The Passing Out Parade was supported by the Australian Government’s Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund and was coordinated by South West Arts in partnership with South West Music Regional Conservatorium and Outback Theatre for Young People.
By Fiona Hendry
Piercing sirens wailed through 2am darkness. We responded abruptly to the event: jumped to attention, dressed, grabbing torches, guns - making our way to the bunker. Male and female personnel mingled on the stairwell, sea air gushed a frigid wind through us as we hastened downstairs. Adrenaline thumping energy through our veins, we questioned where the threat was coming from. This was clearly not a drill. By torchlight we wondered whether a plane was approaching to bomb the secret radar installation, or a submarine was entering the harbour. Other radio installations had reported similar sightings recently. They locked the doors to wait. As we settled into the bunker, we listened for a whistle overhead, or a sign of a beach attack. Some of us were armed. A few hours later we left the bunker to discover a submarine warning had been sounded in the harbour.
Since Pearl Harbour – all Australian coastline installations remained on high alert. Croydon was the No 1 RIMU (Radio Installation Maintenance Unit), and I was recruited there to listen for, and monitor, aircraft and ships. It was exciting, and my training escalated the more I got a handle on the mechanics, and the secrecy of my employment. I was about to be transferred to my first radar station near Gosford – known as No. 19 Radar Station. It was well camouflaged by National Park Bushland and had about 30 personnel. With a 20 metre high aerial the WAAAF personnel often climbed it to get a visual on ships and aircraft travelling up and down the coast. We would learn to identify aircraft and use that knowledge in our operational duties as a vital protection of Australia’s borders.
I had joined the WAAAF at 18, keen for military training to protect Australia’s borders. Blighty was my home town, and a far cry from the eastern NSW coastlands where the radar stations were installed. After 9 months at Gosford I was transferred to 101 Fighter Sector at Bankstown and then to No 18 Radio Station at Kiama. This was an important posting for a few reasons, it had been the first Radar Station in Australia to employ female WAAAF radar operators, and then it was a critical posting for me as much of the work was top secret, and the personnel were hand-picked for their critical talents. It was a small unit and we studied radio physics to gather information. Those selected for this position had to be “bright, alert and intelligent with an importance based on speech. Voice had to be clearly audible over ordinary telephone and had to be able to read printed matter without faltering.” It was a tight-knit unit and we worked in shifts to cover the 24-hour period.
We lived and breathed a regimented lifestyle, and I loved it. As the Allied Forces gained ground we were called together to receive the report that the radar and radio installations would be dismantled. I was eventually posted to stores at Fisherman’s Bend, and the most uninteresting job in my service career. I was discharged from service with the WAAAF on March 18, 1946, after three and a half years of service.
Changing career direction, I trained as a model milliner before returning to Deniliquin where I met and married a local farmer, Chris Moore. We settled at Mayrung and raised four wonderful children. I became involved in various important community organisations, particularly the Country Women’s Association.