Along the tree-lined Henry Street in Ascot stands Nyrambla, the hillside house which was formerly used as a United States-Australian intelligence base for codebreakers during the Second World War. The house is drawing much interest today because it just hit the market following the death of its owner, Brisbane socialite Andree Daws, in August 2020.
But the gorgeous structure hidden amongst tall trees next to some of the most expensive houses in Brisbane has such a rich history. Here’s the story of the historic house called Nyrambla.
The Owners and Dwellers
Built in 1885 for Henry P Abbot, the manager of the Australian Joint Stock Bank, the original property was over 15 acres, which stretched across Henry and Yabba Streets and had separate stables and servants quarters.
When Mr Abbot retired to Sydney, he rented out his imposing two-storey home to Patrick Perkins, the Queensland brewer. By 1925, Mr George Willoughby Whatmore, the manager of the Austin cars automotive group, bought the Nyrambla.
Mr Whatmore, a member of the Council and a champion cyclist, was the grandfather of Ms Daws. But his death in 1929 saw Nyrambla’s transformation as a large house, which was converted into six flats.
Its front side used to be alongside Yabba Street but as the house split off, the Henry Street side became the main entrance even today.
There were more additions to Nyrambla over the years. In place of stables and servants quarters were the swimming pool and tennis court.
Other famous inhabitants of the Nyrambla flats included ABC presenter Blair Edmonds, farmers market operator Jan Power and Queensland actor, director and writer Bille Brown until Ms Daws acquired the property.
Today, Nyrambla is a nine-bedroom, six-car garage site with seven bathrooms, two sunrooms and a guest wing with a spacious living room area on the second floor.
In 2013, Ms Daws converted part of the house into an art studio for her husband, Lawrence, whose paintings are displayed at art galleries across the country as well as in London, Scotland and China. He still continues to paint today at 93 years old.
Ms Daws’ son Rick Roberts has lived in this house since the 1980s and has decided to put Nyrambla in the market.
The Allies’ Intelligence Base
In 1942, the Allies requisitioned the Nyrambla as a top-secret facility after U.S. General Douglas MacArthur made Brisbane their headquarters. MacArthur, along with Australian General Thomas Blamey, made frequent visits to this house at the height of the war in the Pacific.
For the next three years, the 18 enlisted servicemen and six officers of U.S. 837th Signal Service Detachment and members of the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) and cryptanalyst from the Australian Cypher Section worked in the back garage to decipher intercepted Japanese codes using a Typex machine and IBM tabulators. The decoded messages were transmitted to Allied bases from all over the world.
Historical accounts stated that one of these intercepted messages was Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s itinerary to Rabaul in 1943. The Allies were able to intercept his aircraft, killing the commander of the Japanese fleet.
Following this feat, Colonel Harold Doud renamed the 837th Signal Service Detachment to the Special Intelligence Service.
In 1988, former U.S. servicemen returned to Nyrambla for the unveiling of the plaque by the front entrance.