From message sticks to satellites

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 ground.

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 centres.

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.

World first products and technologies in communications

Public Notice: 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.

Print Edition: ISBN 0646252119 - Paperback - 224 pages - 350 illustrations - $55.00 incl. GST.

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