Australia - International - AWA.
Coastal Radio Service - main page.

This page address facilitates access to information about the AWA operation of the Coastal Radio Telegraphy stations. The terms "Radio telegraphy" and "Wireless telegraphy" are synonymous. They describe the transmission of text messages by radio waves.

Click on the appropriate link to access the required information:

  1. The beginning of Australia's Coastal Radio/Wireless telegraphy service;
  2. The start of construction;
  3. Australian Governments 1913 position on Radio-telegraphy (so good!!).
  4. Management issues and changes in the Coastal Radio service;
  5. The Coastal Radio Stations;
  6. Operational details - including T.A.A.;
  7. The AWA Telegraph forms.
    Radiogram forms: Transmission and Delivery;
    Beam Wireless forms: Delivery.


1. The beginning of Australia's Coastal Radio /Wireless telegraphy service.

As with any new invention, a great skepticism is often expressed. Sometimes these expressions are justified and other times they are proved to be unfounded. One such advance was the development of and the subsequent introduction of wireless telegraphy to Australia.

In June 1907, the Report of a Conference submitted its Report to the Senate of the Parliament of Australia on the reasons as to why Australia should adopt Wireless Telegraphy and where and when the stations to form that network should be established. The Report is included elsewhere.

Soon after, the Commonwealth announced the establishment of a wireless telegraph network as follows:

"A large sum of money was included in the estimates this year for the establishment of wireless telegraphy in the Commonwealth. For some weeks past, the Chief Electrical Engineer (Mr. Hesketh) has been engaged in preparing specifications for installations. These are now complete and the Postmaster-General is in a position to call for tenders for the installation of wireless telegraphy apparatus between Papua and the mainland and at Fremantle.

It is acknowledged by telegraphic experts that wireless telegraphy has not yet reached such a stage of development that it can commercially compete with the submarine cable. For defence purposes, however, it is of great value and the Postal Department is at present in communication with the Minister for Defence (Mr Ewing) regarding the matter. It is felt by the postal authorities that, since there can be no prospect of wireless telegraphy being a profitable undertaking, it would not be fair to charge their department with the whole cost either of maintenance or construction.

Since the chief value of the installations will be for defence, it is of course urgently necessary that the stations should be placed where they can be adequately protected. It would be folly to erect and equip stations in Papua and the north of Queensland if they were to be liable to seizure by an enemy at the first outbreak of war. The Defence Department will, therefore, have to provide for the protection of the wireless stations all over the Commonwealth.

It was at first suggested that a station should be erected at Rottnest Island so that incoming mail steamers might notify their approach and send other useful information while still hundreds of miles out in the Indian Ocean. That would necessitate another station on land to convey the messages from Rottnest Island and the postal authorities have decided that, as far as they are concerned, the western station will be at Fremantle.

It was also proposed to establish wireless communication between Tasmania and the mainland. If, however, such an installation is to be supplementary to the cable service, it would be useless to the department and of very little use for defence. The department will accordingly invite tenders for a commercial service, which will have to be capable of transmitting the heavy business between Tasmania and the mainland. If that cannot be supplied, no installation will be made there.

The intentions of the Government are not definitely known on this subject but it is understood that the expert advisers of the Postmaster-General are entirely opposed to that department spending any money on wireless installations which can be little more than experimental. They point out that the telephone services, the main telegraph lines and postal facilities generally are all in need of improvement and multiplication. While money is needed for such useful works, they are averse to spending it on such a 'fancy' work as wireless telegraphy which can be neither useful nor profitable.

Nevertheless, tenders are to be invited and the Postmaster-General will then be able to see what the various 'wireless' companies have to offer, and how much the installations are likely to cost. On the result of these tenders future action on the matter will be based".

For some the introduction of wireless telegraphy was welcomed with great enthusiasm. The Geraldton Guardian of 15 February 1908 expressed this welcome on behalf of thousands who had very special and important vested interests contemporaneously with the above reservations:


The wreck of the s.s. Windsor has pointedly drawn attention to the need of a lighthouse on the Abrolhos IslandsAbout 80 kms west of Geraldton, WA. and the equally urgent necessity for a survey of the coast ... In navigating the coast from Geraldton northwards, master mariners go on the broad principle that the only safety lies in keeping well out to sea. This policy necessitates considerable waste of time and money in unnecessary mileage travelled ...

The coast from Albany to Fremantle is splendidly lighted with first-class lighthouses which will bear comparison with any in the world. But north of Fremantle, there is a light on Leander Point, near the mouth of the Irwin River; one at Geraldton; and there are also lights at the mouth of the Murchison River; at Peron Peninsula in Sharks Bay; Onslow, Port Hedland, Cossack, Derby, Broome and Wyndham. Of these ten lights, no less than seven are "port lights" — placed to indicate the entrance to a port—leaving three lights only to guard the dangerous spots of the coast line from Fremantle to Wyndham - 2,040 miles in length. This gives the liberal allowance of one light to each seven hundred miles of coast ...

The most dangerous spot of all is the Abrolhos which can, with perfect truth, be described as a marine graveyard ... The Batavia, Zuytdorp, Zeewyck and Windsor have all left their bones in this marine graveyard. Two lighthouses are urgently required, one at the north and one at the south end. Each should be equipped with a rocket apparatus.

Moreover, this is pre-eminently a station where wireless telegraphy should be established. In foggy weather a light may be invisible, but nothing can block the electric wave which ticks out the warning message. When the Abrolhos Islands are thus equipped, they will cease to be the danger to navigation they now are. If this is not done, as the trade of the north increases, more brave men will go to their doom and thousands of pounds will be poured into Davey Jones' locker. ...

Geraldton has a good case to demand a (wireless telegraphy) installation. The lighthouses, which must ere long be erected on the Abrolhos, ought to be fitted with the apparatus, not only to enable them to warn vessels at sea, but to place them in communication with Geraldton. Therefore it is necessary that there should be an apparatus at Geraldton to receive the messages.

If the lighthouses are lit by electricity, as they ought to be, there would be very little extra expense in equipping them with wireless telegraphy for the current generated in the small electric lighting plant could also be used for telegraphic purposes. Apart from the cost of generating the current, the cost of a complete set of apparatus for wireless telegraphy, over distances not exceeding fifty miles is under £300. The expense is not great and is more than counterbalanced by the additional safety given to life and property.

Moreover, a lighthouse thus equipped can render great service by promptly reporting the passage of vessels inwards and outwards. Provided an operator has attained ordinary skill on a Morse instrument, he only requires instruction in the act of tuning the wireless apparatus in order to make him an efficient operator. The press has urged the Government to open a school of instruction, where this art could be learned, but without avail".

The Zeehan and Dundas Herald of 11 February 1908 reported that "It is intended, when the Postmaster-General has approved of it, to call for tenders for the installation of wireless telegraphy between North Queensland and New Guinea and at Fremantle to communicate with incoming mail steamers. Later on, conditions will be drawn up for tenders for the installation between Tasmania and the mainland". On 26 December 1908, the Perth Mail gave some insight by reporting that "A few days ago, the second series of tenders for the installation of wireless telegraphy in Australia closed. They have shared the fate of their predecessors, none having been accepted. These tenders were for establishing wireless telegraphic stations on the coast of Victoria and Tasmania, linking up King Island and the Furneaux Group".

In 1909, the House of Representatives resolved that wireless telegraphic stations should be established around the coasts of Australia and that merchant ships should be equipped with wireless installations to:

Other uses envisaged were the reception and transmission of private messages, weather and storm warnings, navigation warnings and medical advice from medical authorities on the mainland to ships not carrying doctors.

In the Budget brought down in the House by the Treasurer Sir John Forrest in August 1909, a sum of £10,000 was put on the estimates for the establishment of wireless telegraphic stations.

On 18 March, 1910, in the run up to an election, Mr. W. N. Hedges, the sitting Member for Fremantle, addressed a large gathering in Midland Junction, W.A. The Perth Sunday Times of 26 March reported one of his statements as follows:

"Another thing was the necessity for the establishment of wireless telegraphic stations all round Australia. When they (the Government) saw, during the past 12 months, how many lives had been saved by the wireless system - and how many more might have been saved - it would be admitted that it was imperative, not only that wireless stations should be established, but that every vessel over which the Commonwealth had had any jurisdiction, should be compelled to install wireless telegraphy".


2. The start of construction for the first two stations.

In 1910, the Government advertised for tenders to construct the first two Coastal Radio Stations - one at Sydney and the other at Fremantle. In April 1910, it was announced that "The tender of the Australasian Wireless Ltd. for the erection of two wireless telegraphic stations at Fremantle and Sydney, at a cost of £4,150 each, has been accepted". The newly formed Sydney-based Company acted in association with Telefunken (Germany) and later also with Marconi. At that time, the relationship with Telefunken was questioned on a number of grounds. On 29 October 1910 (6 months after the first announcement), the Kalgoorlie Western Mail reported "In answer to Mr. Hedges (W.A.) in the House of Representatives last week, the Postmaster-General stated that the contract for the wireless telegraph stations was in the hands of the Australasian Wireless Ltd., 129 Pitt Street, Sydney who were the local company representing a well-established German company. They had deposited £100 in cash".

The Prime Minister, Mr Hughes, elaborated on this tender in the House on 28 October 1910 by stating "that tenders had been accepted for wireless telegraph stations having ranges of 1,250 nautical miles, to be erected at Sydney and Fremantle and tenders were about to be invited for stations to be erected at Port Moresby and Thursday Island, The question of further stations was receiving close attention".

The Evening News of 14 December 1910 reported "The contract for the erection of a wireless telegraph station at Pennant Hills was signed by the contractors with several alterations which the Postmaster-General refused to accept".

It is interesting to note that it was July 1910 - contemporaneous with the Australian developments - that Mr. Herbert Samuel (Postmaster-General), in introducing the Post Office Estimates in the House of Commons, said "the establishment of wireless telegraphic stations had been fully justified and he hoped to have a ring of these stations around Great Britain soon".

The Australasian Wireless Company and its Telefunken partner had a very significant disagreement with the Marconi Company about possible infringements of Marconi's patents. This disagreement was however just one part of a world wide problem between the two powerful companies. To avoid the dispute affecting the new Australian company, the Government supported the proposal by Fisk to merge the Australian components of Marconi and Telefunken with the Australasian Wireless Company to become Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd. (AWA). It was agreed that the new company would take over the other interests and the companies agreed to exchange patents.

As an insight to the problem and the legal context, it is informative to read the report on part of the case which appeared in several newspapers in July 1912.


3. The Australian Government's statement on Radiotelegraphy - its use in Australia to 1912.

The Postmaster-General (Mr. C. E. Frazer) in the course of some introductory remarks in his Annual Report, submitted in December, 1912 to the Federal Parliament, dealt somewhat extensively with radiotelegraphy and the necessity of establishing a complete system of radiotelegraphic communication around the coast of the Commonwealth of Australia, not only from the point of view of defence, but also with the object of giving additional security to those who travel around our coasts (The West Australian 14 February 1913).


The legal arguments.

The difficulties besetting the attainment of the desired end were only too apparent from the outset. Negotiations were entered into with the two principal Radio-telegraph CompaniesThe Marconi Company and Telefunken. for the sale to the Commonwealth of the right to employ such parts of the patented apparatus of their systems as might be required by the Department and, while I do not deem it advisable at the present juncture to make known the details of these negotiations, I may mention that the companies eventually refused to vend the right which had been asked for. See brief details of the judgement elsewhere.

In view of these circumstances and of the necessity for proceeding with a suitable chain of radio-telegraph stations in the Commonwealth, it was decided to adopt a system of radio-telegraphy invented by the department's engineer since his arrival in the Commonwealth, the rights to which system have been assigned by him to the Commonwealth. Under this system, stations have been erected at Melbourne. Adelaide, Hobart and Brisbane and are working most satisfactory.

As might be expected, the action of the Government resulted in the two main Radio telegraph Companies making common cause against the Commonwealth and, on the plea that the latter's system was an infringement of their patents, they applied for permission to inspect the Commonwealth apparatus. Believing that such inspection would be contrary to the public interests, I opposed it and informed the companies that it could not be conceded.

Proceedings were then commenced by the companies with the object of obtaining an order from the court granting the desired inspection; but I am pleased to say that my contention inspection would be contrary to public interests has so far been upheld by the court. However, in order that full opportunity might be given to all concerned to learn the basic principles involved in the Commonwealth system, and thus to ascertain whether there was infringement or not by the Commonwealth of existing patents, it was decided that application should be made for a patent for the system which the department had adopted. Application was made accordingly and a provisional patent has been granted.


The Australian system.

The system to be employed at the stations having been decided, the next question for consideration was that of the localities in which the stations were to be placed. Viewing the insular position of Australia, it was evident that, for an effective system of radiotelegraphlic communication to be given, not only must the service offered be continuous but that the distances separating the coast stations must, to a great extent, be governed by the normal working range of the vessels with which communication would have to be established. With this object in view, approval has been given up to the present for the erection of nineteen stations, to be situated at or near:

Port Moresby, Thursday Island, Cooktown, Townsville, Rockhampton, Brisbane, Sydney, Gabo Island, Melbourne, Hobart,
Mount Gambier, Adelaide, Esperance Bay, Perth, Geraldton, Broome, Roebourne, Wyndham and Darwin.

With the exception of Sydney and Perth, the stations to be established at or near these points will be of a standard or similar dimension, and will constitute the internal scheme of radio-telegraphic communication for the Commonwealth directly intended for ship-to-shore communication, as also inter-communication between the various radio telegraph stations. On account of the range of these stations being not more than 500 miles in the daytime, communication with distant places could not be conducted via this medium. Further it would be wasteful to employ high-power stations, that is to say, long distance communication stations for short distance communication on account of the expense involved in supplying the transmitter of such stations with large and unnecessary power and in addition interference would be created.

Stations have been erected at:

Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Hobart, and Brisbane.

Those at Perth and Sydney have been erected under contract by the Australasian Wireless Company employing the Telefunken system.

At present only three of the above stations give a continuous service The other three stations give an intermittent service but the equivalent of a continuous service throughout is being given. I might here explain that this is possible on account of the atmospheric conditions appertaining to night working in Australia being very favourable for long distance working and it has been found that the normal night working range is four and a half to five and a half times the normal day range. So three stations kept open continuously can do all that is required at night.

Stations are at present under erection at

Port Moresby, Thursday Island. Cooktown, Townsville, Rockhampton, Mount Gambier, Gabo Island, Esperance Bay, Geraldton Broome and Roebourne.


Australia's long distance stations.

Generally speaking from an engineering standpoint, economy and efficiency are only attained when each station is worked at its normal range of signalling. For long distance communication, high power stations are of course necessary. These high-power stations constitute the external scheme of radio-telegraphic communication, which comprises the erection of three high power stations - one each at Darwin, Sydney and Perth.

The Sydney and Perth stations have been completed and it is proposed to commence the erection of the high-power station at Darwin without delay. It is intended that the Darwin station shall be capable of inter-communication with Singapore and the Sydney station of inter-communication with New ZealandA successful experiment with wireless telegraphy had been performed on 3 February 1908 with messages from Sydney to New Zealand and vice versa being sent "with absolute accuracy".. This external scheme of radio-telegraphic communication will form the Australian unit of the Imperial scheme. Such stations are necessary from the standpoint of defence and it is proposed in times of peace to employ them for the transaction of commercial business.

Instructions have been given for the commencement of the high-power station at Darwin in the early part of 1913 and already arrangements have been completed for the calling of tenders for the supply of the necessary gear.


Manufacture of equipment.

As far as the manufacture of gear for the radio-telegraph system of the Commonwealth is concerned, it will be my endeavour to employ only Australian manufactured apparatus at such stations and I am glad to say that, up to the present, all stations employing the Commonwealth system have utilised only Australian manufactured gear. I feel confident that when the full scheme is completed, not only will the Commonwealth be possessed of an efficient inter-communicating radio-telegraph service but that that service will, on account of the employment of a standard type of station, permit of ease and efficiency of control at a minimum cost.

The question of the commercial licensing of vessels within the Commonwealth of Australia has been carefully considered and I learned that certain of the radio-telegraph companies refused to inter-communicate between vessels. In consequence, the efficient handling of traffic was interfered with. Further I ascertained that most of the radio-telegraph gear installed on vessels at sea trading about the Commonwealth was entirely dependent for its source of power on the ship's dynamos and consequently, should the dynamos become inoperative from any cause, the wireless installation would also become inoperative.

With the object of removing the difficulty. I introduced two fresh clauses into the Commonwealth licence:

    1. the compulsory inter-communication clause, and
    2. the compulsory carrying of emergency apparatus clause, providing that the emergency set shall be capable of operating for six hours independently of the power supplied by the vessel.

These fresh clauses were somewhat resented by the commercial companies and were only accepted under protest. It is however pleasing to note that these innovations were confirmed by the Radio-Telegraph Conference held in London in June last and are now international law..