By Heather Holland <email@example.com>
Florence Violet McKenzie OBE (nee Wallace) A2GA/VK2FV/VK2GA
Probably the best known lady amateur operator in Australia is Florence McKenzie (nee Wallace). Born in 1891, she became Australia’s first tertiary educated female electrical engineer, and opened a wireless/electrical shop in Royal Arcade Sydney in 1921. In 1925, Florence obtained her amateur licence and the callsign A2GA in 1925, our first known licenced lady amateur.
During 1922 Florence was involved with starting the Wireless Weekly magazine, along with three other people. This magazine later morphed into Radio and Hobbies and later still, Electronics Australia. The 1948 call book lists her as VK2FV which lapsed about 1959. Regaining interest in amateur radio in 1979, Florence again became 2GA, this time VK2GA, which she held until her death in 1982. In the mid 1930s Florence established the Electrical Association for Women which appears to have been formed mainly to teach women how to use electrical appliances in the home; she also wrote a cookery book for electric stoves, when none were available.
When Florence realised that war was imminent, “Mrs. Mac” as she was fondly known, became acutely aware of the need for radio communications as part of our defence, and the need for people trained in Morse code. She established a no-charge training school in a loft near her shop. Her students were initially, predominantly women and the school became known as the Women’s Emergency Signaling Corps. (W.E.S.C.) During 1940, in response to a newspaper advertisement by the Navy, appealing for trained amateurs to enlist as telegraphists, she offered her trainees. The Naval Director of Signals and Communications recommended to the Naval Board that they be employed at shore establishments and fourteen selected applicants took up their duties at the Harman Wireless Station in Canberra. From this beginning the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) was established in 1941. It grew to a peak of 105 officers and 2,518 ratings during the war.
Mrs. Mac trained the women to teach the thousands of men who wanted a skill to offer the Services. She could also see that if there were women in the services, who were competent in communication, it would free the men for other duties. In her valedictory published in Ditty Box, the ex WRANS magazine for June 1982, she was reported as being “eventually responsible for training more than 12000 servicemen”! American servicemen who were based in Australia were sent to Mrs. Mac for refresher courses. Initially skeptical, they were soon won over by her training methods. Continuing after the war, she trained many QANTAS pilots in Morse code.
Florence McKenzie was awarded an OBE in 1950 and became a SK in 1982 (2021-6-14 ALARA Column A.R. Issue 4 – Jen VK3WQ