Initially the RAAF hoped to locate only the supporting units permanently at Butterworth, with the flying squadrons rotating from Australia every three months. That was the cheapest option, reducing by about two-thirds the need for family removals, married quarters, medical services and schooling. As Malaya was an 'operational' zone, albeit a fairly benign one, there were also perceived advantages in keeping families out of the area. However, Defence Minister Sir Philip McBride rejected the Air Force's proposal.
In the interests of Australia's longer term national security, keeping the United Kingdom involved in Southeast Asia was considered far more important than worrying about the costs associated with developing Butterworth and paying for several hundred RAAF dependants to live in Malaya, so McBride's position carried the day. Cabinet decided that the Canberra Squadron should deploy permanently to Butterworth in July 1958 and the Sabres between November 1958 and February 1959. When the Canberras arrived, the Lincolns of No. 1 Squadron would return to Amberley after eight years in Singapore.
The colonial legacy was strong. In the 1950s and 1960s young RAAF officers and their wives could still take a first-class passage to Malaya on a cruise ship, meeting for cocktails in the late afternoon and dressing formally for dinner at the Captain's table. Many Air Force families lived in tropical bungalows on Penang Island, a fifteen minute ferry ride from the mainland.Penang was an exotic home, with its stylish mixture of Asian and British colonial architecture, the tropical vegetation and climate, a potpourri of races, spicy Asian food instead of stodgy meat and three vegetables, and a duty-free port invariably crowded with merchant shops from all parts of the world.
Included in those allowances was a payment for servants: three for air commmodores, two for other officers (a cook and a housekeeper), and one for airmen. Relieved of most domestic burdens, the Australians could settle into a lifestyle based on work for the men, followed by social activities centred on the service messes, the tennis club, the Penang Swimming and Golf Clubs, and the Runnymede and Eastern and Oriental Hotels.
The photos below depict the types of accommodation provided to RAAF families, on Penang island in areas the allocated, such as Hillside, Tanjong Bungah, Tanjong Tokong and on Butterworth.