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