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Cairns Cable Station – Repeaters Buried Behind Building?

04 Oct 12
Peter Bull

Peter Burgess and Bruce Boler told Robert Brand that they recalled cable repeters being buried behind the station. If this is true it might be a good idea to approach Telstra to retrieve these items which may be of historical significance so that they can be displayed in the Powerhouse or Telstra Museums.

Any ideas?


  1. Peter Bull October 4, 2012 at 9:44 am

    Comment from Allan Hennessy:
    I spoke to Des Kinnersley about Cairns and the possibility of repeaters being buried in then yard and he agreed as I recall, there wasn’t any yard it was a domestic block ..There was an earth mat buried near back of station ..

    It was 1966 when I was there as install leader ..
    He did say something real nice to me after all these years ..He has visited many cable stations around the world and (my) Cairns job was the best installation by far !!

    The only repeaters he mentioned were buried at Hollways ? Beach.
    I was left with the impression one is still working and dont know if another non working is still there ..
    I did question what happened to the spare that was in the station building but Des was unsure.

  2. Peter Bull October 4, 2012 at 9:46 am

    More from Allan Hennessy:
    I spoke to Henry about the spare repeater that was at Cairns when I was there .

    He said it went to Madang and my guess is it was used during a cable break ..

    These things are large and not easily hidden !!

    I have sent laurie Mcillree an email ..

  3. Peter Bull October 4, 2012 at 9:47 am

    From Laurie McIlree:
    Hi Allen,

    There were two spare land based repeaters located in a specially built underground pit located in the North East corner of the estate (under the big mango tree) behind the garage, the concrete storage unit was about 15 metres long and 4 metres depth with a concrete removable lid which had two air vents through the lid, these two APNG repeaters were spare units as APNG had buried repeaters in the land section from the station to the beach, they were complete with attached tails so that when needed the lid could be removed and the repeater lifted out with a mobile crane for use. They were stored there to suite outside environmental conditions as if buried.

    The tail ends of the repeaters had connectors so that local powering and testing could be done with the repeaters in the ground. They were land based repeaters and not suitable for deep sea operation.

    Hope all the family is well, Philip starts work in France today working for a crystal oscillator company.


    Repeater Storage Facility in Cairns

  4. Peter Bull October 11, 2012 at 11:11 am

    Roger Thompson wrote:
    As the person who contracted Telecom Australia to build a specially designed pit in the rear yard of the cable station to house the spare repeaters for A-PNG – the repeaters are not Burried. The Pit was specially designed so that it would not float up when the Ground water rose in the WET season. And if no one knows that they were there then they are probably still there. But if A-PNG is still in service then the repeater still has a use. Depends on what John Hibbard did with it in his business of resurecting old cable systems.

    I do not recall if more than one of the repeaters is A-PNG or if one of them is SEACOM, but I do recall that there was no difference as to whether the Repeater for A-PNG was Land Based or deep sea, it was a Spare Repeater and was identical to all other repeaters in the system. As the TASMAN system was the same it is likely that there also was a spare repeater in Suva for use on either TASMAN or A-PNG should the Cable ship be required for a Repair.

    I am not sure, but I do recall hearing something as when operations ceased at Cairns that certain facilities were relocated to the Telecom site in Cairns? That may have been the A-PNG terminal and may have involved the Spares – someone in Reach may know the full 1990s story.

  5. Peter Bull October 11, 2012 at 11:12 am

    Peter Bull wrote:
    I have asked Ray Pow to investigate

  6. Peter Bull October 12, 2012 at 8:33 am

    Peter Burgess sent an email to the realestate agent managiung the current sale of the property:
    I have an unusual request regarding the above referenced property which you have for Lease at this time.

    I belong to the Overseas Telecommunications Veterans Association (Australia), and having worked in OTC (prior to its amalgamation with Telstra) for many years. I am now living in Cairns and put a recent photograph up on the OTVA web site to let the members know what’s happening with the old historical site.

    One of the members wrote back and asked if anyone knew whether the repeaters which had been buried in the backyard behind the garage were still there or not.. The repeaters were underground repeaters which were spares for the underground (rather than undersea) section of the international cable route.

    All memories from as many old workers at the site are that they were still there in 1984.

    Bottom line is that they would be a treasured piece in a Telecommunications museum as a significant part of Australia’s Telecommunications history.

    Do you think that the current owner would consider allowing (i) someone to see if they are still there,. and/or (ii) donating them to a Telecommunications Museum

    Thanks & Best

  7. Peter Bull October 12, 2012 at 8:43 am

    From Ray Pow (Reach):
    The recollection of people here is that the repeaters were removed when the Cairns site was shutdown and were shipped back to UK for safe disposal.
    They contained some radioactive components.


  8. Peter Bull October 12, 2012 at 8:44 am

    From John Cotterill:

    I am going back to 1984 a long time ago, but when I did visit Cairns in 1994 for another company I checked down the back of the cable station and behold the tomb was still there then.

    As for now, I cannot say what where or why, but it was a interesting place to work.


  9. Peter Bull October 12, 2012 at 8:53 am

    From Greg Sachs:

    Hello Peter,

    What Laurie advises is spot-on. I had a lot to do with the procurement of the A-PNG cable system.

    The question about who is the current owner of the property needs to be answered because it may no longer be Telstra. When we were in North Queensland on holidays in 2007 I took the attached pix of the cable station on 2nd July (2007), noting the “Sold” sign on the Sale board. Following our return home I rang the agent’s name on the board and recall that he advised the property was sold for a little under $2M and he was aware of the concrete pit containing the A-PNG land repeaters.

    Whether the 2007 sale eventually fell through or the property is now being on sold should be able to be answered by others.
    Best regards,
    Gregory Sachs.

  10. Peter Bull October 12, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Telstra has advised:

    The Cairns Cable Station site it was divested in 2008.

    Prior to sale, Telstra arranged for recovery of equipment from the cable station building. All other fixtures that remain at the time of transfer of the land would be deemed abandoned by the vendor (seller) and then become the possession of the purchaser.

    Title searches show that Lots 34 & 35 are currently owned by Lagbail Pty Ltd. One would need to perform company searches through the ASIC websites to identify the directors and registered address of Lagbail Pty Ltd in order to approach them about the interest below.

  11. Peter Bull October 12, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    Tony Fisher has offered the below history on Cairns Cable Station:
    I spent 2 years at Cairns which covered the period of failure of the Seacom Cable and the subsequent removal of all the Cairns Seacom terminal equipment.

    See attached pix of “Ceremonial Cutting” showing myself, Anna Woodward, and the late Keith Vincent
    Ceremonial Cutting at conclusion of Seacom Cable Life
    plus a pix of the then Cairns staff members and families at the “Cairns Seacom Wake”
    Cairns Cable Station Families at the Seacom Wake

    During that time we never had cause to open the “crypt” or test the spare APNG land repeaters, so unfortunately I have no info to offer with regard the APNG repeaters.

    As another point of interest however, – Some time after the official decommissioning of Seacom, the spare Seacom repeater was pulled out of storage (in Sydney?) and shipped to Cairns to become part of the “Seacom museum” set up by the now late Keith Vincent in the vacated part of the main equipment room.
    This area was left vacant after Anna and I stripped out and disposed of all the Seacom equipment, including “walking” the Telstra land line rack (live) across to the northern wall from where it was left sitting in the middle of what had been the old Seacom Suite, – but that is another story of the ingenuity of OTC Techs left to their own devices…..
    At the time that I left Cairns to take part in the construction of Sydney SES at Oxford Falls, – Keith had plans to have the Seacom repeater “sectioned” (the middle section only, – leaving the tails complete), and have a half cylindrical polycarbonate cover manufactured to display the internal (valve powered) workings of the repeater. Unfortunately I never got to see the sectioned repeater or finished museum, although I did hear from others that it was quite impressive.
    Does any-one know what became of the “display” repeater, or have any photos of it or of “Kieth’s Museum” before Telstra performed its “ethnic cleansing” of the OTC history in Cairns?

  12. Peter Bull October 12, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    From Des Kinnersley:
    Glad to hear of some of the later history of the Cairns Cable station as I was the first Manager of the Station from June 1966 to Dec 1972.
    At that time we had a Seacom repeater held in the Station as a spare if needed.
    Also what happened to R99 the Seacom repeater that was buried on Holloways Beach when the Seacom was turned down in 1985?

  13. Peter Bull October 12, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    From Ross Craig:

    Tony, Peter

    While I do not know what happened to the SEACOM and APNG equipment when it was removed I have an interest in both. Was stationed at Madang 1966 to 1972 but the main one is APNG. I went to the UK for about 9 months in 1975 to do the acceptance testing of the APNG cable and repeaters with John Phillips. I was the sole acceptance testing officer in the UK for of all the terminal equipment for both the Cairns and Port Moresby Stations. I also was the sole commissioning officer for the APNG system at Cairns in 1976. Therefore my finger marks are all over the APNG cable, repeaters and equipment wherever it may be now.

    It was interesting to see that the cable was kept in service for such a long time and it must have set a world record for a repeatered coaxial submarine cable as most while they had a design life of 25 years they were superseded within about 10 years or less.

    Ross Craig

  14. Peter Bull October 15, 2012 at 8:57 am

    From Laurie McIlree:

    Hi Peter,

    I have photo’s of the museum at Cairns prior to the station closing showing the housed white painted repeater but I do not remember any opened 5mHz repeater being displayed there.

    I believe that SEACOM R99 and APNG R65 land based repeaters and land cable would be still in the ground along with the cable securing the route for any future cable system (not that anyone would be able to lay a cable through the barrier reef these days, and at the time a repair within the reef would probably been impossible to perform).

    I have about 6 photo’s of the museum and some others of the inside of the station when APNG was still active. I will scan and send them if you wish they may be of some interest.

    I doubt that the two APNG repeaters that were housed in the concrete bunker storage unit outside would be still there and may have gone back to London STC for other system spares. I know that Telstra Long Line section in Cairns would probably know more of their final demise as OTC personnel had left the building before the closure of the APNG system.



  15. Peter Bull October 15, 2012 at 9:07 am

    More from Laurie McIlree:
    Hi Allan,

    Thanks for your email re the APNG repeaters, I would think that they were removed from the site with the closure of the station after APNG failed and the site was shut down by then Telstra was attending to any problems with APNG terminal equipment and with the closure the terminal equipment and all associated equipment was removed, I think that Telstra may have taken some of the museum pieces for their museum in the state, one would think that the repeaters would needed to be removed and probably were, I know that the system was being serviced by the Telstra Long Line section in Peace St, Cairns but I cannot seem to locate any contact for it now, I am also trying to contact Eric Fielding Smith who was at Paddington in cables when the station was closed down he may have some idea. To be quite honest and between you and me the repeaters if still in the bunker would have to be lifted out with the attached tails about 20 metres long each end of double armored cable which would be an expensive job to start with and any transporting back to Sydney would be very expensive and all that can be seen is steel cylinder, they could never be taken apart as they had beryllium copper inside which is a no no for touching if anyone were to remove the inside of the unit, the repeaters were the same type as Tasman 2 which ran from Broadway to NZ but probably any spare repeaters are long gone, I know there is an ANCAN repeater buried in Centenial Park on the Bondi side of the park.

    Will let you know if I can find out re Cairns.

    I have attached some photos taken in the cable station at Cairns I have a few more of the museum set up by Keith Vincent and there was a SEACOM repeater there but no doubt it went with the closure of the station (have a photo of the repeater if you wish) but I have just sent a sample of a few photo’s that I took before the station was closed so if you wish I can send them to you but not clumped together like the 4 in this email.

  16. Peter Bull October 15, 2012 at 9:10 am

    I was told on Friday that these repeaters were removed 5 years ago and sent to England.

    This is consistent with Ray Pow’s advice on October 12 2012. 7th email in this BLOG.

  17. Peter Bull October 15, 2012 at 9:44 am

    From Bruce Boardman:

    The person who would know about the cable repeaters at Cairns is Ken Arnold. He was tasked with the station closure.

    Bruce Boardman
    Telstra – Network & Access Technologies

  18. Peter Bull October 15, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    From Laurie McIlree:
    HI Peter,

    I spoke to Eric Fielding – smith and he thinks also that the repeaters were returned to London, he also said that Ken Arnold was at Cairns at the time of closure to oversee the removal of all items and would be your best contact if you wish to speak to him, I don’t know what the excitement is about the repeaters as they cannot be dismantled due to Beryllium Copper and radio active material inside.



  19. Peter Bull October 15, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    Phil Hiscox asked a few ex-colleagues from Telstra in QLD and received advice from John Dempster that they were sent to Greenwich England about 5 years ago.

  20. Peter Bull October 18, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Some more photios from Laurie McIlree:

    Seacom Repeter Cairns Museum

    Museum Showcase Cairns CS

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