Stories of Queensland homefront during the Second World War

Are you interested in wartime stories? Listen to interviews with Queenslanders, recorded between 1987-1990, discussing the Second World War.

Access over 60 wartime oral histories on UQ eSpace. Hear memories and stories about rationing, the fear of invasion, tension between US and Australian soldiers, nursing, internment, working conditions and unemployment. These oral histories were at risk on near-defunct cassette tapes and digitised in 2018 to preserve our cultural heritage.

Here are just some of the stories you can find in the interviews.

Story snippets

Working for a news service

Arthur Denovan, an Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) copy boy during the war, talks about war correspondents, news services and propaganda.

  • He recalls what it was like to work for a news service and how activities of the war were reported.
  • Hear Arthur tell the story of a mysterious man called Mr Bavier, a Russian man who spoke fluent Japanese and broadcast propaganda material on the radio to the Japanese in the Pacific.

Hear Arthur talking about Mr Bavier in this snippet.

Full interview with Arthur Denovan

The Battle of Brisbane

Major William (Bill) Benson from the US Army was posted to General Douglas MacArthur’s Headquarters in Brisbane.

He talks about the conflict between the Australians and the US Armed forces during the Battle of Brisbane. He met his wife in Brisbane and briefly talks about how he met her at the end of the interview.

Hear Bill talking about tensions building between the Australian militia and the US forces in this snippet.

Full interview with Major William Benson.

Life in Cairns during the war years

Olive Gillie talks about her experiences growing up in Cairns during the war years. Cairns was used by the Allied forces including the US Army as a support base for the war in the Pacific. 

Olive was a teenager who had just finished school and worked in her mother’s takeaway shop. She was a member of the Red Cross and often went to the dances held by the American Red Cross. 

Hear Olive talking about life in Cairns during the Second World War in this snippet.

Full interview with Olive Gillie.

Conscientious objector

Fred Harris was a Quaker and conscientious objector during the Second World War. He recalls his experiences of protesting Brisbane.

Hear Fred talking about his visit to prisoner of war and internees at the Enoggera camp in this snippet.

Full interview with Fred Harris.

Emeritus Professor Kay Saunders and the “On the Home Front” project

Kay and her team captured these recordings as part of the “On the Home front” project between 1987-1990 leading to the publication of book Australia’s frontline: Remembering the 1939-45 war.

Kay was an anthropologist who sought out a diverse group of Queenslanders. She had a personal connection as her father was injured at the Battle of El Alamein and she visited him in hospital.

Kay said she wanted to capture a diverse range of voices in terms of age, religion, gender, and ethnicity for the project. She said she some interviewees were animated and enthusiastic, while others were guarded and carefully planned their answers during the interviews.

Preserving our cultural heritage through digitisation

We digitised more than 60 interviews off 54 cassette tapes in 2018 to make these recordings available. They represent a unique perspective about our heritage that we did not want to lose.

As part of the national project Deadline 2025, we intend to digitise all cassette tapes in our special collections before 2025. You can help us preserve oral stories like these. Support our digitisation work by donating to the Library.

Find out more about Deadline 2025.

Did you listen to some of the stories? Tell us what you think

We would love to hear your reactions and thoughts about these stories. If you would like to share something with us, visit our Facebook or Twitter. page and leave us a comment or a thought.

This story is part of our 2018-2019 Summer Series of blog posts. You can read more wonderful stories about our collections on our blog.

Last updated:
6 August 2019