I’m currently reading a book by researcher David Dufty called Radio Girl: The Story of the Extraordinary Mrs Mac, Pioneering Engineer and War Time Legend (what a cracking title) and the more I read it, the more I believe that Australian film makers MUST make a film or a series about her.
Violet McKenzie grew up in an Australian mining town and loved to play with her father’s tools. From early on, she had a passion for electrical equipment and electricity and would often rig up different aides to assist her mother around the house such as fitting a light in a cupboard so that every time she opened it, the light would switch on.
As she grew, her interest in all things electrical engineering became stronger but as it was tough for women in the 20s and 30s to be in what was considered a men’s vocation or field, she managed to set up her own radio shop and pioneered the use of radio in Australia. Her business became so popular because she met the need of a new market one in which was slowly growing in interest – the wireless radio.
She had first heard about this radio from someone who had come by her shop asking for a specific part and it piqued her curiosity. She explored further and then found a group of people – enthusiasts – who were using this equipment to talk to each other via distances. She was enthralled with the idea and set off to learn radio herself.
Given that it was just before World War II, Mrs Mac started volunteering her time to teach young women morse code. She used her premises to inspire women to join the sciences and become engineers through teaching them about electricity as well. She ran regular talks, classes and workshops – all free – to the community.
Over time, her popularity rose and she had hundreds of women attending classes and learning morse code as well as other skills that unbeknownst to them, would come valuable with the upcoming war.
Mrs Mac approached the Royal Australian Air Force at a time when they were looking for morse code operators as there was a lack of males to do this. However, she had hundreds of women already trained, along with instructors who could teach the males. The RAAF didn’t want a bar of it however, at the same time, the Royal Australian Navy didn’t see a problem. In fact, they used her women for the important services of decoding the morse code messages from the Japanese fleets in the Pacific. Indeed, her female morse code operators were the inception of the Women’s Royal Naval Service.
The more I read about this extraordinary woman at a difficult time in Australia’s history and how her vision and contribution was instrumental to the war effort, the more I’m amazed that these stories are not out there. I would never have known about this wonderful woman, Australia’s first ever electrical engineer who VOLUNTEERED her services for the education and progression of women into engineering and who provided critical skills for when Australia needed it the most.
I do hope that Australian film makers learn about her story and make a series or a film about this because her story is empowering for women. At a time when women’s voices aren’t heard or they’re drowned out, it’s heartening to see that there were people like this who made in-roads despite all odds being against them.
Without acknowledgement, without reward but with passion and perseverance.
Mrs Mac was – and still is – a legend.
..it is finished, and I have proved to them all that women can be as good as, or better than men.”
My Book Review
Here’s a great song by Daniel Kelly who sings about Florence’s story: