In 1943, Ellie Sullivan is already doing her bit for the war effort servicing aircraft for Qantas when she is approached to work for the mysterious Central Bureau in Brisbane. This involves intercepting and deciphering enemy messages on the Pacific front that will be relayed on to Bletchley Park or Arlington Hall. Ellie must sign documents swearing that she will never talk about what she does.
Working from a garage attached to a large house, Ellie enjoys the challenging work and especially the close friendships she forms with the other “Garage Girls”. Often outspoken and of the belief that women can do the same jobs as the men, she takes risks and, when there is a breach in security, she puts herself in danger. Two men play important roles in her personal life: her old friend, Louis, and her new love, Harry.
The Queensland settings and other aspects of Ellie’s life, including her connection to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, add extra interest. The violent brawls between Australians and American troops – often triggered by unwelcome attention to local girls – are also fact-based.
Ellie is such an exuberant and optimistic character who always “sees the good in everyone” that she keeps the reader inspired and interested in her story, much of it based on the real women involved in this little-known aspect of World War II in Australia, history not really known until quite recent times.
This is a fresh, brisk and immensely readable novel, filled with generosity and good humour as well as inevitable sad or contemplative passages. It is also a fitting tribute to the women who served and whom General Douglas MacArthur personally thanked for their vital contribution that helped to shorten “the war in the Pacific by up to two years … and save millions of lives”.