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MEMBER PROFILE 5

Brian O'Donnell


From the time I was about 11 years old I wanted to be a telephone technician. I was so disappointed when I found out that I was 4 days too young to sit for the selection test with the Postmaster Generals Department (PMG) for technician-in-training in 1958. I was offered a job as a telegram boy for a year which I accepted. I passed the exam the next year and started training in 1960 at the Alexandria training school in Sydney.

My involvement with public telephones started as a telegram boy, I was required to assist with the clearing of the coin tins, generally long barrel types. I would be driven around in a panel van, generally a Standard Vanguard or FE Holden which had the passenger door removed. If the PT was in use I would wait a little while then politely ask the user if I could change the coin tin, telling them that the call would not be cut off. This was not always true and I remember angry users who had lost their calls telling me that PMG stood for "Public Money Grabbers" or "Pigs Must Grunt"

As a trainee and young technician I worked on the installation of equipment in customers premises in suburban Sydney. The standard telephones being installed were new 400 type and refurbished 300 type from the workshops. Telephone lines were extremely scarce and one of my less than desirable jobs was converting existing customers to duplex services which meant they had to share their line with a neighbour. The customers had no choice but were rewarded with a small reduction in rental. I clearly remember the interest created by the introduction of the 800 series of telephones.

One of my first jobs as a trainee was assisting with the installation of a 15 +80 cord switchboard, it was replacing a Stirling cord board, the only one I have ever seen. My collecting started in those early days but strict controls were in place to ensure all old equipment was returned to the workshops, nevertheless I managed to obtain a candlestick and a few other bits and pieces.

I worked on the installation of 2+4 and 3+9 PMBX's and the replacement 2+6 and 3+12, 40 and 80 line cord boards, A5 and A10 intercoms and telephone intermediates. All the switchboards were fitted with a hand generator for ringing the extensions, it was an extra cost option to have power ring fitted. Telephone intermediates were in short supply in the early 60's and I had a job to install 6 J,S&B's (auto single extension switches) which had been refurbished by the workshops as an emergency measure.

I transferred to the newly formed Data installation group around 1974 and worked on the installation of data modems in Sydney and some regions of NSW. The most common speed for data transmission was 200 bits per second (BPS) and the modems were about the size of a modern desktop computer. The highest data speed was 4800 bps and the fastest speed for a dial up line was 2400. That was the limit of the technology at the time.

I transferred to Canberra in 1977 to the newly formed data section, Canberra was fast becoming an important data hub as the central computers of most government departments were in Canberra and utilized Telecom data lines to connect to the other states.

In 1991 I resigned from Telecom (probably a mid life crisis) and started work as a “hands on” Technical Officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I had been a technical manager for the previous 15 years and it required quite an adjustment to be back working with tools and equipment.

I travelled overseas to work on the communications equipment in many Australian Embassies and in more recent years providing secure communications for the Australian Prime Minister during his overseas trips. I was working in New York at the time of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre.

These overseas trips gave me some opportunities to follow my telephone collecting hobby in some rather exotic places and I occasionally came up with some good finds, but generally bakelite items from the 40's and 50's. I found that old telephones in many countries were far more expensive than similar items in Australia. I was also fortunate enough to visit some wonderful communications and telephone museums around the world.

Since retiring 2 years ago I have enjoyed spending more time on telephone collecting and have expanded my collection considerably.

Brian O’Donnell

Written around 2005.


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