Environmental impacts of RAAF Williamtown

1950's photos
Construction of a new runaway at William RAAF Base in 1955. Courtesy of State Library of New South Wales

Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base at Williamtown opened in 1941 and was chosen due to the optimal position to the coast and Sydney. Since then the base has transformed from a few sandy dunes to being heavily developed which has had numerous environmental impacts with the most recent contamination scandal being at the RAAF Base. In 1948, Huelin and Stephens did a report on fruits and vegetable grown within the Port Stephens’s area, they discovered that many of their samples had high levels of vitamin C absorption and stated that oxidation was greater due to copper concentration from foods at optimum ph. levels.

The 1950s saw a major renovation to the base and additional new buildings such as the administration building and accommodation. In 1953, Richard H Patterson completed an environmental project which involved placing chlorophyll green on the ground, planting numerous trees and creating an underground watering system with water being  piped through the Murry River until 1950 to transform the sandy desert like landscape to lush and shady.

Aerial Photograph from the Hunter Valley Research Foundation Archive, June 1954.

The 1960s saw more expansion to the base and also the introduction of the use of Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOAS) chemicals. In 1961 a huge water project was underway to install a water pipe which run from Tomago to the RAAF base.

In 1970 Cooke and Humble completed a rock review within several areas including Williamtown which concluded that the area had 60 zenith curve which originates slightly and double looped trajectories. In 1972 the Australian defence force released a report stating the importance of Australia’s natural environment as a form of defence and to protect bases from ecological threats such as illegal fishing and trespassing.

In the 1980s another huge expansion to the base occurred which included the destruction of older buildings  with the construction of fighter world in 1989. In 1985 Simpson and Jackman conducted a study of the acid gas and suspended particles from samples collected from 1951 to 1981 concluding that 1959, 1960 and 1969 had the highest recorded levels while 1957  and 1974 having lower levels. During the study period level rise of sulfuric acid emissions was 25% with no more than a 2% rise each time  with  no evidence of serious health risks but recommended a reduction in submissions.

In 1995 , C L Murphy studied soils samples near Medowie Road and  reported that the soil was highly acidic, had low fertility and has a high potential for aluminium toxicity. In 1997 Australian Defence force released a report discovering asbestos, the spread of legionella which lead to precautions on portable water,  issues with noise  pollution but no evidence of negative environment impact of 1999, A.R Walker competed a survey of waterways of the Hunter including Williamtown concluded that was fine sand with reddish brown colour clay originating from the Pleistocene period, dark clay with infrequent shell, no traces of microspores or pollution.

In 2003 the Australian Defence Force released a report over concerns of PFOS and PFOA finding that many RAAF bases failed in containing the chemicals with results shows traces in groundwater. Revised guidelines states to test chemical alternatives and not to be used in hot objects or polar fuels. In 2007 Defence Force released a report recommending the Williamtown RAAF base  to remove contaminated surface area and mentor ground water with report reflecting concerns over metal contamination as the clay soil easily absorbs contaminates.

In 2012, Dongxin conducted a study on groundwater pollution at Tilligerry creek concluding that ground water ranges from 2 metres to 8 metres, sandy soil limits water runoff, due to small population the upgrades needed will not be complete. The study also reported that traces of septic discharge into groundwater was found, and the average ph. level was under 7, low levels of nitrate contamination and high levels of phosphorus reported. In 2015 the government released a warning to locals within the area about possible contamination of PFOS and PFOA, fishing from Fullerton Cove was banned as well as the consumption of fish, milk, eggs and fresh produce from the area.


Australian Department of Defence (1997) ,RAAF Base  Williamtown Eastern Region Operations Centre: a statement of evidence to the parliamentary standing committee on public works , Canberra  , Dept. of Defence

Cooke D.J and Humble J.E ,‘Directional cosmic –ray cut-offs and the loop-cone phenomenon at mild-lateral sites’, Journal of Geophysical research Atmosphere  (1970) vol.75 no. 31 p. 15961 -15971

Dongxin Su, ‘Shallow Groundwater Quantity and Transport of Contaminants from a Domestic Wastewater System’, (2012)

Huelin F L   and Stephens I. Myee, ’The Enzyme-Catalysed Oxidation of Ascorbic Acid in Fruit and Vegetables Suspensions ‘, Australian Journal of Biological Sciences,(1947), vol.1 no.1 ,p.58-64

Muller Peter and Hutchison John , RAAF Base Williamtown : the first fifty years  (1991) , Printing Company  , Singapore

Murphy C L, Soil landscapes of the Port Stephens 1:100 000 sheet (Nelson Bay . Tea Gardens , The Branch) , (1995) , Dept. of land and water conservation service of NSW

Simpson R.W and Jackman A.J  ,‘Forecasting worst case pollution for acid gas and suspended particles due to urban industrial development’, Environmental Protection Series (1985) vol.9 no.2, p.137-149

Walker A. R(1999) Quaternary Sequence of the lower hunter river valley

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