In 1941, with the WWII campaign in New Guinea stepping up, Australian servicemen engaged in home defence were needed at the front. The Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) was formed that year to put women in non-combative military roles. Along with the traditional driving, typing and cooking, AWAS women were trained in signals, planespotting and other anti-aircraft manoeuvres.

AWAS woman in front of her tent at Bibra Lake, 1944

AWAS woman in front of her tent at Bibra Lake, 1944

Many anti-aircraft and searchlight batteries were set up throughout Perth, including camps at Jandakot, Naval Base and South Fremantle. Bibra Lake, however, was a regimental headquarters, and housed a large group of military personnel both male and female. Built in 1943 or 44 just north of Hope Road, the camp consisted of pre-fab huts, ablution blocks and an underground command centre.

Local residents remember frequent searchlight drills lighting up the night skies, and many local dairies and market gardens supplied the camp. The AWAS women ran the camp themselves, cooking and cleaning on top of their military duties. Though some were local, others were sent from as far off as Tasmania, going where the service needed them.

The searchlight batteries were dismantled and sold as soon as the war ended, but some recently-discovered remains at Bibra Lake show the extent of this piece of wartime history. They are currently being investigated for heritage listing.

AWAS Group at Bibra Lake, 1944

AWAS Group at Bibra Lake, 1944