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Fanning Island

23 Mar 10
Peter Bull

Message from John Hibbard:

I am trying to get information on Fanning Island as I met recently with a guy who services the telecoms equip on Fanning and gives talks on the cruise going there. The telecoms guy was asking for information and I want to put him in contact with the ex-OTC staff who were associated with Fanning Island and could relate many of your ‘war’ stories and adventures whilst on Fanning.



  1. Peter Bull March 23, 2010 at 8:02 am

    On 22/03/2010, at 3:20 PM, Tom Barker wrote:
    Lou Brown was an operator on Fanning Island when Randy Payne was the manager. I cant remember who else was there. George Maltby was very involved in the
    Pacific Cable Board (PCB) and may be able to help. I don’t have a number for Lou, but Brian Callaghan may be able to help. Keith McCredden also served at Suva and may know more.

  2. Peter Bull March 23, 2010 at 8:03 am

    Keith McCredden wrote:
    I spent the last 2 years at Fanning up to the closure in Dec 1963. I am trying to work out how to scan slides into my computer and then do some work for the OTVA site and the newsletter. I guess this means I had better get onto it soon. I was there with Lou Brown and keep in touch with him. He is quite visually impaired and does not do Email.

  3. Peter Bull March 23, 2010 at 8:05 am

    John Hibbard wrote:
    Ripper mate. Since you have real live experience let me give some background.
    I have been working on the Tahiti to Hawaii cable and I was in Hawaii to do the landing and the final splice. (Read all about it — ) At the big launch party near the beach, I was introduced to one of the invited guests, Rich Smith, who as I said in his note goes down to Fanning on the cruise ship. Leaves from San Diego, stops for only a day in Fanning and then goes to Tahiti or Pago where he flies back. In that stop, he services, if necessary installs, telecom gear and medical gear. I interpret (although he didn’t say and I could be wrong) that he gets free/cheap passage by giving talks on what to expect at Fanning and its history. But he knew very little of the telegraph history hence my offer to see if I could help. He had some lovely pictures of the place.
    The guy is Rich Smith. Works for Pacific Care Missions. Lives on the Big island in Hawaii where landed the cable.
    I have copied him as he might be able to be able to give you a squiz at some pictures slightly more recent than your stint there.

  4. Peter Bull March 23, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    Keith McCredden wrote:
    I worked there for the last 2 years of its operation which closed in December 1963.
    The cable station had operated since 1902 when the cable from Bamfield (Vancouver Island) was laid across the Pacific to Fanning Island, Suva, Norfolk Island, Southport (Queensland) and on to Sydney landing at Bondi Beach.

    There was a branch between Suva and Auckland and Auckland to Sydney as well. The cable was duplicated in 1927 with a “loaded”cable which was three times the speed of the original 1902 cable. This loaded cable ran from Suva to Bamfield via Fanning Island. The 3rd channel was provided via a radio link from Sydney to Suva. The system continued across Canada and then via cables to Porthcurno UK (Near Lands End). The Loaded cable had an inductive winding around the central core which somehow increased its speed.

    From that time (1927) the cable transmission directions were switched every 12 hours so that when it was peak business hours in London the faster cable was used to send telegram traffic to Sydney and then the reverse for the Australian peak period. The cable direction was called Fast outs/Slow homes and Fast homes/Slow outs in those good old colonial times with Home being England. This changeover to Fast outs/Slow homes was at 1am at Fanning island so the night shift person had to be on his toes at that time.

    The Cable station was owned by Cable and Wireless Ltd UK however most of the staff were seconded from OTC Australia and OTC had its own Cable Training School in Sydney based on the training given at Porthcurno. Staffing at Fanning Island was one operator per shift 24/7 with a Cable Supervisor and a technician Monday to Friday as support. There was also a Manager and his clerk, A Mechanical Engineer for the power and because of our isolation Cable & Wireless provided a Doctor as well. Labour work was done by people from the Gilbert and Ellice Islands who were recruited in Tarawa and came to Fanning Island for a 2 or more year stay. The head of the G&E staff was a Chinese Gentleman named Tong Ting Hai who was the father of the present President of the Kiribati.

    Signalling on the cable was Morse Code using a positive signal for a dot and a negative signal for a dash. This made each element the same length rather than the dash being 3 times longer than a dot as it is in normal morse on a radio. This allowed a lot more telegram traffic to be passed in a given time. It must be remembered that the original cable was very slow compared to modern communication. In earlier days the signal had to be transcribed manually and sent on via the next section of cable. Not sure of the date
    but by 1927 there was automatic regeneration of the signal. The main units were the forks and magnifiers which booted the weak cable signal followed by the synchroniser which took its timing from theincoming signal and the regenerator which restored the signal for retransmission. They Pacific Cable system had these two unitscombined into a unit know as the Syncgen which obviously did both functions.

    On a trip to the UK a few years back I went to Porthcurno where the cable station is now a museum. It is run by retired cable officers who had mainly worked in the Atlantic and Mediteranian but they had never seen a synterpolator.

    I was there during the last Atomic Bomb tests at Christmas Island only 150 miles away. This was a combined US and UK test so we had observers from both countries at FI for many months. I never want to be any closer to an atomic explosion. Just before dawn they turned night into day instantly. The fireball usually just cleared the horizon as a red dot and it took almost 30 minutes for the sound to reach us.

    Rich, I have probably gone on with too much waffle but if you want any more please let me know. I am hunting up some photos to add if you want them.

  5. mccreddenk March 24, 2010 at 10:49 am

    from Keith McCredden.
    In the middle of the night I realised that I had got confused with the names of the equipment. There was a magnifier then forks followed by Synchroniser and interpolater which were combined as a synterpolater for the regeneration of the signal. Save all you oldtimers getting stuck into me.
    rgds Keith

  6. mccreddenk April 17, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    FYI. Have been in touch with Rich Smith and giving him info on my life on Fanning Island.
    I am rewriting this information to suit ex OTC and Fanning Island staff and scanning some old B&W photos and slides to prepare a story for the Newsletter.
    rgds Keith

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