1901: Marconi transmits a wireless message 3000km from Poldhu, Cornwall to St Johns, Newfoundland.
1903: New Zealand passes the Wireless Telegraphy Act, authorising the Government to set up wireless stations.
1906: Postmaster-General Joseph Ward observes a demonstration of wireless by the Marconi Company in London and the International Telegraph Construction Company in New York.
1908: On 3 Feb, Prime Minister Joseph Ward sends a wireless message from HMS Pioneer in Wellington Harbour to his Australian counterpart, relayed by HMS Powerful in the Tasman Sea and HMS Psyche at Port Jackson. The reply was received six hours after the original message was sent.
On 10 Sept, three teenage radio amateurs in Dunedin send the first message by land wireless in New Zealand.
New Zealand passes the Post and Telegraph Act.
1909: On 15 Dec, representatives of New Zealand, Australia, and the UK Admiralty meet in Melbourne to discuss radio communications in the South Pacific. The conference recommends the creation of high-power (15kW) wireless stations at Sydney, Doubtless Bay in New Zealand, and Suva (Fiji). Medium-power stations are to be set up at Tulagi (Solomon Islands), Ocean Island (Gilbert Islands, now Kiribati) and Port Vila (New Hebrides, now Vanuatu). New Zealand agrees to contribute £2000 to the cost of the Suva station.1
In addition, New Zealand decides to build a second high-power station near Bluff, and low-power (2.5 kW) stations at Wellington, Gisborne, Cape Farewell and Sumner.2
1910: In July, wireless becomes compulsory on large New Zealand ships. Contracts let for New Zealand’s two high-power stations and four low-power stations (Wellington added to the list).
1911: On 31 March, the government signs a contract with the Australasian Wireless Company (AWC) of New South Wales for the supply of Telefunken wireless equipment at a cost of £23,730, choosing Telefunken over rival bidders Marconi and Lepel. The Marconi proposal, in addition to being more expensive, required 200hp to operate between Australia and New Zealand whereas Telefunken required only 70hp, which meant lower operating costs as well.3
Wellington Radio goes on the air from the General Post Office on 26 Jul. The following month, construction begins at a much better location on the Tinakori Hills.
1912: In June, wireless is installed on the Government’s ship Tutanekai. In August, Sydney Radio goes on the air from Pennant Hills. On 14 October, Wellington Radio NZW is officially opened. On 24 October, Auckland Radio goes on the air from the Chief Post Office.
1914: On 3 Aug the Post & Telegraph Department begins censoring mail and telecommunications; representatives of the Censor’s Office are placed at cable and coast radio stations. In late August, P&T wireless staff with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force restore Apia Radio, which had been sabotaged by its German staff. On 23 Sep, P&T staff at Fanning Island restore cable service with Suva following a German attack. On 6 Nov they restore the Fanning-Vancouver connection.
1918: Of the 2,255 permanent officers from the New Zealand Post & Telegraph Department who served in combatant or communications roles during the War, some 10 per cent (225) have died.
1919: Censorship of wireless messages ends on 3 Feb. In April, a new Post and Telegraph Act removes the Department from the jurisdiction of the Public Service Act of 1912, giving the Department greater freedom in managing its staff.
1925: In August, Puysegur Point lighthouse gets radio apparatus to communicate with Awarua Radio. A previous telegraph line had proved difficult to maintain.
1930: Awanui Radio closes on 10 Feb.
1931: On 3 Feb, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake kills at least 256 people in Hawke’s Bay. Amateur radio operators provide emergency communications. Following the quake, the P&T Department decides to supply portable, battery-powered radiotelegraph transmitters and receivers to 16 key locations throughout the country as backup to landline communications.4
1937: In July, New Zealand wireless stations observe two minutes silence to mark the death of Marconi.
1939: Auckland Radio moves to Musick Point (official opening on 12 Jan 1942). New Zealand establishes a weather and radio station at Raoul Island in the Kermadecs. Wartime censorship imposed, with 16 full-time radio and telegraph staff acting as censors at the Auckland overseas cable terminal and Wellington Radio.5
1940: Aliens in New Zealand are not allowed to listen to radio broadcasts other than from New Zealand and Australia. They must register their radio sets with the police. They are also not permitted to have telephones.6 Private radio transmitters are impounded under the Radio Emergency Regulations.
One important unit in the Second World War was the 2nd Divisional Signals. Its various sections included many P&T staff…
…The 2nd Divisional Signals, like its predecessor in the First World War, had the task of opening and maintaining communications for the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force. Men from Divisional Signals were the first unit to see active service, performing, under Royal Signals’ command, the communication duties of the UK Western Desert Force during Lord Wavell’s Libyan campaign of December 1940. The Corps fought in Crete, North Africa and Italy right up to the liberation of Trieste in May 1945…
…Over the length of the war, some 67 men from Divisional Signals were killed in action or died of wounds; a further eight died as POWs and 15 through illness or mischance.7
1942: On 15 Oct, eight P&T radio operators serving as coastwatchers on Tarawa are massacred after being taken prisoner by Japanese troops.
1945: Makara Radio opens in June.
1946: Private radio transmitters impounded during World War 2 are returned to their owners.
1948: New Zealand Broadcasting Service (NZBS) begins short-wave service using transmitters purchased from the departing US military. “Later, the service used two Australian-made 7.5kW transmitters, originally (1938) intended for hte Post Office’s overseas telecommunications, but after 1945 deemed unsuited to its requirements.”8
1950: The P&T Department formally takes control of the New Zealand assets of the nationalised Cable & Wireless Company.
1953: Himatangi Radio opens on 9 Nov.
1960: On 1 Jan, the Post & Telegraph Department is renamed the New Zealand Post Office (Post Office Act – 1959), but remains a government department. On 31 Aug, international telex service using HF radio begins.
1962: Royal Commission of Inquiry into the State Services notes that “we have little doubt that in the long run the telecommunications business will become independent of the Post Office in one form or another.”9
1963: On 19 Oct, the last of New Zealand’s remaining Morse telegraph landlines were closed.
1970: A McKinsey report commissioned by the P&T Department found that “its management structure failed to address the specific, separate needs of its main businesses – telecommunications, banking and postal delivery.”10 Introduction of GENTEX system for automatic switching on larger telegraph circuits, largely eliminating the need to re-transmit telegrams.
1971: New Zealand’s first satellite ground station opens at Warkworth, handling 4000 telephone circuits plus television broadcasting via INTELSAT IV.
1972: Auckland aviation radio (ZLF) moves from Musick Point to Mangere airport.
1986: On 3 April the Government releases the Morris-Mason review of the Post Office, which recommended, among other things, that telecommunications be run by a separate state corporation. On 19 May, Finance Minister Roger Douglas announces that the Post Office will be split into three state-owned enterprises: New Zealand Post, Telecom and Postbank, effective 1 Apr 1987.
1991: Awarua Radio (and Chatham Islands Radio?) close on 30 Aug.
1993: Auckland Radio, Wellington Radio and Himatangi Radio close on 30 Sep.
1996: Makara Radio closes.
1,2 Wilson, A.C. (1994). Wire and wireless: A history of telecommunications in New Zealand 1890-1987, (p 94), Palmerston North, New Zealand: Dunmore Press.
3 Wilson, A.C. (1994). Wire and wireless: A history of telecommunications in New Zealand 1890-1987, (p 95), Palmerston North, New Zealand: Dunmore Press.
4 Wilson, A.C. (1994). Wire and wireless: A history of telecommunications in New Zealand 1890-1987, (p 124), Palmerston North, New Zealand: Dunmore Press.
5,6 Wilson, A.C. (1994). Wire and wireless: A history of telecommunications in New Zealand 1890-1987, (p 131), Palmerston North, New Zealand: Dunmore Press.
7 Wilson, A.C. (1994). Wire and wireless: A history of telecommunications in New Zealand 1890-1987, (p 134), Palmerston North, New Zealand: Dunmore Press.
8 Wilson, A.C. (1994). Wire and wireless: A history of telecommunications in New Zealand 1890-1987, (p 140), Palmerston North, New Zealand: Dunmore Press.
9,10 Wilson, A.C. (1994). Wire and wireless: A history of telecommunications in New Zealand 1890-1987, (p 147), Palmerston North, New Zealand: Dunmore Press.