Herald, 5 January 1942
They might look like creatures from outer space, but these Coburg women, styling themselves 'Blitz' cyclists, donned their respirators, tin helmets and ARP (Air Raid Precaution) armbands and were ready to act as messengers if there were air raids in the area.
This might seem a little far-fetched to us from a distance of nearly 80 years, but there was a very real fear at the time (perhaps whipped up by local authorities who thought that Coburg citizens - and others - were not taking the war seriously enough) that Australia would be invaded. Air raid trenches were dug in local parks and school playgrounds. Plans were put in place to evacuate children to the country. A mock air raid took place at Coburg oval and air raid wardens were trained to deal with any potential attacks on the municipality. Melburnians soon became accustomed to brownouts and everyone was on the lookout for the enemy in their midst.
The fear levels of the citizens of Coburg may well have risen as a result of all this activity, but it is more than likely that women had more to fear from the problems presented by brownout conditions, especially once the 'Brownout Strangler' began strangling women. He murdered three women before being identified as American serviceman Edward Leonski. Leonski was hanged at Pentridge Prison in November 1942.
Several years later, an air observation post was put in place on the roof of Walker's Department Store in Sydney Road. Local volunteers used binoculars to spot aircraft activity and report it to Essendon aerodrome, especially important at a time when there was very little in the way of air traffic control. Historian Richard Broome recorded in Coburg, between two creeks that 'in the twenty months till the post was closed in October 1945, 17,451 aircraft had been spotted by 146 volunteers, many of them women and senior students.'