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Memento : Issue 20
Many thanks to Colin Harvey, a retired RAAF Group Captain and fellow radio amateur, who wrote this story using files in our collection, personal archives and other historical material. Austine holding a world time clock that she won in a transmitting competition in 1980. Photograph courtesy Austine's family. It's possible that the RAAF was unaware of her female identity until 1938 when, as a married woman, she applied for routine re-engagement. She was told that females had been disqualified from serving in the RAAF Reserve. To the dismay of fellow wireless reservists who recognised her as a very competent operator, she was discharged on 6 September 1938, depriving the RAAF of the very wireless operating skills that would be desperately needed a year later. Nevertheless she continued to follow her passion for the wireless, and by the time of her death in 1994 she had contact, mostly using morse code, with amateurs in more than 326 countries. Among amateur radio operators, a 'country' can be anything from an atoll to what we know as a country. Similar stories of personal achievement, both great and small, are found throughout the files held in our collection. They include the personal service files of those who served in World War I, and now also World War II, copies of which can be requested through our website. While other young women in the 1930s were learning to twirl their strings of beads, pose with long cigarette holders and practise the charleston, Mary Austine Marshall was teaching herself how to build and operate a wireless. In 1930 at the age of 17, Austine, as she preferred to be known, took the technical and operating exams set by the Postmaster-General's Department and qualified as a licensed amateur radio operator. In the early days she operated from her parents' home in Dandenong Road, Murrumbeena, Victoria. Her signature call-sign VK3YL reflected her identity as a Victorian 'young lady'. Three years later, Austine's home-built valve transmitter was the winning entry in its class at an exhibition in the Melbourne Town Hall. At the time, most components for transmitting and receiving could not be bought so amateurs made their own. Austine made history again in 1934 when she became the first and only female to be enlisted in the Reserve of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). She was enrolled as R20 AC2 Aircraftsman (2nd Class) Marshall MA. Using her own transmitting and receiving equipment, she performed her weekend communication duties diligently for her four years in the Reserve. .-/.-- --- -- .- -./ .-- .. - ..../ .-/ .--...-...-......... Aw oman --.-.-.-.--/.-..-...-..-../ -- .- .-. ... .... .- .-.. .-.. with a wireless 6 memento may 2002