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OTVA Newsletter – Sept 2012

05 Sep 12
Peter Bull
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Overseas Telecommunications Veterans Newsletter


Backrow – John Bennet (PAD ITMC), Bill Newman (Mgr Offshore Network Operations), Dave Kidd (Telegraph and Data Senior Engineer), Alan West (BWY ISTC and CNCC). Frontrow – Bob E, Gary “Sammy” Samuels (BWY ISTC), Donna Rampling (BWY Admin), Jeff Thwaites (BWY ISTC), Bob Collins (BWY ISTC and CNCC), Michelle Collins.
Jennie and your editor recently went on holidays to the North Cast of NSW. Bob Collins kindly asked us to stay at his place at Fernvale, 7 km south of Murwillumbah. I knew that he and Bill Newman lived in the Tweed Valley, but at a Saturday BBQ at Bob’s I wasn’t expecting this!
Ten ex-OTC staff at a Saturday BBQ at Bob C’s! There is an enclave of ex-OTC staff living around the Tweed Valley and they all socialise together frequently.
Bill Newman grew up in the Tweed Valley and when upon retirement he and Maureen (Mo) moved back up there. Bobby Collins visited, and according to local legend, after 12 bottles of red decided the Tweed had a better view than Chipping Norton – so he moved up. Michelle followed (though, like me, she keeps a terrace in Sydney), as did Dave Kidd, John Bennet and Sammy. Sammy ran into Allan at the supermarket so he and Donna

joined in with the rest of the crew. Jeff and Gaye Thwaites are looking for a place to buy in the Tweed as well and join in the day to day fun. Bob’s daughter Michelle, the only instance of a father/daughter team in OTC, lives close-by.
The day before we arrived they had all been out big game fishing followed by a sashimi and BBQ lunch. I’ve been told not to mention that Maureen is the best fisher of them all, landing a huge snapper.
Bill Newman describes their enviable lifestyle as “six days of the week are Sunday, and then there’s Wednesday” because on Wednesdays they head off to a local club for a long lunch. The local cabbies love it.
Alan is working on an offshore oil rig in WA (3 weeks on, 3 weeks off, 3 weeks on, 6 weeks off), and Donna is with the Education Department.
Everyone else is retired and looking very relaxed and happy with life. Bob C has the most complete metal workshop I have ever seen which he uses often.
They all keep themselves busy looking after their acreages and socialising.
We had a ball and it won’t be our last trip to the Tweed.
Fellow Members of the OTVA,
I hope that you and your families are well and enjoying life.
The OTVA web page ( and the BLOGs ( continue to enjoy very good patronage. This will be as a direct result of the good stories and notices (including recent OTVA Newsletters) that can be found there which can be used to keep OTVA members up to date with circumstances and events associated with ex-OTC personnel and their families.
Email continues to be a great source of communication with you our members and your committee will continue to pursue efficiencies to reduce costs by channelling as much information as possible via email and the BLOG pages of the OTVA web site. If you send an email to I will review it and where appropriate email it out to those on the email distribution list as well as upload it to the BLOG site.
Unfortunately our Treasurer, Alex Ebert, has resigned from the position after 14 months of service. Alex has been forced to take this action to focus more on his family and his personal life as well as his accountancy practice. I thank Alex for the spirit in which he took on the role as treasurer of the OTVA and his efforts since taking on that role in June 2011. The members of the OTVA Executive wish him the best for his future and look forward to catching up with him at one of the OTVA social events in the future.
The project to digitise Transit and Contact magazines is about 85% complete. It is our intention to transfer the files to DVD which can then be made available to financial members of the OTVA upon request. Kevin O’Brien has processed the scanned images and is building a capability for a keyword search. The DVD may still be available by the end of 2012 but will be very dependent upon whether we can get access to the missing copies for scanning and burning to DVD. I will be sending an email via the distribution list asking for access to the missing copies. Your assistance in this endeavour will be greatly appreciated.
We, your committee, have also received other hard copy documents such as the OTC Annual Reports, Invisible Bridges and other material relating to OTC or the history of telecommunications in Australia in the 20th Century that may be suitable for scanning and distribution but that will be a project for 2013.
I extend my sincere condolences to the families of our ex-OTC brothers and/or their partners who have departed this life since I last addressed you. We are saddened by their passing but are gladdened by the fullness of their rich and long lives. May They Rest In Peace.
Warmest regards,
Peter Bull
0411 260542
Paddington Intercontinental Exchange
Ref. from Wikipedia:-
This code was used for the Plessey 5005T exchanges which was a 4 wire version of the standard 5005 (separate pair for transmit & receive). In the UK TXK2s were only used as an international gateway, initially at Wood Street (WS) exchange in the City of London. This switch had been previously sold by Plessey to the Overseas Telecommunications Commission Australia (OTC) for use as an international gateway at Sydney.
The British Post Office was planning with Plessey Ltd for a switch at Wood Street but with advanced facilities. Plessey was in difficulty with this development and could not make Wood Street work on time and in-budget. As OTC had replaced their 5005T with an Ericsson switch, it was air-freighted back to the UK in desperation to be put into service at Wood Street.
The 5005T was identical to the 5005A except for the 4 wire switching, the lack of subscriber line circuits and concentration stage (i.e. no distributors).
Plessey further supplied the British Post Office with TXK2 switches at DeHavilland ISC (Burnt Oak) and Mondial ISC in Central London. The first switch was similar technically to the Wood St Relief Unit, but the latter was larger and came with the developments of Codesender Router and Line Terminations for CCITT R2 (MF(C) with E&M line signalling).

From Kevin O’Brien who writes:-
After OTC installed & commissioned the Ericsson ARM, the British Post Office purchased the Paddo exchange from OTC.
It was installed in Wood Street, London and was named the “Wood Street Relief unit”.
I visited Wood Street in 1971 and asked if I could see the old Paddo exchange. There it was the same switch I used to work on in Sydney now “clacking” away on Atlantic circuits. To my surprise they had left the Australian labels on the test desk/rack key switches. I asked one of the guys working there at the time did he know the meaning of JTA and JFA.
He said he did not know what the letters stood for but he just knew them as one way outgoing/ incoming junctions.
We all had a chuckle after I informed them that the abbreviations stood for Junction from Australia JFA and junction to Australia JTA.
I don’t know if they ever changed the labels to Junction from/to England (JFE’s and JTE’s)??

Communication Without Wires (1)
By Henry Cranfield

DEVELOPMENTS in radio technology in the late nineteenth century were rapid I and diverse.
In 1865, a Cambridge University Professor, James Clerk Maxwell, proposed his theory on the existence of electromagnetic waves. More than two decades later, their existence was confirmed in a practical demonstration by German physicist, Heinrich Hertz.
In the following decade, significant advances were made in refining Hertz’s experiments, including the work of Professor Eduard Branly in France and Sir Oliver Lodge in England.
But it was the work of a young Italian, Guglielmo Marconi, which took the new science out of the laboratory and into the ‘real’ world.
Marconi lived with his parents in Pontecchio, near Bologna. From boyhood, he had been fascinated with science and in 1894, after studying the work of Hertz, he began his first experiments using electromagnetic waves. Using refined equipment and incorporating a Morse key he found he could send signals from one part of the house to another.
Soon his experiments became more ambitious; his most significant advance beganing0 to attach aerials and earths to both transmitter and receiver. He then realised that the distance over which signals could be sent was relative to the size and eleva¬tion of the cylindrical aerials.
In 1895, Marconi offered to demonstrate his new signaling system to the Italian Government. His offer was declined. Undeterred, he sailed for England, hoping to interest the British Government in his inventions.
In June 1896 Marconi applied for, and was granted, the first patent for wireless telegraphy. The following year he formed the Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company and built the very first coastal radio station; an experimental station on the Isle of Wight.
Within a few years, a chain of radio stations had been completed around the English coast. Marconi continued to conduct some amazing demonstrations, the most spectacular of which was to pass radio signals across the Atlantic Ocean in 1901.
In 1901, the Marconi Company approached the Australian Government with a proposal to connect Australia and New Zealand by wireless, but it was not until 1906 that the company was granted a temporary licence to conduct trials between Devonport in Tasmania and Queenscliff in Victoria.
The Postmaster General’s Department was given full control of wireless commu¬nications in Australia under the Wireless Telegraphy Act, passed by the Australian Parliament in 1905.
By 1909, the threat of war was increasing, and the Government decided to estab¬lish wireless telegraphic stations around Australia’s coast as a means of gathering naval intelligence, and for the safety of life at sea.
Tenders were called to erect two high-powered stations in Sydney and Perth. The successful bidder was the newly formed Australasian Wireless Company.
The company’s activities were further broadened when, in 1910, it was granted a licence to operate an experimental radio station at the back of the Bulletin offices in Sydney.
This station later moved to the Australia Hotel, which became Australia’s first coastal radio station after the Australasian Wireless Company was granted a licence to handle public traffic to and from ships at sea. It closed in 1912 when the Pennant Hills radio station opened.
Another licence was granted to Father Archibald Shaw, a priest and former tele¬graphist, to build an experimental wireless station in Randwick, Sydney. Later, Father Shaw began manufacturing wireless equipment from a site next to this station; he also gained a licence to operate a radio station on King Island in Bass Strait.
With a change in Government in 1910, the Prime Minister appointed a wireless expert — Graham Balsillie — to speed up the construction of the wireless stations. Melbourne Radio was the first station completed, opening on 8 February 1912.
A series of legal disputes between the Australasian Wireless Company, Telefunken and the Marconi Company led to the formation of Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Ltd (AWA Ltd) in 1913.Meanwhile, the construction of coastal radio stations continued with 19 stations being erected between 1912 and 1914,
In 1912 the Australian Government passed the Navigation Act which made it compulsory for all ships in Australian waters carrying more than 50 passengers to have wireless apparatus.
The sinking of the Titanic in April 1912 led to nations around the world adopt¬ing a uniform code of marine safety standards and procedures — the SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) Convention of 1914. Some years earlier, SOS had been adopted as the standard distress signal.
During World War I, the Department of the Navy took control of the stations; this responsibility reverted to the Postmaster General’s Department in 1920.
Throughout this period, Ernest Fisk, managing director of AWA, had been expanding the company’s commercial ventures.
In 1918, he conducted successful trials from his home in Wahroonga, Sydney, in which the Australian Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, sent a message direct from London to Australia.
The British Post Office then proposed building a chain of stations at regular inter¬vals across the world, but the Australian Government strongly objected, fearing that Australia would be left isolated at the end of the chain.
In 1920, AWA submitted its own plan for a direct Australia-Britain wireless link; this proposal was accepted by the Australian Government in 1922.
The agreement gave AWA exclusive rights to build and operate any stations necessary to establish direct wireless contact between Australia and England. AWA also took control of the existing radio stations.
After it took over the Coastal Radio Service (CRS), AWA embarked on a program of modernisation and split the Coastal Radio Service into two administrative arms: The Coastal Radio Service, comprising the stations of mainland Australia, Thursday Island, and Port Moresby and its outstations in Papua; and the Island Radio Service, made up of the New Guinea stations and several remote island stations around Australia’s shores.
In England, Marconi was experimenting with short-wave technology; the first short-wave message was received in Australia on 6 March 1924.
In 1925, AWA introduced a radio telephone service for ships at sea, but the main form of communication still remained wireless telegraphy. On 8 April 1927, the Australia-Britain beam wireless service opened, and AWA established a new receiv¬ing station at La Perouse.
Most stations in the CRS were equipped with short-wave radio in the late 1920s and early 1930s. A direct service was opened between Fiji and Sydney Radio in 1928 and Sydney Radio became the radio hub of the Pacific.
By the mid-1930s several coastal radio stations were used as control centres for aeradio services.
The CRS played an important role in Australia’s defence during World War II; its stations participated in the vital Coast Watching Scheme and provided links between naval ships and the Royal Australian Navy communication stations.
After the war ended, the CRS was purchased from AWA by the Australian Government, who administered the service until OTC took operational control on 1’February 1947.

Part 2 Next Edition.
(My apologies for the inconsistent layout as I could not edit Henry’s copy – Ed).


By Tom Barker

(Originally published in October 2006 Newsletter)

When George Maltby established the Commercial Branch, in the 1960’s, his intention was to get OTC involved with its customers more closely and to establish a better public recognition of OTC by showing an interest in business customers and learning of any problems which they may have encountered in their international communications.

At that time, our closest customers were those businesses which regularly sent telegrams to the overseas offices of their principals, customers or suppliers. These firms usually operated “Four Figure Accounts” which were used to identify the customer to OTC and simplify billings. Many of these customers were moving from telegrams to telex, as OTC’s international telex facilities became more efficient and more generally available.

Prior to the opening of the COMPAC cable, telex channels were derived from Hasler TOR Telegraphy On Radio) equipment, operating on HF radio paths and the circuit switching was performed manually by OTC operators, who supervised each call to ensure satisfactory service delivery.

With the opening of the COMPAC and SEACOM cables, telex channels were provided via FMVFT equipment operating over cable voice channels (24 channels per system) which not only provided more reliable services, but at a much lower cost to OTC.

The Australian domestic telex network, provided by the PMG Dept. at that time, was also growing quickly and after subscriber dialling between all Australian subscribers was introduced (using keyboard signalling, rather than rotary dials), the customer take-up was very fast. This presented OTC with an opportunity which had never existed before, to offer its customers an automated service, for which OTC could bill, within the terms of the Overseas Telecommunications Act of 1946.

This proved to be the most profitable service which OTC ever offered and was the basis for the its very politically popular Annual Reports and handsome dividends to its shareholder (the Australian Government) over many years. It was also the motivator for OTC to engage in vigorous debates with the PMG Dept and later, Telecom, about the introduction of International Subscriber Dialling for telephone services.

The first stage of OTC’s Automatic International Telex service was achieved by a novel use of Siemens and Halske tape reperforators (FRXD’s in the S & H language) which monitored each call, recording the answer-backs of the caller and the called number and the time of connection, plus a “MOM” entry at each completed minute of the connection.

The tapes from these machines were analysed by OTC Accounts Branch and the customers were billed directly by OTC.

The operating procedure for Australian telex customers was to dial 020, which would connect them to the international telex exchange (at Paddington) which would indicate by signalling “INTLX” that an international number could be called. Such calls had to prefixed with the appropriate country code, which was an opportunity for OTC to produce and distribute customer literature, which provided operating 124 instructions, country codes and rates for OTC telex services.

FRXD on display at Bankstown Museum.

These booklets were not mailed out to customers, but hand-delivered by OTC Commercial Branch representatives, who used the opportunity to establish a relationship with the customer and arrange for future regular visits to enquire about service related matters.

The first stage of this program was the opening of twenty automatic telex circuits to London and the customer response was so good that it was necessary to embark on a major engineering program, to meet the demand.

From my (imperfect) memory Ross Beaumont was the engineer who carried that first project, but it lead to the acquisition of the first international telex exchange with toll ticketing.

Once established, the automatic telex service became a vehicle for OTC to involve itself in customer service matters in a way which was never possible before. One of the things which developed out of that involvement was the realisation that OTC was being outsmarted by a competitor. With the benefit of detailed customer billings, which identified all international telex calls, Commercial Branch staff were able to identify customers who were making many calls to the same number, on a regular basis, which would justify their leasing a private line service to that particular overseas destination, which was often the office of their principals.

International Private Lines were almost invariably “sub-speed” telegraph circuits, at that time, a normal 50 baud (66 wpm) telex circuit being divided into four “quarter-speed” circuits by Hasler equipment.

OTC staff would analyse customer billings over several months, and prepare a written analysis for the customer’s information. This would be followed up by a sales proposal, which would cost-justify the customer leasing a private line to his most frequently called destination. OTC Commercial Branch Staff took this work very seriously and there was good-natured competition between staff, to achieve the best sales figures.

It was at this point that we would often become aware that the customer was installing a private line, not to London or New York, or where-ever his main overseas correspondent was, but to Hong Kong. The customer would use this line to transmit all his overseas telex traffic, not just to London or Hong Kong, but to everywhere. OTC had become the unwitting victim of the Cable and Wireless MSC (Message Switching Centre) in Hong Kong, a battery of Univac 418 mainframe computers, engineered to handle private telegraph networks, customised to the needs of each individual company.

Such systems and services were being offered by many international carriers, at that time, but the C & W MSC had embarked upon a campaign to target Australian telex customers, probably because they knew that OTC did not have this capability. It was apparent that OTC would continue to lose business this way, unless it had a computer-based message switching system to offer its customers, so that a network of private lines, connecting to every major office of any corporation around the world, could communicate, via the Sydney-based switch.

This entailed selling the service, not just to our Australian customers, but to the corporations (usually multi-national) whose headquarters could be based anywhere in the world.

After OTC management were made aware of the competitive disadvantage that OTC was suffering, in this situation, it was decided to install a message switching centre for private line networks and it was to be called Interplex.

At first the Interplex system comprised a number of small, stand-alone computer systems, allocated on a one-per-customer basis, but this arrangement proved too inflexible to meet all our customer needs, so an arrangement of General Automation (GA16/64) mini-computers, called “Mini-Plus” systems, was installed at Paddington, and these were capable of meeting a much
wider range of customer requirements.

From that time on, the competition between OTC’s Interplex service and the C & W MSC was very keen. We won some very good accounts and we lost some important ones to our competitors. It was an area of OTC’s business which was truly engaged in competition for business with an aggressive alternative supplier, an unfamiliar scenario for many who had spent their entire careers employed in monopoly carrier situations.

One of the facts which became apparent to those of us engaged in this business, was that 45% of OTC’s corporate business was with companies based in the USA. We began to participate in International Telecom Expos, (such as the ICA) in the U.S and we soon realised that OTC needed to have a permanent presence in the U.S. if we were to succeed in this area of business.

At that time, OTC management was not enthusiastic about having a representative office in another country, to talk to customers, because there was a mindset that OTC was a monopoly and didn’t need to compete for business. Fortunately this did not apply to people like George Maltby, who took the proposal to establish an office in New York, to the board a number of times, before finally gaining approval, in 1984.

The proviso which we were obliged to work with, was that no capital expenditure could be made, so everything had to be leased (presumably so we would not have to write anything off if the venture failed).

I walked the streets of New York, trying to find somewhere to hang up OTC’s shingle, and finally took a space in a serviced office business, located in Fifth Avenue, near the Rockefeller Centre.

I was assisted in the task of setting up this office by some good friends in British Telecom International, who were setting up their own New York office at that time, a much more elaborate, permanent and impressive affair than OTC’s modest presence.

This being OTC’s first overseas-based office, a number of things had to be considered which were unprecedented in its experience.

One important detail was the selection of staff and the length of their terms in that post. I decided that three years was probably the most sensible term length, as it takes some time to become accustomed to working in a foreign country and also time to prepare for ones return home, so three years would allow a useful time in the job, once settled in.

Trevor Duff was selected to fill the Manager position and Ravi Bahtia his assistant. For our official opening, George Maltby prevailed upon an old friend, the Australian Ambassador to the United States, Sir Robert Cotton, KCMG, to officiate, and George selected the Waldorf Astoria as the venue.

Our OTC PR section arranged for a New York firm to set up the location (the Ballroom) and the catering for the event.

Inviting Sir Robert to officiate was a masterstroke. Although Americans are proud not to be part of the British Empire (or what’s left of it) they salivate at the presence of Royalty or British Nobles. Their responses to our invitations were overwhelming. On the
night of the event we were blown away by the number of industry leaders who attended. It was a stunning success.

For me, the two biggest thrills were when I talked for some time to Warren Buffet (about his buying Western Union Telegraph) and when Mike Ford, the head of British Telecom International, said to me (very quietly) “You beat us, Tom”. They had held their New York Office official opening a week before us and we both knew that what Mike said was true.

The opening of the New York office not

(To be concluded. I thought this story was well worth publishing again – Ed).
The 50th Anniversary of the opening of traffic on the COMPAC Cable in 2013 and you are invited to join in.
A subcommittee has been established an if you wish to contribute, contact Peter Bull,
To renew your membership, you can (i) either do an electronic funds transfer of $10 to the OTVA Bank account (email to obtain the details), OR
(ii) mail a cheque for $10 to
PO Box 702 Riverwood 2210
For EFT transactions ensure your name is included in the transaction.


1 Comment

  1. allanh September 10, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    Look for the small print last page .


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