LNY 2021 SPOTLIGHT: Kathleen Quan Mane
Kathleen Quan Mane
Kathleen Quan Mane was born in Sydney (1927) to an Australian born Chinese mother and a Cantonese father who arrived in Australia at the beginning of the twentieth century. Kathleen made a name for herself during World War Two, enlisting at the age of eighteen in the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF). She served as a cypher, coding and decoding top secret messages to help coordinate the war effort. Given the secrecy of the work, much of her contribution remained unknown until it was recently declassified.
Her faithful service in the WAAAF was especially striking in light of the fact that the Australian government had refused to grant her father citizenship. Because of his alien status, Kathleen’s mother citizenship was also revoked, and she was required to periodically register with local police. In spite of this prejudice on the part of the government of the day, Mane recalls her military service as a significant time in her life, when she began to see the barriers of separation and discrimination between her and her white Australian colleagues break down, giving way to greater understanding on both sides.
After the war, Quan Mane made an even more extraordinary sacrifice, leaving the country of birth to return to her familial homeland to serve as a humanitarian worker for the United Nations. She would only return to Australia again in 1979, after many years apart from her family.
As with other Chinese background Australians who served in the military, Kathleen’s story reveals the complicated lived experience of people who struggled through moments of great upheaval. Although some fought on the frontlines, others made equally important contributions in their own ways, which have helped build the country we call home.
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