Denis Baker fondly remembers his time working at the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) at Fisherman’s Bend in Victoria.
He was a cadet aircraft engineer and the year was 1976.
Baker says it was an exciting time to join to the company.
“At that time in the early 70s, there were still many technical people in the company, from engineers to draftsmen – production specialists, who had come through the company all their lives and they were in their final few years of work. And I was able to engage with those people and get excited about what they did.”
As he got into his work, Baker soon learnt the he was working with a special group.
“I realised that a lot of these people had very special accurate records of things that they did, during particularly the war periods and the specialised aircraft development after the war. And we (the CAC) were doing spectacular things.”
So I was fortunate enough to experience this fantastic knowledge, this experience just flowed through the place and I felt that I had to find out what these records were. And gradually started collecting the records and getting permission to store them.”
But it was one particular incident that prompted Baker to start up a historical projects group at the company.
“We went through a period where they were cleaning out the administration after Sir Lawrence Wackett (CAC General Manager) left the company. His records were stored for quite a long time and one night I was working late and walking through the factory and realised there were these large boxes with records hanging out of them. So I naturally went and had a look and they were Sir Lawrence Wackett’s personal company records going to be destroyed.”
Baker managed to save the boxes and saw the potential in creating a formal group to bring together all staff trying to do the same thing.
In the collection Baker managed to save; original hand written minutes from meetings held about the company’s formation in 1936, a blueprint of a Japanese Zero on RAAF paperwork (drawn up nine months after the bombing of Pearl Harbour) as well as blueprints for a never built Wirraway twin float conversion which was drawn up in Dec 1941, a few days before Pearl Harbour.
As the company went through several ownership changes, Baker had the foresight to register them with the 1988 Bicentennial Record Search which ultimately gave them some protection.
But his grand plan is to find the collection a permanent home and after much searching Baker is sure he’s found the right place.
“I’ve had a number of approaches to the Melbourne University archive and I think that’s a suitable organisation. It’s Victorian based where CAC was established. It has a lot of BHP records (BHP was an integral part of the formation of the company) and they have the capacity to put the archives together with guidance, and that was one of the things I was hoping to do – help them do that process.”
Baker is hoping that the archives will be accessible to the Australian public.
“….but to make that happen it really needs funding and I’ve struggled to find funding to make that happen. Boeing over the last few years (who took over Hawker de Havilland Victoria), they’ve certainly indicated that they would be happy with the records to move to Melbourne University archive but we just haven’t been able to make it happen.”
Read more about the 75th Birthday of CAC Wirraway A20-10 here.