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National Communications Museum Hawthorn, Victoria

The National Communications Museum, previously known as Telstra Museum, showcases Australia's communications history. The collection contains highly significant elements integral to Australia's national story. Be enthralled by displays of Morse equipment and telegraphy, telephones early to modern, public telephones, mobile telephones, interactive working displays including electromechanical and digital telephone exchange equipment, the original Speaking Clocks, operational manual switchboards, and much more.

The collection is distributed across three satellite displays in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. For more information, see our website.

Contact Information

location
PO Box 2415 Hawthorn Victoria 3122
phone
+61 1800 MUSEUM (1800 687 386)

Contact

Opening Hours

Closed for redevelopment. Welcoming visitors from early 2021.

Location

375 Burwood Road Hawthorn Victoria

The collection presents the development of communications in Australia with items that, through their story, represent the interaction of communication technology and the social and political developments throughout the history of Australia. The collection includes material dating from the 1840’s ranging from 19th century telegram boys' bags and horse drawn vehicles, audio visual material, telegraph and telephone equipment, scientific equipment, photographs, books and ephemera.

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7 items

Souvenir cable

National Communications Museum, Hawthorn

A 6 tube copper coaxial cable with lead sheath, quad 20lbs conductor cable (paper insulated), and a presentation metal collar and base. Inscriptions around the top of the metal collar and the base.

Historical information

Construction on the Sydney Melbourne coaxial cable began in 1960 and was one of Australia's biggest and most important telecommunications projects of the 20th century. The laying of a coaxial cable between Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, allowed people to direct dial long distance phone calls (rather than operator assisted), and supported simultaneous television broadcasts for the first time. It was officially opened on 9 April 1962 by the then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies. This souvenir coaxial cable was presented to Mr Roy Kerr on his retirement. Mr Kerr was the Assistant Chief Engineer, Headquarters Customer Networks Branch, Telecom Australia.

Significance

This cable has strong historic significance as part of the historic and technologically important Sydney-Melbourne coaxial cable. The cable represents not only a feat of technology but a shift in social engagement with telecommunication technologies, as it allowed people to direct dial long distance phone calls (rather than operator assisted), and supported simultaneous television broadcasts for the first time; it put the power of connection directly into the hands of the Australian public. This souvenir length of cable is well provenanced, and the details of the cables use and significance is inscribed on the steel casing.

Inscriptions & Markings

"OLYMPIC CABLES PTY. LTD / AUSTRALIA" "6 TUBE COAXIAL CABLE / WITH 32 PAIRS 20LBS/MILE UNARMOURED / SYDNEY MELBOURNE 1960"

Van

National Communications Museum, Hawthorn

Red Volkswagen Kombi van with stencilled gold lettering on doors. Scratches on bumpers indicate duck-egg blue undercoat. Single sliding door on left side of vehicle body with secondary opening at rear with horizontally divided doors. Mirror missing on right front. Western Australia registration sticker in front windscreen.

Historical information

This van was used in Western Australia by linesmen and for mail pickup between 1972 and 1991. When transferred to the collection, it was the very last surviving vehicle of its type owned by the company. Despite its age, the van is in excellent condition having been reconditioned in 1987.

Significance

This Volkswagen Transporter, 2nd generation, is commonly known as a kombi van; named as such after the German word Kombinationskraftwagen, meaning multi-purpose vehicle. This van is believed to have been used by linesmen and for mail collection from 1972 to 1991 in Western Australia, before being donated to the, then, Telstra Collection. Conflicting accounts from John Moynihan, PMG Engineer and author, suggest the van was used by cable jointers from the 1960s. Owing to this unclear use, the van’s historical significance is low though provenance from the Postmaster General’s Department to Telecom, then Telstra, is established. In 1987, the vehicle was extensively reconditioned and some original parts were presumably replaced. It is not, however, in working order or in good condition; the body carries several areas of rust, rubber seals have suffered plasticiser migration, a mirror is missing and there are marks from use. The hand lettered “P.M.G.” inscription is indicative of a Postmaster General fleet vehicle, as is the red colour of the vehicle paint. Though it is in poor condition, the van’s aesthetic style is of some significance. The van is representative of the type of Volkswagen vehicle used by the Postmaster General’s Department and other private businesses and government branches of the era. The vehicle may, therefore, carry social significance for those that lived in this era, where their communication service provider travelled in a Volkswagen van. Indeed, Volkswagen vans were used into the Telecom era, as evidenced by an image (6681153) in the National Archives of Australia collection. While many of these vehicles may exist today, there are few to no examples which survive in museum collections. In 1966, the Post Office (Postmaster General’s Department) had the largest fleet in Australia, totalling nearly 11,000 vehicles (The Canberra Times, 29 September 1966, p. 34). Though in the late 1960s Volkswagen vehicles accounted for just over 500 of these vehicles, with the remainder represented by Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, and others, the multi-purpose nature of the van is significant as a metaphor for the multi-directional services of the Postmaster General’s Department. Archival images show a variety of models and adaptations including roof racks, bull bar and door configurations. Its conflicted history of use may in fact attest to the vehicles variety of application in the duties of the Postmaster General‘s Department.

Inscriptions & Markings

.1: "PMG" .2: "ROYAL" .3-.4 "PMG" .5-.6: "MAIL" .7,.8: "ER" .9: "C OF A / ZEH 622"

Honour board - Roll of Honour 1914 - 1918

National Communications Museum, Hawthorn

Handpainted paper on linen honour board, perspex glazed with a wooden frame.

Historical information

This honour board commemorates Victorian Postmaster General's Department workers who served in the First World War. A total of 3,726 employees of the Postmaster General's Department enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force during the First World War. This represented about one in every five of the total number of men employed by the Department. Many other employees volunteered, but were rejected for health or other reasons, whilst men in key positions could not be spared. This board was displayed at the Spirit of ANZAC Centenary Experience, Melbourne, in February 2016.

Significance

This honour board was produced by the Postmaster-General's Department and passed through its successor entities until donation to the National Communications Museum in 2018. Its provenance is further supported by the supplementary photograph (VH256) held by the Museum which shows the board in production. The board provides a comprehensive list of the names of Postmaster-General staff across various departments, constituting an important resource for genealogical or social history researchers and a focal point for remembrance by fellow communications workers. The style of the board itself is rare, as it was an unusual practice for honour boards to be hand-lettered on paper.

Inscriptions & Markings

"POSTMASTER GENERAL'S DEPARTMENT / VICTORIA" "ROLL OF HONOR / 1914 1918" "FOR / GOD / KING / AND / EMPIRE"|Headings that precede list of names: "CORRESPONDENCE / BRANCH" "CENTRAL EXCHE" "SUBURBAN AND COUNTRY / POST OFFICES" "TELEGRAPH / BRANCH" "ELECTRICAL ENGINEER'S BCH" "MAIL / BRANCH"

Morse Inker Tape

National Communications Museum, Hawthorn

Small wooden case (.1) holding a length of morse tape (.2) which was the first telegram ever sent in Western Australia . Wound onto a mother of pearl reel (.3). Accompanying signs and decoded message (.4,.5).

Historical information

This tape is from the first telegram ever sent in Western Australia. This important event occurred on 21 June 1869. At this time the transmitted message was received on paper tape and later transcribed onto a telegram form for delivery. The original tape was presented to the Honourable Frederick Palgrave Barlee, Colonial Secretary of Western Australia, as a souvenir. "FPB" appears on an engraved shield on the lid. James Coats Fleming, the first telegraphist and later Superintendent of Telegraphs, sent the telegram. During 1875, Colonial Secretary Barlee transferred from Perth to Belize and then to Trinidad where he died in 1884. The fate of the case and spool, souvenir of that first telegram, was unknown. In July 1940, the WA Agent-General in London advised the Premier's Department in Western Australia that a Mrs EW Hillyer of Hertfordshire had the spool and case and was willing to sell it for ten guineas ($21). The Postmaster General's Department agree to the purchase and it duly arrived by registered mail. As a communications museum was planned in Melbourne, it was sent there to be included in the collection. Nothing more was heard until early 1980s when the relic arrived at the Post and Telecommunication museum in Perth. The case had been found in an old Melbourne strongroom where it had apparently been placed for safe-keeping and then forgotten. Initial attempts to decode the message on the tape were unsuccessful. Eventually, it was discovered that the Western Australian Telegraph Company, responsible for that first transmission, had devised its own code. A copy was obtained from the Battye Library and the message deciphered.

Significance

This Morse tape is of historic significance as the first telegram ever sent in Western Australia. The occasion was momentous as the transition point between isolation and ease of connection for business and personal communications. The case is of aesthetic interest for the craftsmanship involved in the engraved text. Further, the tape has research potential owing to the unique information contained within this tape; that is, the code of the Western Australian Telegraph Company. This tape, may in turn be used to decode further messages sent by the Western Australian Telegraph Company. As the first telegraph message sent in Western Australia, this tape is rare. Despite a tumultuous journey from 1869 to the early 1980s, the tape's ceremonial wooden case provides provenance information which supports the tape's historic importance.

Inscriptions & Markings

.1 engraved on a metal shield shaped plaque on the lid: "WESTERN AUSTRALIAN / TELEGRAPHS / FPB" Inside: 'TRANSLATION OF REGISTER / TO THE CHAIRMAN OF FREMANTLE TOWN TRUST / His Excellency Colonel Bruce heartily congratulates the / inhabitants of Fremantle on this annihilation of distance / between the Port and the Capital, and he requests that this, / the first message, may be made publicly known. / GOVERNMENT HOUSE, / PERTH, June 21, 1869 / Transmitted 11 am / J.C.F."|.2: "Instrument Register / of the First / Telegraphic Message / in / Western Australia"|.3: "The first Telegraph Pole / in / WESTERN AUSTRALIA / was erected by / The Hon. Frederick P. Barlee / Colonial Secretary / on 19th Febr. 1869"

Mobile Telephone Exchange

National Communications Museum, Hawthorn

Mobile emergency exchange housed in a caravan trailer on 2 wheel base, duralin body, steel tow bar, Caravan divided into 3 sections; the exchange room; the relay room and the main frame room. The exchange room contains 3 switchboards, a folding table, cupboards, benches and switch rack (.1). table (.2), steel bar for attaching the table (.3), back boards of switchboards (.4-.6), switches (.7-.16), box of switches (.17). There is a wall phone magneto, 300 type handset on wall and 2 skylights with wire screens. .11? hat pegs and shelf; there are 2 fluorescent tubes for lighting, all in exchange section. The floor is covered with 2 tone grey tiles and there are wire mesh on outside of windows and a geometric curtain inside behind switch rack. There is a flywire screen door as well as exterior door. The relay room has a sectioned door so half can open at a time. Room contains a cupboard with folding bench top beneath a curtained window. The opposite wall has a bank of batteries and transmission condensers; there is a shelf above window, one fluorescent tube and fuse boxes. Tiles on floor also. The main frame room contains many metres of coiled black covered cable, a black covered magneto wall telephone with 300 type handset; grey plastic jumper cords, a rack of termination points and wire with wasp nests attached. There is a small iron step under door, a fluorescent tube on wall and 3 hat hooks. Roll of Paper Handtowels (.18), cord and handle (.19), red exchange cords and plugs (.20-.22), plastic aluminium runners (.23,.24), headset (.25,.26), logbook (.27), battery readings (.28), box containing papers circuit drawings etc (.29-.93), paper lists off wall (.94,.95). Books, record books etc (.96-.103). Manila folder (.104) containing circuit drawings (105-.124). Wooden drawer (.125), metal drawer containing subscribers master cards, record of faults cards, particular switchboards connected, Junction line cards (.126). Box of valves (.127), box of clamps (.128). Box of 2000 type rack fuses, red 1 1/2 AMPS, black 3 AMP, blue 1/2 AMP (.129). Box of sleeves for covering wire joints (.130), plastic beakers (.131,.132), soap (.133), box of white plastic squares (.134), time switch "Venner BF/43 time switch" Made in England (.135), box of bolts, knobs etc (.136), box of switchboard number indicators (.137), fuse (.138), fuse wire (.139), football card (.140). Box of cartridge fuse 6 AMP (.141). Envelope of drawing pins, rubber bands (.142), black plastic, paper tape centres (.143-.152), metal plug (.153), 2 signs "Beware of vehicles" (.154-.155). Paper listing Naringal East automatic conversion (.156). Green Commonwealth of Australia note pad (.157). Wiring plug for tail lights (.158). Black fuse plugs (.159,.160). Box of bolts (.161). 2 sections of blue plastic coated wires (.162,.163). Gloves used for working on batteries (.164-.167). Wasp nests (.168,.169). White fuse (.170). Photographs of van in use (.171,.172).

Historical information

Manufactured in the 1960s, this mobile emergency telephone exchange was fitted into a caravan. Part of the Shepparton Division State Disaster Plan, the caravan could be towed to areas affected by disasters to enable communications to recommence. The caravan remained in service until approximately 1974.

Significance

Mobile infrastructure plays an important role in Australian communications, owing to the often remote and hostile environments in which Australians live and work. Exchanges such as this facilitated phone calls in the aftermath of an emergency, particularly for hospitals, police and other emergency services. Today, Mobile Exchange on Wheels (MEOWs), Cell on Wheels (CoW) and Satellite Cell on Wheels (SatCOW) - which provide temporary landline and broadband services, mobile phone coverage and service in areas without communications infrastructure respectively - are a critical part of emergency response procedures for natural disasters such as fire and flood. Though technology has progressed, the need for rapid service in remote areas remains a present concern of the communications service providers in Australia. This mobile service infrastructure is historically significant as an early example of a service which has evolved over decades, yet is still needed today. The exchange, as a representative example of a vehicle which would provide early-response in a disaster, is socially significant as a facilitator of critical communications needs in devastated communities: access to emergency services and contact with family and friends. The exchange itself, intact from its period of use, provides an insight into technology of the 1970s.

Inscriptions & Markings

.1 on front: "ANOTHER / MOBILETRAIL / PRODUCT" "MAX SPEED / 25MPH" "TRAILER BRAKES / --- / " On sides: "EMERGENCY TELEPHONE EXCHANGE" "NO 1" "PMG" "TCQ / GROSS 250 / TARE 182 / LOAD 162" "6" "COUNTRY BRANCH / NORTH REGION / [SHEPPARTON DIVISION]" "LAW'S SIGNS" "Telecom Australia" On back: "DANGER / LONG LOAD" "MQA 3787" .133: "FIR OIL" "AUSTRALIA"

Telegram

National Communications Museum, Hawthorn

Beige paper telegram printed with black ink and overwritten with typewriter. Telegram split into sections designating details of the telegram, details of the recipient and a space for the transmitted message. A small section of paper is missing from bottom left corner.

Historical information

This telegram was sent from the Royal Netherlands Airways, Sydney, to the manager of ABC Radio Station 2CO, Corowa, New South Wales. This telegram relates to the 1934 London to Melbourne Air Race. The telegram records the Royal Netherlands Airways' thanks to ABC Radio 2CO radio staff for their efforts in broadcasting an emergency message to the residents of Albury after the Dutch airliner ‘Uiver’ became lost at night in bad weather. As requested local radio listeners drove their cars to the Albury racecourse and illuminated an emergency landing ground using their vehicle headlights. This allowed the lost airliner to land safely.

Significance

This item relates to the London to Melbourne Air Race of 1934, a significant event that shaped Australia's history as it proved travelling to and from Australia could be done within a reasonable time by air, thereby making the country less isolated. Up to that time Australia was three weeks away from Europe by steam ship. The Air Race was dreamt up by the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Harold Smith, to commemorate the centenary of Victoria's statehood and was sponsored by the Melbourne chocolate manufacturer Sir MacPherson Robertson. The Royal Netherlands Airways entered a Douglas DC2 plane 'Uiver' - the largest aircraft in the race, and the only one to carry passengers as well as crew, to show that a commercial passenger service to Australia was possible. But in the last leg of the race, the Uiver lost its way in an electrical storm over the Riverina town of Albury. Several communication methods were used to land the plane safely, including the signalling of the word "Albury" in Morse code using the town's street lights. Local ABC Radio station 2CO also made a call for locals to light up a makeshift landing strip for the plane at the town's racecourse. The plane landed safely and the next morning with the help of the townspeople who pulled it out of the mud, took off and finished the race in second place. The story of the Uiver points to the importance of communication in its various forms: two-way and broadcast radio, Morse, and light signals. The survival of the Uiver is a reflection of the ingenuity of Australian communications and the solutions that can be found through the sharing of ideas of information. The landing of the Uiver was an important moment in Albury's social history, as residents participated in the rescue of the plane and its passengers, helping the Uiver to continue on its journey and finish second in the Race. When the Uiver crashed in the Syrian Desert in December 1934, Albury residents contributed to a memorial which honoured those who were killed.

Inscriptions & Markings

"Extend to you my warmest appreciation for your most valuable / assistance rendered to Netherlands machine by continuously keeping your / wireless organisation available during a period of extremely difficult / air navigation stop I assure you that in Holland and in Java your action / is most deeply appreciated Bakker chief representative in Australia for / Royal Netherlands airways. / 6 18pm"

Thomas Telephone

National Communications Museum, Hawthorn

Stained wooden rectangular box containing mechanism with circular turned section at one end being the receiver and transmitter. There are 3 metal screws at the rear and a leather strap running from one of these to the transmitter/receiver. A label is on the base.

Historical information

William Jackson Thomas is credited with making the first ever telephone call in Victoria. Thomas was a customs inspector at the Geelong Customs House and a keen amateur scientist, astronomer and woodworker. He experimented with electricity and induction to develop his own telephone soon after its invention by Alexander Graham Bell. He built most of the experimental telephone equipment himself – right down to the screws. According to the Geelong Advertiser, on 27 December 1877, Thomas held a telephone conversation with friends in a summer house 40 metres away.

Significance

This instrument is of great historic significance as the instrument which made Australia's first telephone call in 1877, between two houses in Geelong. Although predated by Alexander Graham Bell's invention, this instrument is an example of Australian innovation and design; characteristic of Australian communications history. The instrument has excellent provenance, carrying a descriptive plaque about the use of the item. As an early prototype of a telephone, it is an incredibly rare example of communications technology.

Inscriptions & Markings

On label: "First telephone made in / Victoria 1878 / Used experimentally between / Geelong and Ballarat and Geelong Queenscliff. / Maker WJ Thomas Esq. / Late H.M. Customs Geelong / Certified by A.C. Thomas For the above W.J.T."