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Women in Air Force

In February 1941 authority was given to raise the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) from its strength of 320. Accordingly, during World War II, the WAAAF grew to 27,000. There were also 632 Nursing Sisters. The initial intake was designed to meet a deficiency in the number of male wireless telegraphists, but it was soon evident that young women were keen and capable of undertaking other technical tasks.

At the end of the war, women were employed in 73 trades as diverse as fabric workers, photographers, engine fitters, clerks, cooks and meteorological assistants. Over 700 young women were commissioned and employed in administrative and professional tasks. Women even commanded at least two RAAF radar units for short periods. Miss Clare Stevenson (later Group Officer) was appointed Director of the WAAAF in June 1941 and her inspiration and dedication was the basis for the success of the organisation.

In 1947 the WAAAF was demobilised, however, the value of women to the Service could not be denied and the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force (WRAAF) was raised in 1950. The first recruits commenced training at Laverton on 30 January 1951 and joined a Service in which there were differing conditions of service for male and female members. It was not until 1972 that female and male pay rates reached equilibrium. In 1975 many non-traditional areas were opened to female recruits, with female cadets being accepted as engineering cadets.

During 1977 all members of the WRAAF were transferred to the RAAF and women could contest promotion and training without discrimination. Today, approximately 22 per cent of the Permanent Air Force (PAF) are women, with 97 per cent of all jobs, including combat flying, open to them, the only exception being airfield defence guard.

The first women pilots were enlisted in 1987 with Robyn Williams and Deborah Hicks being the first to graduate. The first female to attain an air star rank was Julie Hammer CSC, a graduate in electronics engineering from the University of Queensland, who was appointed Air Commodore on 16 December 1999. In 2003 she was promoted to Air Vice Marshal, remaining the highest ranking female in the RAAF until her retirement in 2005.

By : Letda Lek. Edward E Pattiwael

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