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Catalina flies again

(Photo above: The RAAF Catalina flying-boat base during World War II. The Catalina Conference Centre is on the shore on the left of the picture.)

The charity-based Catalina Conference Centre is a fully accessible facility at Rathmines, NSW, in what was a World War II RAAF Catalina flying-boat base. As such, it is located on the very shore of Lake Macquarie, just south of Newcastle.

The centre operates with the aim of better integrating the disabled into regular community life and enhancing their lives, by providing a fully dedicated venue in a prime location, designed for those with special needs and their carers.

Post war, the base was converted into a small hospital, then after some decades a nursing home for the aged, but economics and compliance issues forced its closure and it was put up for sale.

Cruising the area one day, while checking out his childhood haunts with his wife, Heather, former local and now Brisbane-based businessman David Hagen, happened across it and a vision of a fully disability-friendly venue came to mind. Disability Life Enrichment, which owns and runs the facility, was born.

“The urge to respond to the ‘For Sale by Tender’ sign was just the right challenge needed to keep me off the streets in my retirement years,” says Hagan. “I’d become aware of the concerns faced by parents of young people with disabilities, and their exasperation arising from awareness that there was little they themselves could do to relieve their children’s social isolation, especially as they and their children advanced in years. So I decided here was the opportunity to do something that would help them overcome their isolation, especially as they and their children advanced in years.”

Opportunities such as the restoration of this historic building, with a view to making a positive impact on the lives of others, don’t come very often.

Now, two years on, completely refurbished and outfitted—its paths, guestrooms and bathrooms, needed little alteration work as a result of its years as a hospital—and with the help of sympathetic donors, it opened its doors in late 2016.

The centre is open to all, not just those with special needs, and features a 100-seat conference room, catered dining, private and family-style accommodation for up to 50 people, all with the bonus of a glorious, absolute lakefront setting. Its development has been undertaken in consultation with disability professionals, government and local area entities.

It has hosted a number of open-day and awareness events, such as an open forum attended by a cross-section of the community, including clubs and disability care-provider organisations.

The Catalina Conference Centre is contactable via its website, www.disabilitylife.com.au.

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