Memories of dust storms for Kyogle woman in new book
KYOGLE woman May Densley is one of 300 women around Australia who contributed their wartime stories to a new book called Between the Dances, written by Melbourne-based author Jacqueline Dinan.
Mrs Densley's recollections of those days when she worked as a wireless telegraphist at Lake Boga, on the Murray River, were full of adventure.
Most remarkable were the dust storms that descended upon the flying boat repair base bringing all work to a halt.
Back in those wartime days the weather seemed very hot, and as it was before irrigation the dust was something to experience.
"The dust storms were terrific in that Mallee country," said Mrs Densley. "You could see them building up and then a silence would fall before they would come."
The world would become shades of black and brown and even indoor electric lights would be reduced to candle-power.
The women telegraphists, working with Morse code, toiled away underground in concrete pipes covered in dirt. At the peak of her career Mrs Densley was able to send 25 to 30 words a minute in Morse code.
Their cosy abode in that concrete pipe was for security but they couldn't stay there for ever.
"All us women working in the underground bunker would go outside to the mess hall for a meal and we would have to link arms and force ourselves against the wind," recalled Mrs Densley.
The storms were so intense, and they shifted so much sand, that the train from nearby Swan Hill would come to halt, unable to gain traction across the drifts of detritus on the tracks.
But when the weather cleared the base at Lake Boga returned to high activity.
Did the women transmitting coded messages ever get the chance to fly in one of those big flying boats?
"We certainly did," recalled Mrs Densley. "We would get a ride on a Catalina's last test flight before it was sent to a theatre of war and we'd ride in the blister on the back - where the tail gunner would sit. And when we took off that bubble appeared to go clean underwater with all the spray."
While the base at Lake Boga, surrounded by Mallee dust was remote, it was not invisible. One night the radio operators tuned into the wartime propagandist in Japan - Tokyo Rose - who announced over the high frequency airwaves, " ... and at Lake Boga, we know you are there and we know what you are doing!" The voice was like a ghost in the night and sent shivers down all their spines.
But of course the scare proved fruitless, as the good women and men of the Catalina flying boat base carried on and helped win the war against oppression!
Mrs Densley ended up marrying a man from the army, he was a signaller, and they have lived in the Kyogle area for the past 35 years.