MODERN communications went head-to-head with the old on Saturday.
Warrnambool’s refurbished Telstra exchange was open to the public, but alongside all the hi-tech telecommunications wizardry in the building was some that had been superseded long ago.
Antiquated telecommunications systems were on display for more than 800 people who made their way through the exchange, with a working telegram machine proving to be the most popular item on show.
The telegram may be a thing of the past but telegraphist Brian Mullins isn’t keen to let it go by the wayside completely.
Mr Mullins was kept busy sending telegrams using Morse code, that were then transcribed and typed onto a commemorative card to be sent to the recipients via Australia Post.
Mr Mullins travels from his home in Sydney to events across the country to operate the machine and said it was always a popular attraction.
“People love it,” he said.
“The younger people often can’t believe that sending a telegram like this was the main form of communication. They don’t get that we didn’t have mobile phones.”
A group of former telephonists who once worked at the exchange used the open day as a chance for a reunion and to reminisce about “the good old days”. Reunion organiser Helen Murphy started working in the exchange as a 16-year-old.
She said she worked in the exchange until 1962 when she got married. In those days you had to leave when you got married,” she said.
“They asked me to come back casually when my children grew up and I ended up managing the centre.”
“It was a great place to work. You made so many friends.” She said May races, stock sale days and the summer months when Warrnambool’s camping grounds were full were the busiest times. Major events, including the World War 2 bombings in Darwin and the Ash Wednesday bushfires, were recalled as key events in the exchange’s history.
Telstra Country Wide area general manager Bill Mundy said tours started earlier than planned because of strong interest.
“We had planned to start at 11am, but we had people here from 9.30am so we started doing tours then,” he said. “It’s been a great opportunity to celebrate the refurbishment with the community and thank them for their support. The support we received throughout the whole process has been amazing.”