Renowned historian Geoffrey Blainey was part of a group of boys who swapped lessons for digging air raid trenches in the grounds of Ballarat High School when authorities feared Australia could come under direct attack.
It was in the months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour, and the days after the fall of Singapore and bombing of Darwin in February 1942, that Mr Blainey and other young students played their part in the war effort.
"I suppose it was around that time when they thought there was some chance of Australia being invaded or bombed that we were told to bring a shovel or pick to school and dig air raid trenches in the ground," he said.
It was very easy to get a job in the war so on a Saturday, although I was very young, I worked all day with a fruiterer who had a van that went house to house selling fruit and vegetables.Professor Geoffrey Blainey
"Instead of having school lessons for a week we dug the zig-zag trenches. The boys who were fit, we quite enjoyed it of course but at the end of the week we had to go back to class. In the end Ballarat wasn't bombed but we thought it was exciting to be useful in the war effort."
The trenches were about 5ft deep, "high enough that when you were at the bottom of the trench digging that with the earth piled up you couldn't see out of it," and during winter they filled with water.
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of WWII and Prof Blainey will share this and other memories of Ballarat during the war years as part of the Ballarat Historical Society's third-annual Nathan Spielvogel Oration.
During his oration at the Ballaarat Mechanics Institute on Wednesday, Prof Blainey will explore the impact of WWII on local communities such as Ballarat.
Prof Blainey moved to Ballarat in 1941, aged 11, when his minister father took over the Burnbank Street Methodist Church.
He remembers when US soldiers were billeted to families in Ballarat.
"They had not gone to war but had arrived by ship in Port Melbourne and there wasn't sufficient accommodation in Melbourne, so they sent a lot of them to Ballarat where they were billeted in people's homes," he said.
During the war the government urged families to grow as much of their own food as possible, not just for self sufficiency but to limit the amount of fuel used in delivery vehicles and maximise the amount used in the war effort.
Not only did the young Geoffrey grow pumpkins in the family's backyard, he bought himself chickens to raise and sell the eggs.
"The government urged us to grow our own food and I kept chooks and sold the eggs. I bought the chooks near the Eureka Stockade and carried them home on my bike. They were in a hessian bag on my back. I sold the eggs to my mother, and if there were any surplus, to the neighbours."
The war years also meant that, even as an 11-year-old, Professor Blainey got himself a job to help out his family.
"It was very easy to get a job in the war so on a Saturday, although I was very young, I worked all day with a fruiterer who had a van that went house to house selling fruit and vegetables.
"He had scales in the back and would weigh the fruit and vegetables and put them in a basket, and I would take it to the back door or put the fruit and vegetables on the kitchen table and they would pay me, and I would ride to the next house and wait for him to come out and do the order," he said.
It was during this job that he actually met Nathan Spielvogel, after whom the oration he is delivering was named.
Mr Spielvogel was a principal at Dana Street Primary School, president of the Ballarat Historical Society for more than 30 years, president of the Ballaarat Mechanics' Institute and many other local institutions.
"I remember Nathan Spielvogel,. Every Saturday morning I delivered fruit and veggies to his back door and put them in his laundry," he said.
During the speech Prof Blainey will also discuss the phases of the war, the political instability in Canberra from 1940-1942 and Ballarat's special interest in federal leaders: prime minister Robert Menzies went to school in Ballarat and his mother was from Creswick, and prime minister John Curtin was a Creswick boy.
Ballarat Historical Society's Nathan Spielvogel oration is on Wednesday May 15 at 7.30pm in the Minerva Space at the Ballaarat Mechanics Institute and is open to the public.
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