Despite having more than 200 languages, Aborigines had no
written language. They used message sticks carved with illustrations
that reminded the carrier of the content of the message, and
showed the recipient that the message was genuine. While message
sticks may have been adequate for the locals, for the settlers
from Europe, the difficulty of communications between the
colony and Britain was a major obstacle that dictated and
shaped much of Australia's early history.
For a country that occupies an island continent of 7,682,300
square kilometres on the other side of the world, communications
is more than merely a convenience. It is quite literally the
social and technological lifeline of a nation.
The most significant development in communications since
the message stick and the smoke signal, was the morse code.
Invented by Samuel Finley Brice Morse in the United States
in 1844, the technology of the telegraph was introduced to
Australia in 1854 by Samuel McGowan, a Canadian who had worked
with Morse. Until 1871 when a series of submarine telegraph
cables and land lines finally linked Darwin to Falmouth in
England, messages between the colony and Britain used to take
up to three months. The telegraph represented an important
turning point in the history of a continent which until then,
had developed independently and in technological isolation
from the progress of Europe and the United States. From this
moment on, Australian innovation closely followed in the steps
of, and at times led, the breakthroughs and technological
advances in the rest of the world.
Just two years after the first telephone was demonstrated
by Alexander Bell in 1876 in Boston, Massachusetts, Australia's
first telephone was operating in Melbourne, and just two years
after the installation of the world's first exchange in Connecticut
in 1878, Melbourne had an exchange in operation. By Federation
in 1901 there were 22,310 telephones in Australia, mostly
in capital cities, and international telephone services to
England commenced in 1930. By 1986, utilising high performance
antennae that overcame fading, Australia had the world's largest
digital microwave trunk system, stretching over 5,000 kilometres
from Perth to Brisbane. An innovation that allowed the extensive
installation of long cable systems was the development of
a unique technique for ploughing fibres directly into the
The age of the wireless arrived in 1894 when Gugliemlo Marconi
demonstrated electromagnetic communication in Italy. Three
years later, Sir William Henry Bragg at the University of
Adelaide was sending messages by morse code using radio waves.
Although television came late to Australia in 1956, it was
the first country to utilise a communications satellite as
a relay station to provide TV program relays to small population
Adapted and engineered to local conditions and requirements,
much of Australia's conventional communications systems are
also based on imported technology introduced by the local
subsidiaries of many prominent multinational telecommunications
and computing companies. There have, however, been some exciting
exceptions. Indeed, Australia has emerged as one of the leaders
in global communications and computing. We review some of
Australia's internationally most significant innovations that
are currently commercially available in the following pages.
Communications in the 1990s involves much more than conventional
telecommunications. It includes every form of information
exchange, control, management and interaction between humans,
as well as between humans and machines. It encompasses numerous
specialised disciplines and utilises all our senses including
sound, vision and touch.
Consequently, in addition to telecommunications, fibre optics,
microwave and radio frequency communications, local area networks
and related equipment, we have also included many other innovations
in this chapter such as software program development, digital
signal processing, data management and manipulation, security
detection technologies, personnel evaluation tools, as well
as communication tools for the visually impaired.
For puritans of traditional communications, these may appear
to be outside their subject area. Nevertheless, each product
and technology reviewed, has an important and integral part
to play in modern communications our most important tool for
the 21st century.
Due to an unresolved dispute
with the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade),
who copied and adopted as their own certain material from
Tomorrow's World, the Australian Initiative, and published
the material in their Australia Open for Business website,
without remorse or recompense, access
by Australian Government servers to this online edition
has been blocked indefinitely.