For many months aeroplanes had traversed the skies overhead. Aircraft were seldom seen in Mallacoota during the 1930s so I remember them with the same feeling of awe as I did twenty years later, when we watched the starry skies to catch a glimpse of the first satellite, Russia’s Sputnik 1. I guess though our parents knew, as they observed the incessant flights of those planes, making aerial maps of our coastline, that their activity was a prelude to war. I remember clearly the hushed silence in our lounge room as we listened on our old ‘Howard’ battery wireless to the voice of the then Prime Minister, Mr. R G. Menzies KC. announcing that it was his “melancholy duty to inform the nation that, as Germany had invaded Poland, Great Britain had declared War upon her and thus, as a result, Australia is also at war”. It was the 3rd of September, 1939 and I was 11 years old. My sister and I were terrified but our Mother assured us that Europe was far, far away and we were quite safe in Australia. Little did we know just how close the war would come to our shores.
Our little isolated bush township was to see many changes in the next six years. Equipment began arriving and an aerodrome, a number one priority for our very vulnerable coastline, was established.
The Civil Construction Company (CCC) did the major construction work formed by men from Killarney (near Port Fairy), an Irish settlement established when the potato famine forced them to leave Ireland. The men brought their families with them to Mallacoota so we had Ryans, Foleys, Sheehans, Barkers and so on as ‘new’ pupils at our school.
The Army arrived to set up training camps, then later the RAAF. Both RAAF and naval posts were established on Gabo Island. Like all schools, we had to have an air raid shelter, so with the help of our teacher, we dug one.. We would arrive home each afternoon with our clothes a mess, not just from the work but from the continual clod fights. With the township being in such close proximity to the RAAF station, we had to observe the strictest ‘black-out’ regulations. We put old blankets over the curtains and blinds and, at school, the window panes had black gauze glued to them. We had no electricity in those days and we relied on kerosene lamps and candles for light so I don’t think the blacking out was really necessary.