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AbstractA historic paper from 2010, republished here, describes a demonstration of wireless transmission between Victoria and Tasmania by the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company in 1906. The subsequent debate and delays in adopting the new wireless communication system highlight the influence of imperial politics on Australian telecommunications, post Federation. The impasse with Marconi over his initial refusal to license his patent was eventually resolved by the creation of Amalgamated Wireless Holdings (AWA) in 1911.
Guglielmo Marconi and several contemporaries are generally recognised as the inventors of wireless telegraphy early in the twentieth century. Marconi was awarded several key patents for his discoveries and shared the Nobel prize for physics in 1909 with Karl Ferdinand Braun for their “contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy” (Smith-Rose, 2022).
The historic paper below (Given, 2010) describes a demonstration of wireless transmission between Point Lonsdale, near Queenscliff in Victoria, and Devonport in Tasmania, by the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company in 1906. Australia had recently federated, and the young parliament was meeting in Melbourne to debate important industrial legislation. The parliament deferred the debate and took a special train to see the demonstration, because Marconi’s invention had become internationally recognised by that time.
Marconi was represented locally by Captain Louis Walker. Walker, who would be paid 5% commission on any business contracted (but had very little success), arranged the installation of radio equipment including mast antennas at Point Lonsdale and Devonport. The local municipalities also took the opportunity to impress the politicians with various meetings, speeches and toasts.
The demonstration was successful because, by 1906, Marconi had perfected his equipment such that he could easily achieve transmissions over water for distances up to 500 km. Unfortunately for Walker, the parliament could not decide what to do with the new technology and, after six months of lobbying, hit a policy roadblock. Walker was forced to mothball the equipment and return to the United Kingdom.
In the minutes of the proceedings of the Colonial Conference 1907 (Colonial Conference, 1907, p. 607), it is obvious the British Government was encouraging the “Colonies” to choose wireless telegraphy systems that interworked with each other and not to adopt the Marconi system. Marconi wished to maintain his monopoly and refused to interwork with other systems. The British Government believed this monopoly would be eroded as time went on and history shows they were correct.
In 1910, Australia built two high powered wireless land stations in Sydney and Fremantle, covering the east and west maritime approaches to the mainland. They were not Marconi systems and Marconi naturally commenced legal action against the Commonwealth. The action was resolved by the merger of Australasian Wireless, the Marconi Company, and Telefunken to form Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd (AWA) in 1911 (Moyal, 1984, p. 112).
In July 1906, Walker provided a souvenir brochure (Marconi, 1906) of the Marconi demonstration between Point Lonsdale and Devonport – but, curiously, it concentrated on examples of maritime incidents where the Marconi system assisted in the rescue, rather than describing the equipment used in Australia.
Colonial Conference. (1907). Minutes of Proceedings of the Colonial Conference, 1907. Section A-05, Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives of in New Zealand, 1907. Available at https://atojs.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/atojs?a=d&d=AJHR1907-I.1.698&cl=&srpos=0&e=-------10--1------0--
Given, J. (2010). Wireless Politics: Marconi and the Parliament at Point Lonsdale, 12 July 1906. Telecommunications Journal of Australia, 60(4), 60.1–60.7.
Marconi. (1906). Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Coy., Ltd. Souvenir of Queenscliff and Devonport Demonstration. July 1906. Available at https://viewer.slv.vic.gov.au/?entity=IE2651290&mode=browse
Moyal, A. M. (1984). Clear across Australia: A History of Telecommunications. Melbourne: Thomas Nelson.
Smith-Rose, R. L. (2022). Guglielmo Marconi. Encyclopedia Britannica. Available at https://www.britannica.com/biography/Guglielmo-Marconi
Please refer to the PDF download for the full paper, including the historical reprint.