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Students on steps in front of Administration Building – 15 July 1944 UWA Archives

On a bright sunny February day in 1943, I walked along King’s Park Road, cut across the Park, clambered down Jacob’s Ladder and took a trolley bus on Mounts Bay Drive to alight at the University of Western Australia. Small groups of students were gathering on Whitfeld Court for lunch or to relax between classes. Dr Currie would soon emerge for his daily walk before lunch with his wife. A gregarious man, he chatted with students on his way, coming to know more of them than any other Vice-Chancellor. He and Mrs Currie often entertained students in their delightful garden at Tuart House, the official university residence, overlooking the river. Social intermingling on campus was perpetuated by wives of academics who often held afternoon tea parties for students.

The year 1942 was critical in World War II, dominated in Australia by fear of a Japanese invasion in the north-west. However, in 1943 the enrolment at UWA rose from 604 in the previous year to 706, suggesting that male school leavers were divided about enrolling or enlisting and that servicemen were beginning to drift back to the campus. The streets of Perth and Fremantle were packed with English, Dutch and American naval personnel. Officers gathered at well patronised social clubs in buildings allocated to them on the UWA campus. Catalinas (flying boats) were moored on Crawley Bay. In response to a casual invitation that we did not really believe, Robin Chennell Smith and I were taken on a courtesy flight to Albany to be met by Mayor Barnesby accompanied by dignitaries whom I had known in my childhood.

The Refectory, (Ref), managed by Peg Gillespie, was not only for eating, but a place for mixed activities and where we (Pat Skevington, Kitty Robertson, Robin Chennell Smith, Philip Parsons, Tim Clarke, Pud Olden, Dick Marmion and others) had ‘our’ table where current campus events and possible dramatic productions were discussed. ‘The Women’, considered avant garde, created quite a stir. Friday night ‘hops’, which benefited from some surprisingly trendy local bands, were very popular. Should I miss the tram (midnight straggler) to walk through King’ s Park was the alternative way home. Probably more bewildering for girls than boys. Some young women like Valerie Sinclair, Mary Roe and Pat Miller joined the WRANS. Others married, took up wartime occupations or struggled on with their intended courses unless, like Law in 1942-43, they had been suspended. Mostly students or potential students went on active service, while practising academics used their skills working for agencies in support of wartime requirements. It was a very disturbed world, dependent on radio for news in the absence of television and more sophisticated communications.

Wendy Birman, BA 1946