Telegraph and Telephone and ISPs

Click here for a full telegraph/telephone/telex timeline in Australia and worldwide.

  1. The First Local Telegraph
    In 1854 the first Morse Code telegraph line was laid from Melbourne city to Williamstown. This was followed in South Australia with a line from Port Adelaide to Adelaide city in 1856. The first links between Melbourne to Adelaide and then Melbourne to Sydney were activated in 1858. Queensland’s first telegraph line was introduced in 1861 and connected to Sydney in the same year. At this time any messages crossing colonial borders were transcribed onto paper by an operator, transported across the border and then retransmitted. By 1861 there were 110 telegraph stations spread across the eastern colonies, using "inkers" and "sounders" and Wheatstone ABC "dials" for those unfamiliar with Morse code. Banks employed password codes for Telegraphic Transfers (TT).
  2. The First Overseas Telegraph
    In November 1871 came the first overseas telegraph cable from London to Adelaide via Singapore, a submarine telegraph built by the British Australian Telegraph Company, founded by John Pender.

    The Argus newspaper in Melbourne formed an association with The Sydney Morning Herald, contracting with the Reuters news agency in London for the regular transmission of news to Australia. This group successfully lobbied the Government of Victoria to pass the first copyright legislation of its kind in the world in 1871, protecting news material transmitted electronically for 24 hours from its first publication. In 1885, the two papers were joined by The Age in Melbourne, merging in 1895 into the Australian Press Association.

  3. The First Long Distance Telephone Call
    In 1877, Alfred Barratt Biggs (1825-1900), telephoner and astronomer, is credited with making the first long distance telephone call in Australia between Campbell Town and Launceston Tasmania, an 80 kilometre distance.
    In Brisbane in January 1878, Dr Severn successfully experimented with telephones over a mile of telegraph wire beginning at the Electric Telegraph Office at the Brisbane GPO.
  4. In 1880 first telephone lines built, and switchboard exchanges (requiring switchboard operators) opened in capital cities and large towns Australia-wide with many lines privately owned.

    In Brisbane the first telephone exchanges employed message boys to operate the equipment, however, the boys quickly earned a reputation as inefficient, unruly and impertinent, and in an effort to improve customer service these first operators were replaced by women specifically employed for the job. In 1889 positions were advertised for thirteen telephone exchange switch-board assistants, at a salary of 10 shillings per week, 1671 young women applied.
    Click here for some photos of the Brisbane GPO telephone exchange.

    By 1900, 30,000 telephone services were operating in Australia.

  5. On Federation in 1901, the Post Master General’s Department (PMG) was created to run Australia’s post and telecommunication services (Australian Post Office - APO). For most of the 20th century, the Australian telephone network was highly regulated and government owned. With limited exceptions e.g. the various State railways, telephone instruments were owned by the PMG/APO and rented to subscribers. It wasn't until the 1980s that restrictions eased and privately owned telephones appeared in any numbers.
  6. In 1902, an alternative telegraph route to the UK (and more economical) built from the Pacific Cable Station in Southport via Norfolk Island and Fiji and Fanning Island (part of Kiribati) to Vancouver Island, just off the mainland at Canada, linking to the UK and also to the US.
  7. In 1909 the wireless company AWA Ltd formed in Sydney, becomes Australia's largest electronics and broadcasting organization.
  8. In 1911 a competitor to the Australian Press Association and Reuters' foreign newswire service was established. Called the United Cable Service, it initially served The Sun in Sydney and The Herald in Melbourne, and drew on the prestigious London paper The Times.
  9. In 1912 the first automatic public telephone exchange opens in Geelong Victoria. In 1915 Sydney follows, then in 1925 South Brisbane.
  10. In 1922 the Sydney-Brisbane telephone trunk line opens following the introduction of thermionic repeaters. These repeaters effected an enormous saving in copper by enabling a lighter wire to be used.

    Click here for more on the invention of the vacuum tube.

  11. In 1924 Marconi successfully telephones Australia from England on short-wave radio equipment and within six months of its establishment, the British GPO's system of short-wave stations using Marconi's technology had taken 65 percent of the Eastern Telegraph group's business at a fraction of its cost.

    That same year, Radio Stations (having "A" class and "B" class licenses) provide the means for government-owned and business-owned radio stations to seriously get under way in Sydney and Melbourne. They are followed by Brisbane and the Darling Downs in 1925.

  12. Also in 1925, three channels named as the "carrier wave" system, installed between Melbourne and Sydney, "enabling six separate conversations to be carried on between six different sets of people at one and the same time over the same wire". .
  13. In 1929 Cable & Wireless formed as a merged holding company, owned 43.75 percent by Marconi's private shareholders and 56.25 percent by the Eastern Telegraph group.
  14. In 1930 Australia permanently linked to UK by wireless telephone, following many months of engineer testing by the British and Australian post offices, and AWA.
  15. In 1933 private wire teleprinters (eg Test Cricket Newswire in 1936-37) made accessible on the Telegraph network. Teletype TTY utilized a **5 pulse Baudot Code character of marks and spaces combined with a typewriter-like keyboard and paper tape transmission. Released in New York by New Zealander Donald Murray in 1901 with Murray teleprinters employed at the PMG Postmaster General's Department after 1922.

    ** Called "bits" (binary digits) after 1948

  16. In 1935, Keith Murdoch (father of Rupert Murdoch) brokered a merger between the two foreign newswire competitors to cut down costs. It established the Australian Associated Press in Sydney as a not-for-profit cooperative with 14 newspaper shareholders. The AAP had an initial staff of 12, with a London and New York bureau.
  17. In 1946 after WW2, the Overseas Telecommunications Commission OTC is formed by the Commonwealth Government to oversee all overseas telecommunications services, inheriting its facilities and resources from AWA and Cable & Wireless.
  18. In 1954 Telex Australia's teleprinter exchange (over telephone lines) opens in Melbourne and Sydney with 80 customers, using the manual PMG exchange until 1959. Every subscriber had a unique five-digit number preceded by a two-letter country code, Australia was ‘AA’.

    PMG Morse Code Telegraph services wind down, with its last telegram in Sydney sent December 13 1962. Last Letter-gram 1993.

  19. In December 1963 COMPAC connects Australia by telephone to Canada, and thus to the UK and Europe, via New Zealand and Honolulu. At the time it provided 80 two-way speech channels or 1,760 teleprinter circuits, as well as telegraph traffic, leased circuits for airlines, shipping companies and other commercial transmission.

    Click here for a recent article, published by Telstra.

  20. Back to 1966. Telex was fully automated, linking to 100 overseas countries with about 4000 customers throughout Australia. It remained in use in Australia until the 1980s, when it was replaced by computer networks, fax, and email.
  21. In 1971 Subscriber Trunk Dialling (STD) area codes based on "Crossbar" switching, first installed in Toowoomba in 1960. Followed by international subscriber dialling (ISD) in 1976 with ISD installed throughout Australia by the end of the decade.
  22. In 1975 Telecom Australia created – the telephone division of the PMG with postal services split off into Australia Post.
  23. In January 1981 Rupert Murdoch purchases The Times (and Sunday Times) Newspapers in London.
  24. The First Internet Connection
    AARNet founded. On June 23 1989 at 56kbps the first TCP/IP (Internet) connection was opened by Dr Troben Nielsen at the University of Hawaii and Robert Elz at the University of Melbourne. The subject line of the first message into Australia was “Link Up”.
  25. In 1991 Optus formed as a private company in Australia by Cable & Wireless along with other companies, becoming a second telecommunications company to provide competition to Telecom Australia in wireless and landline services.
  26. In 1993 OTC Overseas Telecommunications Commission merges with Telecom Australia, forming Telstra.

    That same year, IANA Internet Assigned Numbers Authority issues the Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC) with an initial 4 million IP addresses to allow it to become a regional IP address registry, using volunteer labour and donated facilities from a number of countries. Initially based in Tokyo.

  27. In 1997-1998 APNIC shifted from Tokyo to Brisbane. The four major Internet Service Provider (ISP) members are Telstra (since 1996), Optus (since 1998), (since 1992), and Ozemail (which made its mark with Malcolm Turnbull as chairman 1994-1999).

    In 1999 was purchased in full by AAPT Australian Associated Press Telecommunications – owned by News Limited and John Fairfax, who sold it in 2000 to Telecom New Zealand.

  28. In 2005 Ozemail purchased by iiNet in Perth.
  29. In 2010 Telecom New Zealand sold AAPT's consumer business to iiNet.
  30. In May 2011 the ISP stats showed Telstra 4 million, Optus 2¼ million, iiNet 650,000, TPG 535,000, while in other stats, from Dec 2009 Vodafone had 318,000, Dodo 240,000, iPrimus 227,000.
  31. In 2013 TPG Telecom purchased AAPT as its wholesale and networks division.
  32. In 2015 TPG Telecom purchased iiNet.
  33. In 2020 TPG merged its resources with Vodafone Hutchison Australia (VHA).
  34. In June 2021 Australia stats showed 8 million households on fixed-line broadband, 5 million users on mobile broadband (with SIM cards in their modems, laptops and tablets), and 27 million users on mobile phones / smartphones.
  35. In December 2023 NBN stats showed Telstra 3.55 million, TPG 1.85 million, Optus 1.1 million, Vocus (Dodo,iPrimus) 740,000, Aussie Broadband 720,000, Others 810,000.

** End of article