The telephone was patented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. It was a remarkable invention that took off in Australia and all across the globe, increasingly replacing communication by telegraphs.
The first Australian telephone exchange opened in Melbourne in 1880. Up until Federation in 1901, each Australian State had their own telephone services. In 1901 however, the Federal Government took over the telecommunications industry, thereby promoting a national telephone network..
By 1911, 100 000 telephones were in use in Australia. They were mainly used by government agencies, business and the wealthy. This number continued to grow steadily over the years. Indeed, the telephone system because increasingly useful and important as the number of people contactable by phone also increased.
Most early phones were made of wood and attached to the wall. They had a black metal bell that you spoke in to and an earpiece that was attached to a cord.
At first, all telephone calls were connected manually by an operator. This was a very labour intensive system however, and it was increasingly replaced by so-called `automated system’ which removed the need for an operator and required the caller to dial the required number him or herself.
So-called shared `party lines` provided little privacy for callers. Three or four families shared the one phone line, which meant that neighbours could and did listen in to each other`s calls. Party lines were also problematic if more than one person wanted to make a call at the same time. Patience was the order of the day here!
By the mid 1940`s, Australian politicians recognised that it was a basic entitlement of all citizens to have access to telephones, even if they were only public phones. In 1953, there were more than 1 million telephones in use in Australia, and by the early 1960`s, telephone availability was fairly widespread.
Points to Ponder…
Did you have a telephone at home when you were growing up?
Can your describe what it looked like? How did it differ from modern telephones?
Do you remember making calls via an operator?
Did you have a shared telephone line?
Did you ever listen in to anyone else`s calls?
Did you ever get up to any mischief or play any telephone pranks?
Do you remember the thrill of making an interstate or long distance call?
Did you used to talk on the phone when you were a teenager?
Can you imagine life without a telephone now?
Have you ever owned a mobile phone?
Would you like to be contactable 24/7?