Construction of Canberra’s naval receiving station, HMAS Harman, was nearing completion when the Second World War broke out. As Canberra was located 120 kilometres inland, Harman was less vulnerable to attack than wireless stations already located throughout the Pacific.
Harman was operated by communications personnel from several services, chiefly the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS). From 1941, WRANS operated as telegraphers trained in Morse code, communicating with other naval stations all over the world, including Whitehall, the control station for all British naval stations. Harman was the first establishment where women served as part of the Royal Australian Navy.
During the war, an auxiliary wireless station was established at Molonglo as part of Harman. Situated on the former site of the Molonglo Internment Camp, it remained in service from 1943 until 1946.
Zig-zag trenches were dug at regular intervals around the HMAS Harman site to provide protection for staff in the event of an air raid. RAN and WRANS personnel were required to make the camouflage netting in between their watch-keeping duties to conceal the tops of these trenches. The nets were made by weaving hessian strips through wire netting and then dunking it in mud.
Working in the wireless telegraphy room at HMAS Harman, WRANS sent and received messages in Morse code, as well as other coded and foreign language messages. Some of the WRANS were also trained in Japanese Morse code, often called kana, the name of the syllabic Japanese script used to send the code.