In an astonishingly short period in September 1939, while on a brief visit from England, F.P. Bowden (FRS 1948) conceived the need, and obtained the approval of the Australian Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), to establish a wartime friction and bearings research laboratory within the University of Melbourne. He recruited a galaxy of young talent, which during the following six years made major contributions to four very diverse defence-related problems. The infant laboratory survived the peace and eventually evolved into the internationally admired Division of Tribophysics. Many of the original members of the group went on to distinguished careers in Australia, the UK and elsewhere. The story of the exciting early days of the laboratory and the subsequent achievements of its staff are briefly described.