Oral historian and documentary maker Jessica Ferrari shares her “moving and inspirational” experience chronicling the untold stories of the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force in Point Cook with Alesha Capone.
Ms Ferrari runs Memento Media, making legacy memoirs and celebration tributes for individuals, communities and organisations.
In 2017, she received a grant from the federal government’s Community Heritage and Icon Grants Program to create an eight-part documentary series about the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force (WRAAF) personnel who were based at Point Cook’s air base between 1951 and 1977.
The series, which was a finalist in last year’s Victorian Community History Awards and Premier’s History Awards, features archival footage, photos and interviews celebrating the contribution which the “amazing women” of the WRAAF made to the nation.
Ms Ferrari said a letter of support from RAAF historian Martin James was a great help in enlisting support for her online documentary series, which has been viewed more than 17,500 times.
Ms Ferrari said she came up with the idea for the series after visiting the RAAF Museum in Point Cook, where she was impressed by the aircraft displays but did not see much about the WRAAF’s heritage.
She spent two years putting together the series, which including research and interviews with former WRAAF members.
“We spent several weeks doing the research and filming the interviews, followed by well over a hundred hours in the edit suite,” Ms Ferrari said.
“I don’t have a military background but the WRAAF women were very patient and took the time to explain service life and lingo.
“In a way, I think it helped to come at the subject with a degree of ignorance as it allowed me to really unpick the intricacies of military life with these trailblazing women.”
One of the women interviewed for the series is Margaret Campbell, a Werribee resident who has written a memoir about her time in the defence force.
She worked as a telephonist in the WRAAF’s Signals Section between 1954 to 1958 and did her “rookies” training at Point Cook, where she later served.
Ms Campbell said she enjoyed the camaraderie between the WRAAF members and the lasting friendships she made.
“My working on the switchboard was great, I got to talk to lots of different people,” she said.
Sometimes, the telephonists would set up a folding bed when they worked nights.
“When I worked at Point Cook, we would collect mushrooms on the airstrip and turn the radiator on its side to cook them,” Ms Campbell said.
The WRAAF personnel also formed a review company and performed at the Mechanics Hall to raise money for the local hospital.
Ms Campbell said the WRAAF ladies were not allowed to have contact with the men’s block accommodation at Point Cook, although sometimes their cheeky male colleagues would raid the girls’ rooms for underwear and put on a parade to showcase the garments.
Ms Campbell met her future husband Malcolm while serving in the WRAAF, after two men visiting the base asked her and her friend Betty to go out to Laverton.
When the girls went to meet the men, they were “under the weather” from drinking alcohol and the date never went ahead.
Not to be deterred, Ms Campbell and Betty caught a taxi to the Laverton venue – where she encountered Malcolm.
“We danced all night,” Ms Campbell said.
Shirley Lumsden, also completed her WRAAF training at Point Cook – she went on to become an officer in the Air Force.
Ms Lumsden was in the WRAAF between 1959 and 1964, and enlisted in Sydney before coming to Victoria.
“It was a very interesting time, something I’d never come across before, with women from all different ages and walks of life,” she said.
“It taught me things it didn’t teach me in everyday life.
“Service life gives you opportunities and it’s up to you to take them.”
Under a somewhat old-fashioned requirement, women had to leave the WRAAF when they married, which was the case for both Ms Lumsden and Ms Campbell.
However, Ms Lumsden’s daughter went on to become an Air Commodore in the RAAF Reserves.
Visit bit.ly/3iBml52 to watch the Memories of the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force 1951-77 documentary series.
By Alesha Capone | First published in Wyndham Star Weekly | wyndham.starweekly.com.au
Photos supplied by Jessica Ferrari
Main picture: WRAAF members, including administrative clerk June Hoy (nee Gospel) who was interviewed for the documentary series, in 1957.