Surviving WWII Codebreakers in Ascot Honoured With Australian Intelligence Medal After 80 Years

Eighty years after their service to the Australian military, three of the clandestine band of female codebreakers in Ascot who helped Allied Forces win World War II in the Pacific were honoured with the Australian Intelligence Medal on Australia Day 2023.

The surviving Ascot codebreakers, Joyce Grace, Coral Hinds and Ailsa Hale, were recognised for their top-secret work as Typex Operators with the Central Bureau Headquarters, which was established at a garage inside Nyrambla, a house in Ascot. 

These women were collecting and decoding Japanese military communications to help the Allied Forces but they were not able to tell anyone, even their own families, of their highly-sensitive role in the Australian military. 

Known as the “Garage Girls” because they operated from the basement of Nyrambla, an Ascot mansion that served as a secret intelligence base, the Ascot codebreakers were vital to Operation Vengeance. Cracking secret communications helped the Allies take down Japanese naval chief Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto in 1943, essentially ending the war in the Pacific. 

Admiral Yamamoto was the commander-in-chief of the Japanese Imperial Navy’s Combined Fleet during the Battle of Midway and the attack on Pearl Harbour.

Australian Signals Directorate Director-General Rachel Noble hailed the medal honourees as the “modern-day heroines” who have inspired Australians. Their recognition has been long overdue. 

Ms Grace, who is celebrating her 100th birthday in March 2023, said she is proud of the honour. She recalls receiving a letter from the government asking her to leave her job at a draper store to help with the war effort. 

She didn’t fully see the impact of her work as a codebreaker until 30 years later when they were finally allowed to divulge their top-secret roles in various features and documentaries. During the war, every one of the Garage Girls thought it was simply a job they had to do.

Nyrambla: Ascot Spy House Spills Its Secrets

Spying in Ascot? Find out how Nyrambla, a historic home on Henry Street, became a top-secret decoding base in the Second World War.

A Banker’s Home

More than a century after it was built, Nyrambla still stands proudly at Henry Street in Ascot, after having been many things to many people — home to a banker, an alderman, prominent society personalities, even serving as headquarters for code-breakers in the Second World War.

Nyrambla was originally built in 1885 during a time when grand residences were built on the apexes of the hilly suburb of Ascot. 

Designed to be a two-storey family house by Brisbane architect James Cowlishaw, Nyrambla took up three large estates spanning from Windermere and Lancaster Roads. It had separate structures for the servants and the stables.

The house was designed for the manager of the Australian Joint Stock Bank, Mr Henry P Abbott.

Per historical records from Brisbane’s Local Heritage places, the Abbotts came from a family of wealthy sheep ranchers in New South Wales and named their home “Nyrambla” after a station owned by Mrs Abbott’s side of the family.  

Shortly after Mr Abbott’s retirement from banking, his family decided to return to Sydney where he died in 1903. When the Abbotts left, the Australian Joint Stock Bank rented out the mansion to Mr Patrick Perkins, a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Queensland who came from a family of Irish brewers.

The Subdivision of Nyrambla

By the early 1900s, Nyrambla was subsequently divided to include more tenants thus creating Henry and Abbott streets around the 15-acre estate, as it has existed today. Mr T. Herbert Brown, the son-in-law of Sir Samuel Griffith, the inaugural Chief Justice of Australia, lived in one of the properties with his wife. 

Nyrambla undated photo
Photo Credit: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

The bank then advertised and sold the estate in allotments of different sizes. An acre of the site with the original house was acquired by Edward David Miles, an alderman in Charters Towers and a Member of the Queensland Legislative Council. 

old advert for Nyrambla
Photo Credit: Trove/National Library of Australia

Ten years after owning Nyrambla in the mid-1920s, the Miles family sold the property to George Willoughby Whatmore of Centennial Hall Ltd and the Willoughby Trust Ltd. Generations of Mr Whatmore’s family owned Nyrambla, including Brisbane socialite Andree Daws, Mr Whatmore’s great-great-grandchild, until her death in August 2020. 

society announcement
Photo Credit: Trove/National Library of Australia
Nyrambla undated photograph
Photo Credit: Trove/National Library of Australia

Converting Nyrambla into Flats

In 1929, or roughly four years after their patriarch’s death, the Whatmore family agreed to convert Nyrambla from a sprawling mansion into six flats with Cunningham & Jones overseeing the construction. From its main entrance on Yabba Street, the house could now be accessed through Henry Street, much like it is today.

The flats remained family homes, where numerous social events took place among Ascot’s elites. 

event clipping
Photo Credit: Trove/National Library of Australia
children's party clipping
Photo Credit: Trove/National Library of Australia

…Then it Became a Spy House

Then in the 1940s, the government requisitioned Nyrambla as a spy house for the Allied Forces led by U.S. General Douglas MacArthur and Australian General Thomas Blamey.

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 at 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.

World War II officers at Nyrambla
Photo Credit:

“At Nyrambla, Central Bureau decrypted a Japanese Army Air Service signal intercepted by No. 51 Wireless Section at Darwin. The signal contained the Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Japanese Fleet, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s itinerary for his forthcoming trip to Rabaul. As a result, on 18 April 1943, Yamamoto’s aircraft was intercepted off Bouganville by US P-38 Lightning fighters and he was killed. In May 1943, the 837th Signal Service Detachment was renamed Special Intelligence Service led by Colonel Harold Doud,” per historical accounts from the Queensland WWI Historic Places. 

Nyrambla Today

Nyrambla through the years
Photo Credit: Lost Brisbane

In its modern existence, the former spy house became a nine-bedroom house with seven bathrooms, six-car garage spaces, two sunrooms, with a living room area on the second floor. It had a separate guest wing as well as an art studio for its last Whatmore descendant, the Daws. 

Nyrambla interior photos
Photo Credits: Lost Brisbane, Ray White Real Estate, Facebook

Despite countless renovations, Nyrambla kept most of its late Victorian features with a hipped corrugated iron roof, iron cresting and finials, and street-facing gable. Each story of the house is featured with a verandah with a metal curved roof in the typical fashion of 19th-century dwellings.

The verandah levels are fortified with timber posts and top rails with cast-iron balusters, whilst tall, vertical arched windows are featured on the right sidewalls. The house itself is an elongated rectangular structure with U-shaped wings on the backside where the kitchen, the breakfast room, and the maid’s quarters are located. 

The long rooms of the main house are divided using folding doors. Six bedrooms and a sitting room fill up the spaces on the second floor, whilst several fireplaces with tiled hearths and marble mantelpieces are found all over the house.

New Owners

The Central Bureau consisting of soldiers from Australia, the USA, Britain, Canada, and New Zealand used Nyrambla until 1945, whilst titles to the property stayed with the Whatmore family. Over seven decades, Nyrambla was called home by many tenants, who were Brisbane VIPs like Jan Powers, Billie Brown, and Blair Edmonds.

A private investor acquired this Ascot historical treasure in May 2021 for nearly $9 million after tight competition among interested buyers. 

Ascot Spy House Sold at Auction for Almost $9 Million

Nyrambla, the historical Ascot spy house, has been sold to an undisclosed owner during a weekend auction for almost $9 million. 

The deal came through after dark in mid-May 2021 with five registered bidders vying for the historical house. However, the vendor bid of $8.5 million wasn’t reached until a local bidder on the phone negotiated on closing the sale.

Someone in the crowd at the front lawn of Nyrambla thought that the house would be easily snapped up for $10 million but a former resident of the Ascot spy house said that it could be challenging to find a builder that will properly maintain the heritage-listed house

Nyrambla Ascot Spy House
Photo Credit: Paz Avalos/Google Maps

In its nearly 100 years of existence, Nyrambla was home to many Brisbane personalities, including famous writer and director Bille Brown, farmer’s market queen Jan Powers, as well as Australian artist Lawrence Daws and his wife Andree.

It was the family of Andree who decided to sell the house following her passing. Andree’s son and Lawrence’s stepson, Rick Roberts, has spent some 20 years rebuilding Nyrambla. Meanwhile, Lawrence has since moved to the south of Adelaide in Port Willunga. 

The new owner of the Ascot spy house is a friend of the Daws family yet they still acknowledged that it was sad to let go of the beautiful and historical house. 

Nyrambla was requisitioned during World War II by General Douglas MacArthur to be used as an intelligence bureau for decoding Japanese radio transmissions. At the house’s garage, members of the Australian Women’s Army Service worked as codebreakers, who were not allowed to discuss their work with anyone, including their families.

Recently, the story of The Garage Girls, as the Nyrambla codebreakers were called, has been turned into a book titled  “The Codebreakers” by Alli Sinclair.    

Nyrambla: Learn the History of the Ascot House Used as a WWII Intelligence Base

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. 

Photo Credit: Paz Avalos/Google Maps

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.

Photo Credit: State Library of Queensland
Photo Credit: State Library of Queensland

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.

Photo Credit: Lost Brisbane/Ray White Real Estate/Facebook

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.

Photo Credit:

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.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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.

Photo Credit: Paz Avalos/Google Maps

Traverse Through Historic Sites at the Ascot and Hamilton Heritage Trail

Whilst real estate prices in Ascot and Hamilton are amongst the highest in Brisbane, most residents don’t know about the diverse and fascinating history of the area. For example the connection of Ascot’s name to the racecourse, the 154-year history of the Hamilton Hotel, the chaos of keeping the Eagle Farm Women’s Prisoners away from the men, the role of Brett’s Wharf in WW2, local resident Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith, the evolution of Racecourse Road and many other fascinating evolutions.

The Ascot and Hamilton Heritage Trail is a 3.5-km walk, including 18 points of interest that help illustrate the development of both Ascot and Hamilton. The trail starts off just outside the Hamilton Hotel and ends at the entrance to the Eagle Farm Racecourse.

Visitors who want to learn more about the stories and events that shaped the history of the area can check out Brisbane City Council’s Gallivant Through Ascot and Hamilton Heritage Trail brochure. The document also includes more information on the location of public transport and access for people with limited mobility. Take note that some sections of the heritage trail are steep and may be difficult for some visitors to access.

Brief History of Ascot

The evolution of Ascot officially started after the establishment of the famous racecourse in 1865 by the Queensland Turf Club. The development made the area more attractive and further helped to define its distinctive character. The land was granted to the club by the Colonial Government in 1863. Subsequently, the first race meeting was held two years later.

The name ‘Ascot’ used to be a reference to the famous English racecourse. As more people visited the racecourse, Ascot became more closely associated with this part of Brisbane. The rail line was then extended from Eagle Junction to Racecourse Station in 1882 and the station later adopted the name Ascot in 1897.  

Ascot and Hamilton Heritage Trail

The Hamilton Hotel

Ascot and Hamilton Heritage Trail Hamilton Hotel
Hamilton Hotel, Hamilton, ca. 1929. (Photo credit: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Negative number: 1902)

Gustavus Hamilton established the hotel in 1865 and named it The Hamilton. The hotel then became a reference point in the district. Not long after, the area around the hotel adopted the name The Hamilton.

Eagle Farm Women’s Prison

At first, female convicts were held in the Female Factory, on the site which is now occupied by the General Post Office on Queen Street.

The factory was surrounded by high stone walls to limit fraternisation with men, but this proved to be ineffective. Authorities then decided to move the female convicts to Eagle Farm, away from the attention of male convicts as well as soldiers, who were forbidden from crossing Breakfast Creek.

The site of the Eagle Farm Women’s Prison was only accessible through the convict-hewn track which is now known as the Kingsford Smith Drive. The women’s prison may no longer be standing today, but it is an important archaeological site located about two kilometres away from Schneider Road.

Brett’s Wharf and the Apollo Barge Assembly Depot

Ascot and Hamilton Heritage Trail Brett's wharves at Hamilton
Brett’s wharves at Hamilton taken about 1953. (Photo credit: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Negative number: 43721)

Did you know that Hamilton, Ascot, and Eagle Farm experienced some of the most intense war-time activity seen in Australia during World War II?

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941, US forces were redirected to Australia. Brett’s Wharf played an important role as the receiving dock for the US Air Force’s unassembled aircraft.

Substation No. 12

Built at a time when electric trams travelled to Hamilton, Substation No. 12 is one of only two substations built in Brisbane that combined the substation functions for both the electricity supply and the tramway system.

The Hamilton substation was the first of this type of installation to be built in Brisbane in 1947. Meanwhile, the other Substation No. 42 on Waterworks Road at Ashgrove, was built in 1948. Such a dual facility was an unusual but efficient use of a site, as it incorporated both types of substations within a single building.

By the 1960s, the Council viewed trams as an inefficient, expensive, and inflexible form of public transport. This lead to the decision to discontinue the service across Brisbane in 1969.

Kingsford Smith Drive

Ascot and Hamilton Heritage Trail Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith
Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith.(Photo credit: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Negative number: 52185)

In 1953, this road was renamed Kingsford Smith Drive in honour of one of Australia’s most important aviators. Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith was born in a house near the corner of Riverview Terrace and Hamilton Road.

Hamilton Town Hall

This structure was built in 1920 as the Hamilton Town Hall and Hamilton Town Council Chambers.Brisbane architect, MT Stanley designed the hall which became the venue for Council business community meetings and social occasions like dances.

After its use as a community hall ended, residents petitioned for it to become the site of a School of the Arts, a move that did quite succeed. Today, it is the site of a public library.

Tivoli Gardens Theatre

Opened in 1907, the Tivoli Gardens was a popular, open-air  Vaudeville theatre in Brisbane and is famous for its Vaudevillian acts. Miss Bella Sutherland, a famous performer on the vaudevillian circuit both in Australia and internationally, established the theatre.

The 1,000-seat, canvas theatre served theatre enthusiasts for eight years. Times changed and with the advent of cinema, the Tivoli Gardens Theatre was converted for use for cinema screenings until it finally closed in 1921.

St Augustine’s Anglican Church

Photo credit:

The brick church was completed in 1920 as St Augustine’s Thank-offering and War Memorial Church.

Queensland artist, William Bustard designed the artistic church windows.He was popular for his work with stained glass. Examples of his works in Brisbane can be seen in St John’s Anglican Cathedral, St Stephen’s Catholic Cathedral, and Brisbane City Hall. The set of windows in St Augustine’s are considered to be the only remaining complete set of Bustard’s windows.

Racecourse Road

Racecourse Road was the direct path from the river to the racecourse.

In the late 1800s, only a few houses dotted between the river and the racecourse. These include residences to two sharebrokers, a cabinet maker, and two horse trainers.

In the early 20th Century, the Racecourse Road quickly evolved into a busy street, lined with more houses, shops, and businesses, with electric trams running back and forth.

Remarkable Historic Homes


Lynford is considered as one of the finest examples of Tudor Revival homes in Brisbane. The stately, heritage-listed residence on Windermere Road is made of brick, stonework, stucco, and timber with a distinctive gabled roofline.

It was designed and built in 1928 by notable architect E.P Trewern. It has been subsequently renovated by Brisbane-based architect Richard Groves to accommodate modern inclusions.


Windermere house at Ascot, Queensland. (Photo credit: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image number: 27279-0001-0001)

The grand residence was built around 1886 for a politician named J.G. Appel. Prominent architect, Richard Gailey designed the Windermere house.

Chateau Nous

Built in 1938, this exceptional example of Functionalist architecture is reminiscent of the glamorous 1930s Hollywood parties. The American-educated Douglas Roberts designed the house, whose simple, geometric style was a far cry from the traditional “timber and tin” residences in vogue at the time.

In what was considered “ultra-modern” at the time, the house had an all-electric kitchen, which was designed in a utilitarian, minimalist manner. Remarkably, it also had an electric dumb-waiter which enabled meals to be delivered to the breakfast room upstairs.

A sizeable air raid shelter was even built in the yard to protect the family from World War II bombing runs.

The original owners left Chateau Nou in the 1960s but it remains a private residence to this day.


Nyrambla epitomises the development of Ascot in the late 1800s when grand residences were built on the apex of the suburb’s hills. The 2-storey residence was designed in 1885 by James Cowlishaw, an early Brisbane architect. 

Owned by bank manager Henry P Abbott, Nyrambla was originally built on 15 acres of land before portions of it were divided off to make up surrounding streets, two of which have been named Henry and Abbott in commemoration. Today, Nyrambla is a private residence.

Tattersalls Lodge

Built in the 1890s, this house was used as accommodations for horse trainers and their families. Before the house was built, it was originally the site of the Tattersalls Stables, which was leased to trainers of prizewinning horses because of its close proximity to the Eagle Farm Racecourse.

At the turn of the 20th century, the house changed hands and became FitzGrafton Lodge, owned by James McGill a respected horse breeder and grazier, who bequeathed it to his son upon his death. McGill Avenue, a road adjacent to the racecourse, was named after this family.

Like Nyramble, Tattersalls Lodge is privately owned.

Hamilton Fire Station

Firefighters posing in their vehicle in front of Hamilton Fire Station. (Photo credit: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image number: 97520)

Most of the housing stock in Brisbane in the late 19th Century consists of timber. As more houses emerged in the developing area, the locality needed a permanent fire station that services Ascot and Hamilton. The Hamilton Fire Station was then built in 1920.

Ascot Railway Station    

Originally called Racecourse Station, the line from Eagle Junction to Ascot Station was opened in 1882. The extension of the line provided race-goers with an efficient way to get to and from the races as the trains exclusively run for race days.

Eagle Farm Racecourse    

Avid race-goers, did you know that the first race meeting was held at the Brisbane Racecourse in 1865? The former Brisbane Racecourse is now popularly known as Eagle Farm Racecourse. Today, Eagle Farm Racecourse remains to be Brisbane’s premier racecourse.

Camp Ascot

Photo Credit: The Queenslander/Wikimedia Commons

As mentioned earlier, Ascot has been extremely active during World War II. In fact, Eagle Farm Racecourse became the first US camp established in Australia.

These historic sites and events have undeniably influenced the suburbs of Ascot and Hamilton. Looking for some things to do in Ascot or Hamilton? Why not go on a historic walk and check out the Ascot and Hamilton Heritage Trail.