CATALINA SECRETS REVEALED
FOR two years during the most intense fighting of World War II a group of brave but anonymous Australians risked their lives taking on the Japanese air force and the myriad perils of the Indian Ocean.
Unarmed and undaunted they flew daring secret missions, navigating by the stars while atop great flying boats carrying so much petrol that one Japanese bullet would have incinerated them instantly. Their flights took so long, up to 32 hours, that pilots would see the sun rise twice during the journey.
After the war they remained unsung heroes for almost 60 years, the only reminder of their daring exploits a bronze marker beside Perth’s Swan River, the starting point for the 271 flights of the Catalina aircraft from Australia to Sri Lanka.
But thanks to young Redland Bay filmmaker Daniel Bunker there is, at last, a fitting recognition for the intrepid pilots who maintained vital air links between Australia and Britain during the darkest days of the war.
Bunker’s feature-length documentary, Return of the Catalina, has been screening at aviation museums around Australia and New Zealand and will have its Brisbane premiere at the Palace Barracks Cinema tomorrow night.
Bunker and retired Qantas A380 captain Ross Kelly, who helped recreate the Catalina flights for the documentary, will be on hand to talk about the film and answer questions from the audience.
Bunker, 23, started working on the documentary nearly five years ago while making a television advertisement for the Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach while still a film student at Bond University. Return of the Catalina follows an earlier, shorter, work called The Double Sunrise Flights.
“The chairman of the Qantas Museum at Longreach approached me about doing the documentary on these top secret flights,” he said.
“I thought that lack of recognition for these brave men was a crime and I wanted to display their incredible courage in this film. I even got to fly in a Catalina myself which was an incredible experience.
“The film is dedicated to Rex Senior, a remarkable man from Adelaide who was the last remaining pilot on the Double Sunrise flights. He passed away in April at 95 after a long and marvellous life. He was a really inspiring man who, after his wartime service as a pilot, went back to university and became a doctor.”
With the fall of Singapore to Japan in 1942, Australia needed to find a new route to trans- port top secret airmail, maps, war plans and VIPs between Australia and England.
Senior remembered the missions were so secretive that his neighbours harassed him for not enlisting.
“I had the pleasure of receiving a white feather in an envelope,” he recalled, “and being told by a tobacconist to ‘go and join up you bludger’.”
As part of the documentary a restored Catalina – one of only six remaining in the world – was flown to Longreach from Spain, where it had been used as a water bomber. Kelly found it rather more difficult to handle than the A380, saying you didn’t so much fly a Catalina as wrestle it.
Bunker said it was “an awesome sight” when Senior saw the aircraft land at Longreach and then went inside.
“It completed his life.”
Return of the Catalina, Palace Barracks Cinema, Petrie Terrace, tomorrow, 6pm. returnofthecatalina.com