WARRNAMBOOL’S Telstra exchange has been likened to a phoenix rising from the ashes after fire crippled south-west telecommunications last November.
As an array of politicians and officials celebrated the exchange’s official re-opening yesterday, they reflected on the blackout and $18 million worth of rebuilding work.
Telstra’s chief operations officer Brendon Riley revealed how close the region came to an even bigger blackout.
“It was only minutes from being completely disabled,” he said. “We thank the CFA for their quick action in attending the fire.
“I especially thank the Telstra team — you were magnificent.”
A team of 150 technicians from around Australia descended on Warrnambool from November 22 and worked around the clock for a month to get landline and mobile phones and internet services back in action.
Repairs continued with smaller teams for several months to rebuild the regional exchange into what was described yesterday as the best in Australia.
Its transmission capacity has been quadrupled, video and data services improved, new back-ups connected and energy usage slashed.
More than eight kilometres of new cabling was installed and about 50km removed after the fire.
Premier and South West Coast MP Denis Napthine said “we’ve had a phoenix rise from the ashes”.
“Something bigger and better has been built,” Dr Napthine said. “Technicians worked in truly difficult conditions and took a disastrous situation and turned it into a positive.
“Now we have the best exchange in Australia and we’ll make very good use of it.”
Dr Napthine said the fire highlighted the fact that telecommunications infrastructure was as vital as railways and highways.
Wannon MP Dan Tehan said the upgraded exchange was well placed to handle the huge expansion in telecommunications demand predicted in coming decades.
“We are seeing a 33 per cent increase in data usage every quarter,” he said. All speakers paid tribute to Telstra’s regional manager Bill Mundy, who was thrust into the frantic recovery effort soon after the fire.
He took the brunt of community anger and helped steer the company’s efforts in offering apologies and compensation.
Mr Mundy admitted he had travelled thousands of kilometres on hundreds of trips to Warrnambool, attended more than 100 community meetings and helped in 4000 compensation payments worth more than $7m to business customers.
“We’ve come a long way,” he said.
The community will have a chance to see inside the rebuilt exchange with an open day and activities, including museum pieces, tomorrow from 10am to 4pm.