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New ALARA Plaques added to 2021 contest!

The Oceania DX Contest committee is proud to announce the creation of two new plaques for the 2021 contest. The Australian Ladies Amateur Radio Association (ALARA) have sponsored two new awards within the Oceania DX Contest aimed at promoting YL activity on the air The new awards are:

  • The Florence McKenzie (Mrs Mac) Award
    • Awarded to the YL (“young lady”) Single Operator entrant from Oceania with the highest combined score in the Phone and CW sections
  • The Austine Henry Award 
    • Awarded to the YL (“young lady”) Single Operator entrant from outside Oceania with the highest combined score in the Phone and CW sections

These new awards will make a prestigious addition to the existing stable of plaques on offer to competitors in the Oceania DX Contest! The committee welcomes this initiative from ALARA aimed an encouraging more women into Amateur Radio contesting!

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. 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.

Austine Henry (nee Marshall) VK3YL

An Australian lady amateur who became well known world wide, was Austine Henry (nee Marshall) VK3YL.  She was born, Mary Austine, on 11th June 1913, in Brighton, Victoria.  Austine received her first radio (a crystal set) as a small child, and promptly pulled it apart to see how it worked!  She later graduated to building valve sets.

Tutored by her then boyfriend, later husband, Bill Henry, Austine passed her experimental licence exam and was issued with an Amateur Operator’s Certificate of Proficiency number 619, dated May 14th 1930, and the callsign VK3YL.  Only the third woman to obtain an amateur licence in Australia at that time, she became a very active VK3 operator and a great ambassador for amateur radio world-wide.

Austine continued to build much of her own equipment, including a very large, high-power, crystal controlled transmitter, which won first prize in its class at the Victorian Wireless Institute of Australia’s public display in the Melbourne Lower Town Hall in 1933.

On September 6th 1933 Austine became the first woman admitted to the Royal Australian Air force Wireless Reserve and was enrolled as No.R.20  A.C.2  Marshall M.A. in the Wireless Section. She was very upset that they would not send her to the war zone as a radio operator, just because she was a woman!   Despite her official commitments during WWII, she spent a lot of her spare time at the WIA, on a voluntary basis, teaching Morse code to service personnel and others.

Austine was a member of the WIA for 54 years (in 1985), having the distinction of holding the longest YL membership to that date.  Other notable achievements included, being a foundation member of the YASME Foundation and winning certificate no.7 in the prestigious YASME Award.  She was made a Life member of the Society of Wireless Pioneers, and her entry into the DXCC Honour Roll was as the first Australian YL using CW.  She was the first to gain the WAC-YL and certificate number 22 for the YL-DXCC from Canada (hand printed in gold) and the first VK YL to gain the Australian Ladies Amateur Radio Association (ALARA) award. Austine became a member of the ARRL on April 14th 1930, had over 30 years of membership in the RSGB, and other organisations to which she belonged included, New Zealand Amateur Radio Transmitters (NZART), Radio Amateur Old Timers’ Club (Australia), RAOTC (USA), Young Ladies Relay League (YLRL USA), Young Ladies International SSB net (YLISSB), Women Amateur Radio Operators (WARO NZ) and of course ALARA.

Austine died unexpectedly, at the age of 81, on September 9th 1994;  the words “Silent Key” being most fitting for this internationally known YL ambassador.