Establishment of RAAF Base Glenbrook

10 Feb 1950

RAAF Base Glenbrook is the home of Headquarters Air Command, approximately 60 kilometres west of Sydney in the lower Blue Mountains, New South Wales (NSW).  Glenbrook’s RAAF origins date from 1949 when the government purchased the Lapstone Hill Hotel, a luxury holiday resort and conference venue, to accommodate Headquarters Eastern Area.

The Lapstone hotel opened in December 1929 but unfortunately the hotel’s pre-war success did not continue after hostilities ended, and rising costs caused the hotel to be put up for sale. By 17 May 1949 the Commonwealth Property Officer had entered into negotiations for Lapstone’s purchase.  Sitting on 40 hectares and having 56 rooms, Lapstone filled many of the requirements set by the Air Board for major headquarters. It had good access by road and rail and was just 5 kilometres from a major town, Penrith, with easy access to RAAF Base Richmond and its airfield. Additionally, within 300 metres of the Lapstone Hill Hotel, a disused railway tunnel could accommodate a functional air operations room, staff and communications centre, in the event of attack with atomic weapons. In August 1949 Eastern Area Headquarters made immediate token occupation of Lapstone ahead of moving there on 4 February 1950.

 The Air Officer Commanding Eastern Area, Air Vice-Marshal J.P.J. McCauley (later to become Chief of Air Staff in January 1954), became the first Air rank officer to preside at RAAF Glenbrook.

The main building of the former Lapstone Hill Hotel accommodated Eastern Headquarters and the Officers’ Mess. During 1950 and 1951 a substantial renovation and maintenance program was put in place to improve and adapt the facilities of the former hotel to meet the headquarters’ requirements which included a helicopter landing ground among other works.

In late 1951, the Air Force sought and gained government approval for the purchase of the ’Briarcliffe’ property and an adjoining  0.24 hectares of land on the southern boundary of RAAF Glenbrook. They were acquired to provide accommodation for 49 members of the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force (WRAAF) working at Glenbrook.  In due course, ‘Briarcliffe’ became the residence of the incumbent Air Officer Commanding Eastern Area and its successor headquarters.

In 1953 the RAAF’s higher command structure underwent sweeping change. The 5 geographically based area headquarters, such as Eastern Area that had been hastily introduced during World War II were dismantled and replaced with 3 functional commands titled: Home, Training and Maintenance Command.  The new command arrangements were designed to decentralise control away from the Air Board and increase operational efficiency and flexibility.

Eastern Area was reformed as Home Command on 1 September 1953 and came to exercise direct command and control over all of the RAAF’s operational units. In 1959, the functional command structure was rationalised further, with Home Command renamed Operational Command and other Commands amalgamated to form Support Command.

In 1961, a new transistorized microwave radio link system was introduced at Glenbrook in place of the old, wartime underground cable-based system. A further significant improvement was the opening of a re-styled RAAF transmitting station at Londonderry, near Richmond. These upgrades were followed in 1965 with the construction of a new Communications Centre at Glenbrook. The new RAAF Telecommunications Unit Sydney came into being at Glenbrook on 1 May 1976. A satellite dish installed at Glenbrook in 1988 signalled the coming of space age communications. The upgrade in communications systems and facilities was accompanied in the 1980s with the opening of a new purpose-built headquarters building, allowing the former Lapstone Hill Hotel to be used solely as the Officers’ Mess.

RAAF Support Unit Glenbrook was formed on 1 July 1983, by renaming the Headquarters Operational Command Unit.

In October 1988 the title of Air Officer Commanding Operational Command was changed to Air Commander Australia. Under these changes, the Air Commander continued to command all RAAF operational units becoming responsible to the Chief of the Defence Force for the planning and conduct of air operations for the defence of Australia. Under the same directive, Headquarters Operational Command became Headquarters Air Command. Today, Air Commander Australia is responsible to the Chief of Air Force for effectively preparing air combat forces and Air Command Headquarters at Glenbrook coordinates Air Force operations.

Both ‘Briarcliffe’, the Air Commander’s residence and the former Lapstone Hill Hotel buildings and grounds were heritage listed by NSW on 27 December 1991.  

RAAF Base Glenbrook has witnessed many changes since it was first acquired by the government for RAAF use in 1949. However, a constant throughout the decades has been the strong connection the base and those working there have maintained with the local Blue Mountains community. One way that this connection is expressed is in the care and maintenance the RAAF provides as custodian of objects with heritage importance to NSW and the local community. Another, is the support the base provides to the Rural fire Service, Sate Emergency Service and the local community in times of need and natural disasters.

Related base

  • RAAF Base Glenbrook