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another look at alf boxall

There wasn’t a lot of scope for a lieutenant engineer to be a spy in WW2 unless he was working in a place where intelligence was gathered.

Boxall was in intelligence, we know that. He was one of Bill Stanner’s men stuck up there in the heat and humidity of the north west coast. There are only two ways to experience that hard part of Australia, go there or read Dirt Music.

The only intelligence the Nackeroos was interested in was the make of the Japanese aircraft they saw flying overhead and the origin of the footprints they found on otherwise desolate stretches of the mangrove lined coast.

But here’s the thing: later on Alf worked in another place where another sort of intelligence might be gathered.

The Japanese changed everything when they sent their midget subs into Sydney harbour in 1942, an affront that caused the wartime authorities to construct a submarine prevention barrier that stretched across the harbour from Watsons Bay to Georges Head. Even the Manly ferries were stopped and scraped on their way through, just in case a Jap sub was attempting to creep through under their hull shadow.


This is the barrier, Watsons Bay is on the far side.

I know Watsons Bay, its nooks and crannies, coves, caves and underwater gardens. It’s quiet depths.

As youths we crawled through the defence tunnels, cut our feet on oyster shells and brought home bags of leather jackets we speared amongst the pilings.

Fried in butter seasoned with a sliver of garlic, eaten with fingers, cooked on the beach.

Alf Boxall worked on the near side, the Georges Head side, and as an engineer had the right to board incoming steamers to be sure their condition of entry was satisfactory. You could almost liken him to a border guard in this duty, chugging out on a tender to a rusted old steamer waiting to be admitted to the harbour, a ship on someone’s radar, people aboard with notifiable backgrounds, their names in the ship’s manifests.

Boxall may have been asked to collect a different type of intelligence, and the Clifton Gardens hotel just up the road.



The Clifton Gardens

Jessica Harkness sitting in the bar, taking  drink after work.



4 Comments Post a comment
  1. ellen #

    Do you know if Boxall ever contacted Jessica after he was outed as the recipient of the Rubaiyatt? You would think he would, just out of curiosity. Of course, he wouldn’t if it put her or her growing family’s lives in danger. He seemed to be a gallant and protective bloke.

    October 3, 2016
    • Jessica mentioned to the police that Boxall had written to her when she lived with her parents in Melbourne, and the police supplied the information to the media. There is no evidence that he made contact after that.

      October 3, 2016
  2. Clive #

    Put yourself in Alf’s shoes, you wanted to contact Jessica, but if the police were wire tapping & opening letters, how would you contact her? Jessica was quick to direct police attention to Alf, when they knocked at her door. Was Alf angry when the police had talked to him or, relieved they believed him?

    October 3, 2016
    • Clive, it sounded like he was amused when the two coppers asked to see him at his depot. At that stage of the investigation they thought he was dead, then Alf rolled up and ‘upset their applecart.’

      October 3, 2016

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