The Codebreakers by Alli Sinclair is inspired by the real-life female codebreakers in Brisbane in WWII. They worked with Central Bureau, one of Australia’s elite signals intelligence organisations and as part of Alli’s research, she met with these codebreakers to learn about their experiences. Coral Hinds is one of these codebreakers and here’s she is in with conversation with Alli.
Central Bureau was located in a leafy suburb in Brisbane and the men worked in the mansion and the women’s office was in the garage at the back of the property. Why was that?
It was less conspicuous and nobody would expect us to be around the back there doing secret work. There were no lace curtains but there was some lino down over the mud floor and the garage was a decoy.
Coral, I would really like to understand how the recruitment process worked when you decided to join the Australian Women’s Army Service and how you ended up at Central Bureau.
I went to Sydney and Ingleburn. Did my rookies. And then we had an aptitude test and I’d been working in a grocer shop and adding up money and things quickly and whether it’s because I was able to take down information from the phone quickly, maybe that was it? Our group of girls all ended up at a cipher school down at the old observatory in Elman and then we were put on a troop ship, then a troop train to go up to Brisbane and when we landed up there we really didn’t have any idea what we were going to do. But the powers that be knew. They had us all organised and the rest is history.
Now, one of the aspects of this book that people are talking about is that the people who worked for Central Bureau had to remain secret about their work for decades. I’m really interested to know how you coped with that and what your family thought when you finally told them what you did.
That’s where reunions were good, because we could get together as a group, and I’m sure the fellas used to talk about what happened up north as well as what we did in the office. But you know, you just did it and we didn’t worry about it very much. A lot of your memory goes, and you don’t remember the things that sometimes mattered most.
But as far as telling the family and things you just didn’t talk about it then. When I did tell them, they finally knew how important it was. To think that HQ was Bletchley, because when we got recognition from the British government, we were classed as one of Britain’s outstations. It was then that it really came home that yes, we were all part of something important.