A brief Moorabbin history
The 293 hectare site was acquired in 1946 and opened in December
Oddly enough the first aircraft, a Wackett Trainer touched down
before the airport was officially opened and was confiscated by the
And then shortly afterwards, again before the Airport opened on
the 5th of December 1949, a twin engined Bristol Freighter had to
make an emergency landing with a failed engine on fire, whilst
flying from Tasmania to Essendon airport.
Only one of the original businesses who moved into Moorabbin from
Essendon in 1949 remain open today: The Royal Victorian Aero Club http://www.rvac.com.au/ (est 1926- still trading)
& Arthur Schutt (MBE - Vale 1999) Aviation was another long term
tenant of the airport (est 1936 but closed 2002).
The Airport is now the major centre in Victoria for training, charter, aerial work and private flying. It is also the maintenance and aircraft sales capital of southern Australia.
In the beginning... Just after WW2 a group of aviators and the Civil Aviation Department decided that the Market Garden areas near Centre Dandenong Rd in Moorabbin would make a perfect airport site. The following article is a news cutting from the 1946 newspaper
"Truth" ( - a notorious scandal rag of the times )...
(from: Moorabbin City - A Pictorial History - by John Cribbin - ISBN 0 646 23971 6 1995)
New Airport Will Cost 3,941 Tons Of Vegetables Every Year
The Civil Aviation Department is going the right way to bring about a serious shortage of vegetable in the Melbourne markets, thanks to the Government's grant of £140,000 for the financing of an airport at Mentone. This area, comprising 638 acres of the best vegetable- producing land in the State, is to be used as an airport for privately-owned and sporting planes. Landowners in the threatened area are irate, and, armed with astonishing figures of production, which Truth has checked each grower's books, they intend to see the responsible Minister and kick up a very definite fuss.
These are the facts:
The area comprising 638 acres, is used mainly for market gardens, poultry breeding, florists and dairy-farming. Thirty three weatherboard and one brick houses are in the square mile to be acquired. Two hundred and fifty acres of the land is cultivated. Dairy produce from the area for the year ended November 15, 1946 include 91,500 dozen eggs, 5,150 poultry for the table and 88,800 gallons of milk.
If the Government persists in its plan these producers could start their businesses afresh if paid sufficient compensation. But all the compensation possible -in cash- would not be able to start the market gardeners in a new
area. The section to be acquired is on the edge of a sand-belt stretching from Brighton to Keysborough. In this section, with the help of irrigation, growers can produce from three to four crops a year from the same soil. This is not possible in any other part of Victoria-and possibly not anywhere else in Australia.
Whether the Aviation Department was aware of these facts before the site was selected, is not known. If it was, then some explanation should be made why the vegetable supply should suffer, for the sake of an aerodrome, which is to be used primarily for privately owned
planes. The figures of the annual production of vegetables in this area is truly amazing. The total production of mixed vegetables for the eighteen growers during the past 12 months is 3941 tons. An average of 75.8 tons per week.
250 Acres of Garden
This amount stems from such huge pickings as 515 tons of cabbage, 448 tons of carrots down to 5 tons of cucumbers - the lowest tonnage of the 19 different type of vegetables produced in the area.
Although only 250 acres are under cultivation, 84 people are working there, and 31 miles of 1¼ and 1 inch water piping irrigates the section. The piping alone cost £8,750, and it had to be fitted with taps and other fittings and buried two feet in the ground.
Since a Civil Aviation Department spokesman is reported to have stated that the Department had an alternative site, Truth feels that every angle of the matter should be thoroughly investigated before such valuable vegetable growing land is acquired. The alternative site, it is said, has a number of brick homes built on it. Which will cause the most inconvenience to the public? The demolition of a number of brick homes, or the disruption of the vegetable supply? A knotty problem for any Government of course, but one not without solution.
The Department has said that only one-third of the vegetable producing property will be used immediately. Truth's answer to this is that the Department may just as well take the whole section. The remaining area would be useless, owing to the unavoidable interference with the drainage system. Although the growers have received no official notification of the acquisition of the land, surveyors have been sinking pegs into the ground. They have walked through crops and cut trees. Local feeling is strong against the surveyors who are working the area.
Later the postal, electoral and suburban boundaries were changed and the airport was included in the Mentone postal area. It is Moorabbin Airport, but it is in the Mentone metropolitan postal code of 3194. The "City of Kingston" is the local applicable council.
Airservices Info Sheet
The airport opened in December 1949. The First Tower
is shown (Dates TBA)
with a DH82A Tiger Moth with a cabin conversion in the foreground - probably early 1960's.
The first DH60 Gypsy Moth was assembled in Australia in the 1930's. A similar
DH60 aircraft can be inspected in the Moorabbin Airport
See: Moorabbin Airport Museum
There was also a fire service and a first aid van available as
||A picture of the Second 1970's tower which was replaced by
the current tower in 1977.
||Tower Two -
See here at the start of the Caltex Air Race - which featured a P51 Mustang - 1970's
Also in the background is the Met Office and Fire Station.
|Tower Three - 1977 to date.
We recently saw the retirement of the current Tower Manager -
Mr. Warren Sparrow. Due to his gentle giant size, he has
always been called "Big Bird". Birdie spent 28 years in
the Airservices ATC system, most of it at Moorabbin Tower.
He retired in fine style on September 17th 2008. A send off
farewell night was arranged by MAC. But just before it began,
Warren was kidnapped by Sean Tanner from RVAC in Piper Archer
VH-MRX and taken on a flying and landing spree on all of the 10
runways at Moorabbin. The presentation then began 30
minutes late! And what a night it was....
Aircraft is Australian golfer Greg Norman's Gulfstream IV - Rego N1GN (USA Rego), who regularly visits this airport for golf championships and other business meetings.
Unofficial Tower History - Click
Here - A
document (Feb 2007)
written by "Big Bird" Warren Sparrow who was the Tower Manager for
Early Days at Moorabbin
More to be added . . . . Thank you to Neil Follett and
Maurice Austin for some corrections and additional input
We welcome input from any interested persons.
If you have any old photos or memorabilia we would be interested to hear from you - please contact us:
Here is an early view of Moorabbin Airport looking south west from years gone by.... about 1952. The taxiway / runway is the old 11/29 strip (now gone). The aircraft are Tiger Moth DH-82 and belong to the Royal Vic Aero Club
which were purchased from the RAAF after WWII. The buildings on the left (south) of the control tower were demolished in June 2002. The tower is of course relocated, but the other buildings and hangars still remain. (from the MAC archives).
We welcome input from any interested persons.
Here are some of the early Overhead Aerial Views of Moorabbin Airport from years gone by....
( Thanks to Kevin Limon of Skylines for his darkroom expertise in printing up these old 10" x 8" negs )
File size of these B/W's pics are about 250K (@100dpi) and will take about 30 seconds each (by conventional phone modem ) to download. Faster by Cable or ADSL ! Colour prints will take about 50 seconds each to download.
( Best screen resolution is 800 x 600 High Colour 16 bit ) Click each Thumbnail for a larger view. If you want to print them, remember (if applicable) to set your printer to Landscape / Portrait setting accordingly.
Airport Overhead Pictures - Click to enlarge -
North is at the top of each picture
1955 - February
The earliest know overhead picture found was in Feb 1955. (average quality only) The airport at that stage was still an "all over field" meaning that you took off and landed in the direction of the relative wind on that day. The grassed area is decidedly black - this is due to "burning off" at periodic intervals to control weeds and pests. The primary runway was 28 / 10 which ran past the hangars near RVAC. The Operations area of Royal Victorian Aero Club shortly after the airport opened. RVAC, along with Arthur Schutt, were among the first tenants. The "Bellman" style hangars were not new- they were wartime hangars brought down from the RAAF bases at Parkes and Narromine. Together with the RVAC operations building they still exist today.
The RVAC had a "new" fleet of Tiger Moths, mostly purchased from ex RAAF stocks for the princely sum of £100 each. The total cost to build the airport was £200,000. Tenants included Brain and Brown Airfreight, Super Spread cropdusting and Flinders Island Airways. There were around 65,000 movements a year, mostly by the RVAC. Tiger Moths
predominated along with a brand new trainer, the DHC Chipmunk. The old Mentone racecourse and training tracks can be seen to the West. Centre Dandenong Rd (north) and Boundary Roads (East) are still dirt roads! (Today 4 & 6 lane Arterial roads !)
1960 - June
Now the North / South strip has been gravelled and First and Second Avenues have been laid down. Additional hangars have been built and leased to various operators and schools.
1962 - December
This high elevation shot ~10,000ft clearly shows that in some areas housing is still a long way from the airport. Nothing to the East in Dingley, the start of housing can be seen in Centre Dandenong Road. Already there are houses at the boundary fence in the South. The Mentone Racecourse is clearly visible in the SW corner. This was later consumed by housing developers. Tarmac runways were appearing now, as well as properly prepared aprons. Bib Stillwell purchased the Civil Flying School, sited next to a local landmark- a large stand of trees acting as a convenient windbreak for aircraft. Civil provoked a controversy by advertising their flying services on a large billboard using a bikini-clad lady. A new tower replaced the original wartime example. Movements had risen to 133,000. Parkdale is rapidly expanding.
1966 - March
Some of runways and taxiway areas have been asphalted or had black ??? mixed into the gravel.
1967 - August
Another high altitude photo - Housing has started in Dingley to the east, and the racecourse has gone. Dingley is still a small village in this picture and there is very little sign of the extensive industrial development of today. A number of trotting tracks are visible in the largely market garden surrounds. Traffic has grown rapidly and in 1967 over 300,000 movements were recorded. It could take 20 minutes for a take-off clearance, such was the size of the queue on weekends. General Flying Services, Jayrow and "Pipeair" a new division of RVAC all started up around this time. The first real wave of American imported aircraft arrived. (Cessna & Piper) The museum is now visible.
1968 - March
The RVAC fleet comprised new Cherokee's and Chipmunks. Several other companies had high-wing Cessna's. 321,000 movements from what could be a very muddy airfield. Tarmac parking has been established in the central area around the Civil Flying School site. Note the hangar and aircraft almost on Lower Dandenong Road. The museum is now housed in its present day facility.
1969 - June
All the runways have now been sealed or bituminised. The Eastern side of Boundary Road is still all market gardens. The 13/31 runway complex consists of three runways; Left, Centre, Right.
1971 - February
The industrial / factory area to the south is being developed. The runways are now all sealed and the racecourse estate has been fully built on. Industrial development has started in Braeside to the south and Dingley Village is growing. (Despite pressure from airport management to stop it). Extensive runway development has been completed and some are now lit at night. A new tower is coming into service. Movements have dropped to around 250,000 due to adverse economic times. The City of Kingston Golf course is under construction.
1972 - June
Moorabbin expands towards its busiest. Many runways are now in place- three in each direction. Aircraft parking is becoming a problem and there is a push to develop new hangars. Many
American types, Cessna, Piper and Beech arrive to swell the aircraft population to over 400. 327,000 movements were recorded as an expanding economy and Commonwealth-subsidised aviation spurred many people to learn. Industrial development West of the airport is well under way.
1989 - October
An oblique views looking south from the northern end of the airfield. Woodlands Golf Course and the Epsom Trotting track (now consumed by housing in 2003) are visible to the south. Moorabbin at its height- 395,000 movements in the year of the airline pilots strike. Runways were consolidated to proper tarmac. A DC3 is visible near the Schutt hangars- one of the larger types at the airport. The circles where DFO is today were for model aircraft flying, an activity now prohibited near airports. Industrial development has now swallowed up large areas of Braeside and Dingley is now an established community. The Kingston Golf Course is active. Runways everywhere. Another view of the airport in the 1980's showing the large number of grass and tarmac runways available. Being a traffic controller in those days was certainly a "challenging" job.
1990 - June
This is probably the last picture before airside development started. Commercial realities and loss of government subsidies force the airport to start non-aviation developments. Hangar developments also open up on the north side of Northern Avenue. For most of the early 90's movements stayed at around 350,000 per year but with the reduction in fuel subsidies in 1996 movements started to drop. In 1992 the North West corner of the airport saw the new shopping / market outlet started, Fairways Leisure Market (now called
DFO Direct Factory Outlets). The South East saw a new BP service station constructed. Later the North East corner saw a Restaurant (Steakcave) built, but it closed for re-development in May 2002. These projects were all developed and overseen by MAC.
1996 - September
Construction of the Capitol (Casino) $20 million Golf Course has been started directly to the North of the Airport. There was considerable debate about the safety of having the course so close to the thresholds of the airport. Commonsense prevailed and several fairways were given a more northerly aspect. The Whitmans Blimp is visible on the old emergency strip East/West at the northern top of the field. This area was also used for aircraft parking during air races etc.
2004 - September
Here we see airport staff working on "Splay Lines and Approach Angles" during sealing and construction of runways in July 1975. The splay lines are set at 7° 08' and are 1:40 gradients.