In Nov 1963, almost 50 years ago, the first undersea phone cable was opened. It was operated by Australia’s sole international carrier, OTC (Overseas Telecommunications Commission), and provided circuits to New Zealand, Fiji, US, Canada and the UK (primarily). It replaced the days of HF radio communications and was the first cable to allow reliable and clear communications at a global level for voice, data and telex and really brought Australia into the connected world of telecommunications. The delivery of international calls via international satellite was still a decade away.
Prior to the introduction of the Compac Cable Australians were reliant upon a HF radio schedule against which they would book a call through an Assistance Operator employed by the Postmaster General’s Department (PMG) located in the GPO in Sydney. That means that if you, say, wanted to call a friend or relative or business associate in another country you would have to ring the operator and ask for a call to be placed at a particular time. The Australian operator would ring the Assistance Operator in that other country and schedule the call with the person or number that you wanted to call. The Australian operator would call you back at the appointed time to connect you to the person or number that you wanted overseas. If atmospheric conditions were bad, the quality of the call could be affected and may even cause communications to be impossible.
As a trading nation, the Compac cable set the scene for our current place in the world and business growth boomed on its introduction. The Compac Cable was a major step forward in communications significantly changing the way in which Australians communicated and operated their businesses. It brought Australia closer to the international community and gave Australian greater opportunity to participate in the global community.
The Overseas Telecommunications Veterans Association (OTVA) is made up of staff (like myself) that were either at the opening or worked on keeping the cable operational and can assist in recounting information or experiences during that period of historical significance to Australia and to Australians.
The Compac cable has been replaced and is no longer in operation, superseded by modern fibre optic cable. Compac was a coaxial cable and supported 80 telephone channels.
Conference call between the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand for the opening of the Australia / New Zealand section of the Compac cable
Opening of the COMPAC Cable, audio, ABC Broadcast on 3rd Dec 1963 Courtesy of Christopher Ross.
Opening of SEACOM Cable, audio, ABC Broadcast on 30th March 1967 Courtesy of Christopher Ross.