Thursday, November 23, 2017 at 12:30 PM


Royal Historical Society of Victoria
239 A'Beckett St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Google map and directions

Event contact

Lauren Indiveri-Clarke

(03) 9326 9288

Join historical archaeologist and Canberra Historical Society councillor, Dr Peter Dowling, for a lecture about the “Cable Girls”. The “Cable Girls” were a group of encoding and decoding young women housed in a small, innocuous building in Canberra’s Parliamentary Triangle during World War II.


Located in the West Block, this building currently acts as an electricity substation and bicycle parking area. But during the Second World War, this small building, which was tucked away behind the Prime Minister’s Department, was occupied by a group of young women working on the top-secret encryption and decryption of government cables. They called themselves the “Cable Girls” and the building, “The Bunker”.


Dr Peter Dowling will tell the story of this building and its young staff who played a vital but highly secretive part in Australia’s war effort. This talk is all about top secret communications, encrypting and decrypting and the work done by the group of young women who were responsible for deciphering communications cables between Prime Minister Curtin and Prime Minister Churchill.


The talk will explain the methods of encoding used and detail the quarrel between the two Prime Ministers during the first weeks of 1942. The talk will also introduce one young woman called Nancy who left a record of her time in the small building supervising its operations.



Who: Dr Peter Dowling, historical archaeologist, in partnership with the Royal Historical Society of Victoria

What: Lecture and Q&A

When: Thursday, 23 November 2017, refreshments at 12.30pm and lecture at 1.00pm with Q&A immediately following 

Where: Royal Historical Society of Victoria, 239 A’Beckett Street, Melbourne 3000

Cost: RHSV members free and $10 for non-members

Contact: 9326 9288 or [email protected]

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The History Council of Victoria Incorporated (HCV) is the peak body for history in the Australian state of Victoria. Its vision is to connect Victorians with history and to inspire engagement with the past, their identity and the world today. The HCV champions the work of historians and the value of history. It recognises that history can be written about any place, any person, any period. The HCV advocates why history matters.

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The HCV was formed as an advisory body in 2001 and incorporated in 2003. It comprises representatives from cultural and educational institutions and heritage bodies; history teachers and curriculum advisors; academic and professional historians; and local, Indigenous, community and specialist history organisations.

As the peak body for history, the HCV has both ‘outward-looking’ roles (including advocacy and representation to government and the wider community, consultation, community education, and networking with allied interest groups) and ‘inward-looking’ roles (including member support, information dissemination, and networking between members).



The History Council of Victoria acknowledges the State Library of Victoria and the Public Record Office Victoria for supply of the archival images that appear on this website.

We acknowledge the National Film and Sound Archive for the right to use of the video footage on the home page, titled "Melbourne: Life in Australia (1966)".

Image credits

  • Italian sailors on ship at Port Melbourne 1938, Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria
  • Chinese procession in Collins near Elizabeth Street 1901, Harvie & Sutcliffe, photographers, State Library of Victoria
  • People’s homes, Aboriginal station Coranderrk 1878, Fred Kruger Photographer, State Library of Victoria
  • Chinese nurses at Children’s Hospital under scholarship 1947, Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria
  • Ladies physical culture class VRI Melbourne c1931, Public Record Office Victoria VPRS 12903/P0001, 011/02
  • Melbourne Cup, Derby and Oaks Day, Flemington Racecourse 1936, Public Record Office Victoria VPRS 12903/P0001/4802, 372/30
  • Flinders Street viaduct at foot of Market Street with advertisement for McRobertson’s Chocolate on bridge, Public Record Office Victoria VPRS 12800/P0003, ADV 1342