The history of country telephone services.
As you travel around the Mallee and Wimmera and for that matter much of outback Australia, you pass by many twisted, rotten and leaning poles along the roads but take no notice of them. If you look closer, you will find some with telephone wires hanging from them, if you stop to study them, you will find that they are made from many types of trees and some are even water pipes or the wires are attached to a growing tree or in some cases dead trees that just happened to be in the line and position where a post was required.
Have you ever wondered why there is such an assortment of materials used to provide these phone lines to the outreach properties. Why didn’t the PMG of the early 1900’s use a common poll for their lines?
The vintagephones company gives a narrative that I have put at the end of this post of the history of the telephone including its development in Australia on their web site.
But this doesn’t explain why these fascinating posts that remain today and mark a part of the history of telecommunications and the development of early society in this country.
The early settlers that desired to have their town connected to the growing network of telephone services found that the PMG was reluctant to provide the service unless the townspeople or for that matter remote farmers who wanted the service first installed the poles. The PMG supplied the specifications for the placement of the poles giving the distance between them and the desirable height of the poles and then out went the working bees to collect saplings or any other material that provided the appropriate height and strength and started installing their poles in accordance with the instructions. If a tree was found to be in line and at the correct distance, then it was used as a pole and the cable would be attached to it. Once the community had completed installing the poles the PMG would send the linesmen to run the cables.
These cables were often a single pair of wires and connected to multiple properties as a party line creating a wonderful opportunity for those that were so inclined to quietly lift the receiver and listen in to the potential gossip from or about their neighbours. This practice had its problems as they may be listening to gossip about themselves creating social issues when they became offended over a conversation they were not supposed to be listening to.
The early service ran on a single wire with a ground reference wire making up the pair which ran in a half duplex mode. This required only one person to talk at a time and the earliest phones had only one hand piece that you talked into while the other party listened and then you put it to your ear to listen while they spoke. It was common for the speaker to shout into the microphone as they had trouble understanding the concept that the person may be a long way off and it wasn’t necessary to attempt to communicate with them as if they were on the other side of the football field.
The phones improved and the concept of the full duplex phone was developed and people had phones that had a mouth piece and an ear piece so conversations were now possible as though you were in the room together having the discussion. Later on multiple pairs of wires were installed giving the concept of a private line that connected to a patch panel run by an operator who would make the connection between you and the person you wish to speak with. Your neighbours could no longer listen in but the operator could, and they at times became a source of much gossip around town.
Well that is the background to these poles and a little of the history. It fascinates me that so many of these poles have survived to the 21st century, their days are numbered though and what remains today is simply those that have not succumbed to the ravishes of whiteants and time or the farmers tractor as they are found to be in the way.
In the photo pages I have put in a collection of photos of some of these poles that I have discovered.
As you drive around our great country and see these monuments of a time past, don’t ignore them, slow down and take notice, they have stood tall for over one hundred years and may not be there the next time you pass. They have passed their use by date and will soon be gone.