A Short History of the Telephone in WA
Busselton Historical Society
Before the telegraph system Busselton was largely isolated from the rest of the world. The only communications were expensive postal services that took months to take messages to their destinations by horse and ship. The advent of telegrams in 1869 greatly assisted the Busselton settlers but paying by the word was expensive so when the telephone arrived it was a game changer!
The timeline below describes how Australia was a pioneer in the uptake of the telephone and how Busselton featured in this major achievement for our nation.
1876 7th March Alexander Bell being awarded the first U.S. patent for the telephone.
1878 July The first long distance telephone experiments in WA are credited to G.P. Stevens and E.H. Innes who successfully transmitted more than 100 miles between Bremer Bay and Albany using a pair of Bell's "pine cased phones" that were obtained from a passing P&O ship.
1878 23rd August The colony's first permanent telephone service was installed between Perth's Government House and the Colonial Secretary's office. This connection was among the first Australian permanent "commercial" telephone services. It is likely that these early phones were either Bell's first commercially available "cased" models patented in January 1877 or slightly later "butter stamp" types of early 1878.
1880 First Telephone Exchange opened in Melbourne, shortly before the hanging of Ned Kelly
1882 First public Telephone Exchange opened in Sydney, making telephone use and ownership available to the public of NSW barely six years after Alexander Bell patented his phone.
1884 Around 7,757 telephone calls handled in Australia through the year.
1887 1st December First Telephone Exchange opened in Perth located in a small, three roomed brick cottage on the north side of Wellington Street near the intersection with Barrack Street. It was a local battery/magneto manual system operated by telephonists.
1890 All WA telegraph systems, including railway telephones, were transferred to WA Posts and Telegraphs Dept.
1889 November Colonial legislation defined telephones as a form of telegraph, enabling absorption into the WA Posts and Telegraphs Dept.
1901 The Federation of the Commonwealth of Australia established the Postmaster-General’s department to manage all communications networks in the nation.
1906 Busselton Telephone Exchange established at the Post Office located at the corner of Queen and Adelaide Streets.
1911 First automatic exchange in Australia installed in the GPO in Sydney.
1914 First automatic exchange in WA installed in Perth.
1935 Australia ranked seventh in the world for percentage of telephone users.
1938 First Rural Automated Exchange (RAX) installed in WA at Brunswick Junction
1957 Busselton Telephone Exchange upgraded to Central Battery (CB).
1974 Busselton Telephone Exchange closed.
1975 1st July Postmaster-General’s department was split into the Australian Postal Commission (Australia Post) and the Australian Telecommunications Commission (Telecom Australia).
1987 All areas in Australia had basic telephone services, no matter how remote. All Australians linked by a single infrastructure.
1989 The Australian Telecommunications Commission was changed to the Australian Telecommunications Corporation (ATC) and Telegram operations were handed over to Australia Post.
1992 The Overseas Telecommunications Commission merged with ATC to form the Australian and Overseas Telecommunications Corporation (AOTC).
1993 The AOTC was renamed Telstra.
1997 July Other telecommunications players allowed to enter the general telephone market breaking Telstra’s monopoly.
1997 November – 1999 September partial privatization of Telstra in 2 instalments
2006 November Federal Governments remaining share of Telstra sold.
Ada Peacock, Kitsie McAtee, Eileen Goddard were the first permanent telephonists appointed at the Busselton Exchange c1925. Photo 643 from the BHS Archive