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AWAS - our part in history
Bibra Lake has some great history. One of the most important roles that Bibra Lake played in recent history was in the Second World War.  Bibra Lake was a key part of the protection of WA with the area playing host to an important Army base.  In fact, it appears to be the only recognised AWAS (Australian Women's Army Service) base in Australia.  In recent months we have uncovered much more of this history.  Unfortunately we may be losing it soon with the recently approved Roe Highway Extension.  Too much history has already been lost, but hopefully we can retain what is left and keep hold of some of the memories of the lost buildings too.  Hopefully Allaboutbibralake can preserve some of our local history. 

The City of Cockburn has now added the site to the City of Cockburn’s Local Government Inventory (LGI) and Heritage List. 


Do you have more information ?
We have managed to piece together this information from snap shots of stories from families of ex-servicewomen, local residents and on the internet and library.  We would love to have more information to help fill the gaps.  We would love to know more about the this important part of Australian Military History.  Does anyone have photo's or other background information ?


 
AWAS Camp




Recently we were informed by a Coolbellup resident who has lived in this area for many years that there was an AWAS (Australian Women's Army Service) World War II women’s army camp located at Bibra Lake.


The Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS) was established on 13 August 1941, to release men from certain military duties for service with fighting units. The Service recruited women between the ages of 18 and 45 and they served in a variety of roles.  Once their training was complete, they were posted to searchlight and gun stations.  The work was very isolated in small camps and operated 24 hours a day.  


The camp at Bibra Lake were pre-fabricated huts and some remnants of these still exist.  This battery was attached to 66AA S/L Bty.  This was the Regimental Headquarters and housed nearly 200 women

 




 The location of this camp is off Hope Rd and in the area that will soon be impacted by the Roe Hwy extension.

The Coolbellup resident gave us some pages from a book called “We Answered the Call” by Eileen (Reilly) Tucker. This book provides fascinating stories about the Bibra Lake camp and the women who were there. It is such a shame that this part of the Bibra Lake’s history has been forgotten.

In the book, it recalls how many of the girls never realised that there was a lake in close proximity due to the only access being via a bush track.  The camp was well located in the bush and away from most through routes.  


   
   





One tale from the book is when the girls helped fight a small bush fire in the local area alongside the soldiers.  During that evening a local Chinese market gardener staggered along the road.  The AWAS treated his injuries, fed and cleaned him before he set off on his way.  Two days later two boxes of fresh produce appeared at the camp, presumably as a 'thank you'


    



We should take the opportunity to remember and value these women who joined the army during World War II in oreder to protect and fight for our Country.

The Bibra Lake Residents Association have asked Cockburn Council to recognise and preserve this area as a Heritage Site.  



The Council has enthusiastically taken on this request and have had an independent, historical consultant assess the site and he has recommended its Heritage Site listing.  This has gone to Council and they have voted to approve the site for a very high level of Heritage listing.  
The City of Cockburn has now added the site to the City of Cockburn’s Local Government Inventory (LGI) and Heritage List.

We believe this would give us the opportunity to not only remember these courageous young women, but also to provide information to our residents and visitors about the stories of how they lived in the camp site during this important time in Australia's history.


It should be noted that military historian Graham McKenzie-Smith refuted the camp was ever a searchlight site.

His belief is that the site was a camp used by the anti-aircraft regiment which had just been formed and were training in the area.

He said the camp was built for up to 60 people, with some AWAS members situated there.

“There is no justification for this area to be given any special heritage status on the basis of such a blatantly incorrect draft place record and for this proposal to proceed further could cause significant damage to the integrity (of the) whole heritage-listing regime,” he said.


The clarify the situation the Bibra Lake Residents Association is in the process of purchasing copies the official Army diaries for this site.  This will confirm the extent and purpose of the camp.



The story of re-discovery of this Historic Site

Christine Cooper - President of Bibra Lake Residents Association :

"I found out about this site at a meeting in April with some Coolbellup residents that I attended as President of the Bibra Lake Residents Association, to discuss protest activities against the Roe 8/ Perth Freight Link, as this will have a very negative impact on our communities.  Ugo de Marchi, who had grown up in the area, mentioned that the WW2 site was where the hwy was planned to be built. Nobody else knew about it. I asked Ugo for more information and the next morning he provided me with the excerpts from the book “We Answered the Call” by Eileen (Reilly) Tucker, which tell interesting stories about the women who were there, such as dealing with snakes and bushfires.  I followed up by going to the site and finding the remnants of the toilets, shower block, paths, etc. They are still there after more than 70 years!

   
     
 PTE Margeret May Robertson

The next step was to ask City of Cockburn to list this as a Heritage Site. The Council has enthusiastically taken on this request and have had an independent, historical consultant assess the site and he has recommended its Heritage Site listing.  This has gone to Council and they have voted to approve the site for a very high level of Heritage listing.

The City of Cockburn has now added the site to the City of Cockburn’s Local Government Inventory (LGI) and Heritage List.

It is also interesting that this site is in the electorate of Joe Francis, WA Minister for Veterans’ Affairs.  I spoke to him about this when I first located the site, but at that stage I did not know that the site was the Regimental Headquarters and housed about 200 women – so it is much larger than our original discovery. This size is important as the construction of the new highway, Roe 8/Perth Freight Link, will destroy the site. We need support in convincing our government that they will be totally destroying and important part of our history. Joe Francis currently supports the building of this highway through the site.

I am currently researching libraries and websites to find as much information as possible, and I have not been able to find any other Heritage Listed AWAS campsites listed anywhere in Australia. There are war memorials and a fountain in Victoria – but no whole AWAS camp sites seem to be left or remembered, so this is extremely significant and needs to be preserved."



Acknowledgements:

Kaye McNally - daughter of PTE Margaret May Robertson (Royal Aust Corps Signal).  Kaye kindly provided all the photos shown on this page and significant background information

Ugo de Marchi - a local resident who's comment started this search and discovery of the remains of the camp.

Christine Cooper - President of Bibra Lake Residents Association