The Australian Post Office

In 1901 the various British colonies in Australia were federated into the Commonwealth of Australia. A number of new Federal Government Departments were formed to take over responsibility for national issues. One such was the Postmaster General's Department, which was given responsibility for telephones, telegraphs, and mail. Its commercial body was the Australian Post Office, although this name was not widely adopted before the 1950s.

They took over a wide range of telephones from the various State administrations and set about rationalising them to gain the benefits of bigger supply contracts and simplified spare parts and maintenance. By about 1914 the range had been reduced to the point that a list of the remaining "standard" phones could now be issued. Each phone was assigned a Tele number.


Left: Gustav Kopsch, first Chief Mechanic of the PMG Department.





Left: Telephone Workshops, Sydney , 1912





After World War 1, the APO examined the range of phones they had and started looking for economies and updates. They had already decided on the British Ericsson N2500 to replace the Commonwealth Ericsson wall phone. The "tin box" desk phones showed promise and were briefly used, but they were soon replaced by the new bakelite phones. The BPO trialled a model and the APO soon adopted it as well. They also tried to encourage local manufacture of phones. The Australian telephone industry got off to a rather shaky start, but local companies Western Electric, AWA and later STC and TMC soon picked up on the technology and were able to produce many parts locally. In return, the PMG Workshops cooperated closely with them and shared development of new technologies. The APO increasingly awarded contracts to the local firms.

The numbering system for telephone models was changed in the 1930s when the first bakelite phones were introduced. The British had designated their first phones the 100 Series, and this was also adopted in Australia. A similar pattern was being adopted overseas , and this was to later cause some confusion in the Australian series among collectors. In times of emergency and short supply, phones were sourced from the United States to meet demand. Their U.S. series numbers have sometimes been incorrectly substituted as Australian series numbers.

The APO continued to encourage local manufacture, and allocated contracts on a limited competition basis to achieve this. Contracts were awarded to AWA, STC, TMC and Ericssons in large amounts to build up and preserve Australian expertise and capacity. This policy worked, and gradually the APO was able to help develop a large Australian manufacturing industry.

Following World War 2 the Post Office found itself in trouble. The telephone system, ignored during the war years, was not coping with post-War expansion. In 1950 there were just over a million telephones, but by 1963 this number had more than doubled. And this did not count the unhappy people still waiting for phones. Of Australia's 7000 telephone exchanges, 5000 were magneto or CB manual exchanges. STD and international direct dialling were still just a dream. A far-sighted national upgrade plan was worked out, involving Transmission, Switching, National Numbering, and Call Charging. The plan had to be farsighted because a lot of the technology that would be necessary simply hadn't been invented yet.

The most immediate changes were the introduction of 6 or 7-digit telephone numbers and the development of a new telephone, the 800 series. Crossbar switching became the new standard. As time passed, optical fibre was trialled and introduced. Solar power and radio were developed and brought into the customer network. They were combined into the solar-powered Digital Radio Concentrator System for remote areas. STD and ISD became progressively available as the bigger exchanges were automated.

The Australian telephone Series numbers followed the British series numbers fairly closely, but in 1960s the two parted company. Australia skipped the British 700 series completely (although some were imported for use on PAXs) and went to the locally-developed 800 series.

In 1975, to continue to meet post-World War 2 development, the telephone division was split off into a new operation called Telecom Australia. For the first time the telephone branch could manage its own money, raise its own capital, and (for a while) keep its own profits and reinvest them back into the network.







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