Australia Day honors for women WWII codebreakers who operated in a Brisbane garage

Eighty years after secretly cracking codes in a Brisbane garage, three women have been decorated for their service in World War II.

Coral Hinds, Joyce Grace and Ailsa Hale were among a group of women who played a crucial but largely unrecognized role in Allied victories in the Pacific, including the Battle of Midway in June 1942.

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From the garage of the mansion in suburban Brisbane, which served as a top-secret signal base, the women worked around the clock on 12 British Typex cipher machines, decrypting encrypted messages from German and Japanese forces.

Among her most consequential contributions, the cracked communications played a key role in the intelligence that led to the downing of Admiral Yamamoto.

Yamamoto was commander-in-chief of the combined fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy during the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway.

World War II codebreaker Joyce Grace, aged 20, in Paddington, Sydney, 1943. Credit: AAP

Their impact spilled over to the Central Bureau’s post-war successor when the new director, aware of the exceptional service of women, ignored a defense directive to limit the number of women employed.

Coral Hinds, who is now 98, fondly recalls her days as a so-called “garage girl” and said she’s proud that something has come of it.

“It’s quite unexpected,” she said of the Australian Intelligence Medal award.

“All the time I’ve been working with Central Bureau, I’ve met some wonderful girls. It’s these girls that I’m still friends with, and knowing that they have the same thoughts about privacy and work and all the things that are so important to us in our work, that’s what I’m looking forward to remember most.”


The work of Allied Signal Intelligence is credited with ending the war two years earlier than expected.

“There were some very important messages, but we didn’t always realize how important they were,” Hinds said.

The messages came in five-letter clusters, which the girls then delivered onto a paper tape in a process Hinds described as “very secret”.

The awards come five weeks before Grace celebrates her 100th birthday.

“Abiding Legacy”

Rachel Noble, who leads the succession of the central office, said the women and their colleagues have done extraordinary things without being able to share the enormity of their achievements for so long.

“The Australian Intelligence Medal rightly recognizes the importance of their service and sacrifice to signals intelligence and Australia’s war effort,” said the director-general of the Australian Signals Directorate.

“The enduring legacy of the ‘Garage Girls’ continues to this day. They are our modern day heroines and an inspiration to our people.

“As ASD celebrates its 75th anniversary, we are still standing on their shoulders.

“The work they did in harsh conditions shortened the war and undoubtedly saved many lives. It fills us all with humility to finally see recognition for their incredible achievements.”

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James Brien

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