The Garage Girls

Nyrambla (State Library of Queensland, Neg 67869)
Nyrambla (State Library of Queensland, Neg 67869)

 

At the rear of Nyrambla, Central Bureau’s headquarters, there was a garage from which personnel from the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) operated. Nicknamed the ‘Garage Girls’ for the location of their operations, these women used TypeX machines, British cipher machines that were adapted from the German Enigma machines, to send and receive encrypted communications between Allied forces.

The work was top secret and the women were sworn to absolute secrecy, not even permitted to tell their families of their work. The Garage Girls processed huge daily volumes of coded communications spelt out in ciphers; these ciphers would change daily to make it harder for enemies to decipher. The messages would be padded with irrelevant messaging to make it more difficult for enemies listening in to understand. The messages would come in five-letter groups, which would be delivered onto a paper ribbon, and at the end of every shift they would carefully burn anything incriminating in an incinerator. Accuracy was key in the role of a typist, as mistyped letters or symbols could result in wide-scale disaster. 

The highly secretive nature of the work meant that the Garage Girls formed incredibly close bonds with one another, and some remained life-long friends. One former operator, Madeline Chidgey, described her fellow Garage Girls as ‘a close-knit, mutually-supportive group’, remembering that ‘anyone who was homesick, lovesick, or just plain sick of waiting for the war to end was never down for long’. 

Indeed, some Garage Girls even found love within the secretive walls of Nyrambla; Coral Osborne met her future husband, Sandy Hinds, on her first day as a Garage Girl. The two kept in touch while he was deployed to South-East Asia by padding out the messages sent between field offices with their own communications, including a marriage proposal.