar (Building 10), was relocated from this road to another part of the site.

The current Control Tower (Building 154) is located on the southern extremity of this road. All other service roads within the airport have a conventional rectangular alignment and a small grid of streets is located between Wirraway Road and the Tullamarine Freeway. There are a number of mostly functional workshop, garage and stores type industrial buildings of a variety of ages located in this latter zone.

The most historically significant elements of the airport complex are described below:

1. Wirraway Road, which is the remaining component of the original thoroughfare through the airport, formerly an extension of Bulla Road, which provided the boundary between the Municipalities of Keilor and Essendon.
2. The former Ansett Hangar, which was built in 1937 by the newly formed Ansett Airlines. Designed by architectural company Seabrook and Fildes, it is a steel-framed brick building with a galvanised iron roof. It has been altered somewhat over the years.
3. Former ANA terminal and hangar, a brick building erected in 1938 to the design of Howard Garnet Alsop.
4. The former Holyman Company hangar, constructed in 1936.
5. Former ANA hangar, built in 1938.
6. Former Government Hangar, built in 1924 but relocated from its original site on what is now Wirraway Road. Alterations and additions have been made.
7. Former ANA airframe shop, built by ANA in the early 1940s. This brick building was designed by Alsop in the intra-war Moderne style.
8. Former Air Traffic Control Centre, a red brick building built in the 1940s to the design of Percy Everett of the Public Works Department, in the Moderne style of the 1940s.
9. The 1959 International terminal, which remains a dominant element in the airport as the complex's largest building. This building is regarded as a good example of its type, given the fact that it has not been redeveloped and altered in the same way that similar buildings at other airports have, due to the erection of the new complex at Tullamarine.
10. Former Beaufort buildings, erected during the war in 1944 and transferred to the newly formed TAA in 1946, which are large red brick buildings in the Intra-War Mo
11. The intersecting runway, laid down in 1946-47 as part of the redevelopment of Essendon's facilities to cope with the escalation of domestic air traffic.
12. The present air traffic control tower, which was erected in 1956 in anticipation of increased traffic during the Olympic Games.
13. Reinforced concrete water tower, built in 1948 for firefighting purposes.

All of these features essentially remain in good to excellent condition. Although renovations have been made, most buildings are in their original locations and retain the same or similar appearance to when they were first constructed and used. The Essendon Airport complex therefore provides within its fabric and layout evidence of the development of Melbourne's aviation history spanning some five decades - from the 1920s to the 1970s.
The earliest non-military aerodromes in Melbourne were established prior to 1920 at Coode Island, Fisherman's Bend, Glenhuntly and Glenroy. With the formation of the Civil Aviation Branch of the Department of Defence a proposal was made to consolidate all of Melbourne's civil aviation activities into one place. After considerable deliberations, it was decided that a new site at Essendon, in Melbourne's north, would be established. Ninety three acres for this purpose were gazetted in 1921, and aviation services began at the site that same year. The four other aerodromes became redundant and devoted to other purposes. There is no longer any evidence of these earliest airfields, making Essendon the oldest example of a large aerodrome for civil aviation purposes in Melbourne.

The first building to be erected at the Essendon Airport was a steel framed two-bay timber clad hangar, relocated from the defunct Glenhuntly aerodrome in 1921and occupied by Larkin Aerial Supply Company. In 1924 a second building, known as the Government Hangar, was erected by the Civil Aviation Division. This was followed in 1925 by another two hangars, one by Captain Matthews of the Aero, Engineering and Construction Company and the other for the Hart Aviation Company. The first substantially permanent building was the Aero Clubhouse, a brick building constructed by the Commonwealth's Civil Aviation Division in 1926 and leased to the Aero Club, an association of ex-military and private pilots who provided flying training. These buildings housed the aircraft when not in operation and provided an administrative base for the airport's activities.

At that point, all the major buildings were aligned along a single road, now known as Wirraway Road, which ran through the aerodrome. This road was originally an extension of Bulla Road, which forms the boundary between the Municipalities of Keilor and Essendon. Only a small section of this original road survives today, but its alignment still strongly portrays the original thoroughfare. The only one of the 1920s buildings that still survives at the airport today is the 1924 Government Hangar, which has been moved from its original location.

In 1935 the airport acquired another 91 acres of adjacent land, which promoted further development in the late 1930s when large private airline companies began to make use of Essendon's facilities. The first of these was the Holyman Company, which had established itself with weekly flights between Melbourne and Tasmania in the early 1930s. Ivan Holyman constructed a hangar for his company, Holyman Airways, at Essendon in 1936, using this airport as its home base. Ansett Airways was established by Reg Ansett's as part of transport business that same year, with its first commercial flight taking place between Hamilton, in Western Victoria, and Essendon. Following a successful bid for several mail contracts and the setting up of a Melbourne-Sydney route, Ansett became publicly incorporated as Ansett Airways Limited and transferred its home depot from Hamilton to Essendon in 1937. Ansett erected a hangar, the company's first building, designed by Melbourne architectural company Seabrook and Fildes, on what is now Wirraway Road (building 3).

At the end of 1936 Holyman had merged with Adelaide Airways to form the Australian National Airways (ANA). This new airline took on the name of a previously unsuccessful airline established by Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm at Mascot in 1928. The later version of ANA was more successful, but was eventually bought out by Ansett in 1957. In 1936 ANA established a new terminal and a new hangar adjacent to the existing Holyman hangar. These buildings were designed by architect Howard Garnet Alsop, who used an amalgam of airport designs he had inspected from around the world. The ANA hangar was officially opened in August 1938 by Prime Minister Joseph Lyons. At the time it was believed to have been the largest aircraft hangar in Australia and one of the largest in the world. The following year ANA established another hangar, on the opposite side of the Holyman hangar.

This cluster of buildings, including the Ansett hangar, is the oldest set of buildings on the site still in their original locations.

The development of the ANA precinct continued into the early 1940s, with Alsop retained as the main architect for the new buildings. With the onset of World War II a number of the older buildings were commandeered by the military and devoted to wartime use, while a large number of barracks (no longer extant) appeared on the western side of Wirraway Road. Machine gun batteries and defensive trenches were also established. Two substantial brick buildings were also constructed by the Beaufort division of the Department of Aircraft Production. Erected to house the production of Beaufort Bombers and other aircraft, as well as the manufacture of aircraft parts, the Beaufort factories also undertook the manufacture of prefabricated steel houses, a large number of which were used in Victoria during the 1940s to relieve the wartime shortage of building materials. In addition to being involved in the manufacture of aircraft parts these buildings were responsible for the manufacture of prefabricated steel homes.

In 1946 the Beaufort buildings (including buildings 12, 102 and 86) were transferred to the use of the newly formed government airline Trans Australia Airlines (TAA), who proceeded to establish a considerable presence at Essendon over the following decade, erecting several new hangar buildings. The development of the commercial airlines was essentially halted during World War II. Ansett, for example, ceased regular operations and flew on contract for the RAAF and the United States Air Force, flying personnel to various locations around Australia. Ansett also assisted with the evacuations of civilians out of Broome and Darwin after the Japanese bombings in 1942. After the war, the commercial airlines benefited greatly from the ready availability of ex-military aircraft and began to build their fleets. Simultaneously, though, post-war government policy was for greater control of the airline industry and established itw own airline, TAA. Government policy and tight competition nationalisation of the airline industry essentially provided a duopoly for two main airlines, ANA and TAA on the domestic scene by 1950. It was not until Ansett was able to buy out ANA in 1957 that it was able to truly assert itself outside the southern States as a national airline. During this period QANTAS was Australia's international carrier.

Throughout the 1940s and the early 1950s Essendon Airport was regarded as the busiest airport in Australia and one of the busiest in the British Commonwealth, with in excess of 120 take offs and landings per day. A new layout for the airport was effected in this period, including the construction of a larger, intersecting runway. A new traffic control centre, a Moderne red brick building, was also constructed, designed by Percy Everett of the Public Works Department. The old Aero Club building was used as an office for the Senior Air Traffic Controller.

In 1950 Essendon was officially designated an international airport. Until then, Sydney's Kingsford Smith Airport had been the main centre for overseas air traffic into Australia, with domestic flights taking visitors further afield. Essendon was therefore Melbourne's first official international airport and Australia's second main international airport after Kingsford Smith. The Aero Club building was converted to a makeshift terminal and customs area, and a Nissen hut was attached for baggage examination and banking facilities. The international terminal was completed on 20 December 1950, just fifteen minutes before the first international flight (from New Zealand) touched down. Despite the temporary and crude nature of arrangements for overseas passengers the Aero Club building and Nissen hut were not replaced until 1959, when the new (present) international terminal building was built.

The mid-1950s saw a great deal of development at the site, connected with the increase in international traffic, and escalating competition for the domestic market. TAA also erected a new terminal and passenger lounge in 1957. The former Government Hangar (building 10) was relocated to another part of the airport in this period.

Apart from its wartime use, one of the most significant events in Essendon Airport's history was the build-up of domestic and international traffic in the leadup to the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne. While the majority of international visitors still came into Australia via Sydney (6,241 passengers), many of these took connecting domestic flights into Melbourne with ANA or TAA. Essendon also had to cope with a significant increase in international arrivals (4,308 passengers on 73 international airliners). In order to manage the extra traffic created by the games, one of the new northern hangars (building 103) was converted into a temporary overflow terminal for international flights.

A new control tower (which is still in use) had been constructed just prior to the Olympics in anticipation of the increased traffic. However, the tower had neither radar capabilities nor a full Instrument Landing System. The airport called upon the RAAF, which provided a portable Ground Control Approach radar unit to assist planes landing in the dark and in inclement weather.

After the Olympics, Essendon remained one of Australia's two busiest airports, bolstered by considerable investments by the two major domestic carriers, Ansett-ANA and TAA. It was also the major landing point for royalty, dignitaries and celebrities entering Melbourne. One of the more famous historic scenes at Essendon Airport was the arrival of the pop group The Beatles in 1964, to an overwhelming reception from thousands of screaming fans.

By the early 1960s, Essendon's limitations as a major airport were becoming apparent. The encroachment of residential development and lack of room to expand forced the government to look elsewhere for its expansion. A new site was selected and the development of a new airport began at nearby Tullamarine. In the meantime, the facilities at Essendon continued to be increasingly taxed by expanding commercial flights. Ansett unveiled Australia's first jet airliner, the Boeing 727, at Essendon in October 1964. Although the jet was based at Essendon, the extra resources required by the new technology ensured that Essendon would not be seen as an airport for the future.

Melbourne's Tullamarine International Airport was opened to overseas flights in 1970 and to domestic flights in 1971. The major airlines continued to use Essendon for a short time as maintenance facility before these functions were also transferred to Tullamarine.

Since the transfer of operations to Tullamarine, Essendon has continued to be used for small-scale aviation operations, including charters, freight, tourist flights, as well as some police and military operations. Most significantly, it remains the Victorian home of the Royal Flying Doctor Service (air Ambulance) and the helicopter fleet of the Victoria Police.
Many of its buildings, however, are leased by commercial enterprises with no real connection to the aviation industry. Nonetheless, the site has undergone little development since the 1970s.

In 1978 Essendon Airport was involved in one of the more tragic events in Australia's aviation history. A light plane coming into land at Essendon miscalculated its flight path and crashed into a suburban residence in nearby Airport West, killing the occupants of both the plane and the house. A similar incident occurred in 1993 when a plane carrying 10 passengers crashed in suburban street near the airport, damaging four houses, although no one was killed. Fear of such incidents has been foremost in the general tensions that have surrounded the associations of busy airports with residential areas in Australia. The continued use of Essendon Airport for large volumes of air traffic has been a constant source of concern for local residents.
Condition and Integrity
Essendon Airport is in good condition and has a high level of integrity.

The old Government Hangar, however, is not in its original location (2001).
Building 10 (Old Government Hanger) reported demolished. (August 2004).
About 220ha, Tullamarine Freeway, Airport West and Strathmore, being an area enclosed by a line commencing at the intersection of the western boundary of Essendon Airport and AMG northing 5023020mN (approximate AMG point 14162302), then consecutively via the following AMG points:14962302, 15082180, then easterly to the intersection of the eastern boundary of the airport and AMG northing 5821900mN (approximate AMG point 16262190), then southerly, westerly and northerly via the airport boundary to the point of commencement, and including the airport layout, runways and buildings. Excluded from this listing are any parts of Buildings 103 or 104 within the above area.
Allom Lovell and Associates 2000. Project Cape: Heritage Assessment. Report prepared for Caliburn Partnership.

Meyer, R. 1999. Is a picture worth a thousand words? Airspace, October 1999, pp20-21.

Meyer, R. 1999. Melbourne Olympic Games, 1956. Airservices Bulletin, December 1999, pp24-25.

Meyer, R. 2000. Snapshots of an era in aviation history. Airservices Bulletin, February 2000, 24-25.

Aviation Australia History Website.

Report Produced  Wed Sep 24 11:30:49 2014