Awanui Radio 1913-1919

1913

Operator working at Awanui Radio. Date unknown.
Operator working at Awanui Radio. Date unknown.
Operating desk at Awanui Radio c1913. Switchboard at left, window to high-tension room at right. The lever on the wall operates the aerial switch visible through the window.
Operating desk at Awanui Radio c1913. Switchboard at left, window to high-tension room at right. The lever on the wall operates the aerial switch visible through the window. Photo: Awanui Scrapbook, Te Ahu Museum
The North Auckland high-power wireless station completed: The 400ft mast and main buildings of the Awanui Station.
“The North Auckland high-power wireless station completed: The 400ft mast and main buildings of the Awanui Station.” Auckland Weekly News, 23 Jan 1913. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19130123-14-3

The Awanui Wireless Station was activated on 27 March 1913. The Post & Telegraph Department sent John L Davies to Sydney (presumably the Pennant Hills station which was very similar to Awanui) to participate in the Awanui tests during March and April.

The high-power station at Awanui of 30 kilowatts has been completed. It will be capable of communicating with Sydney at any hour. This station is provided with a tower 394 ft in height from which an umbrella-shaped aerial spreads from summit to base over an area of about 90 acres. A similar station at Awarua, near Bluff, is also completed. These stations are undergoing departmental tests.
– AJHR: Post & Telegraph Department, 1913*

Staff were housed in three buildings: the superintendent’s house, the operators’ quarters and the engineer’s house.

Regular service began on 18 December (the same day as Awarua Radio). The Officer in Charge was LW (Pat) Bourke, previously Officer in Charge at New Zealand’s first wireless station in Wellington.

Bill Walker was the Assistant Engineer.

Service was provided to ships as well as point-to-point communication with Apia.

Transmitter room at Awanui c1913. Earth switch on the wall at left, with keying relays on bench below (the blower looks like an after-thought). To the right are spark gaps and Leyden jars.
Transmitter room at Awanui c1913. Earth switch on the wall at left, with keying relays on bench below (the blower looks like an after-thought). To the right are spark gaps and Leyden jars. Photo: Awanui Scrapbook, Te Ahu Museum

1914

The high-power stations at Awanui and Awarua were both opened for commercial work on the 18th December, 1913. Awanui is situated in 34°54′ S, 173°18′ E, and Awarua is 46°30’S, 168°23′ E. These stations are of 30kw primary power and have identical Telefunken equipments. The severe tests made prior to their being taken over by the Department proved them capable of fulfilling all requirements and of ensuring wireless communication with Australia at any hour of the day or night.
– AJHR: Post & Telegraph Department, 1914*

During the First World War, a military guard of 65 men under Captain Proctor of Whangarei was posted at the station, and a high barbed wire fence was erected around it.

Guards at Awanui Radio VLA in 1914
Guards at Awanui Radio VLA in 1914. Photo: Northwood Brothers

1915

Auckland wireless station suspended operation, as the much higher-power Awanui station offered superior performance.

From Bill Walker’s audio interview recorded in 1962:

  • Surrounding the tower was a counterpoise ring, connected by 60 wires
  • The tower faces were 8 feet wide
  • The tower height was 400 feet “near enough”
  • 24 aerials led from “practically” the top of the tower about 1/4 mile to posts in the field surrounding the tower
  • The main working, on 2000 metre wavelength, was to Samoa
  • There were smaller aerials for other wavelengths: 600 metres (ships), 1200 metres (navy – not used much), 300 metres (“never used”)
  • The aerial wires were phosphor-bronze, about the size of Number 8 fencing wire
  • The high-tension room included helixes, repeaters (keying relays
  • At full power, the transmitter used 30-35kW, which was necessary to reach Sydney during daytime (only half as much power was needed at night)
  • For ships service, the transmitter typically used 10-12kW

1916

Assistant Engineer Bill Walker left for military service. His replacement was Mr B Winstanley from the Auckland Post & Telegraph workshop.

Awanui Radio staff in 1917
Awanui Radio staff in 1917. Standing L-R: F O’Grady, S Harris, B Winstanley (Asst Engineer), W Howie. Sitting L-R: CR Renner, LW Bourke (Superintendent), V Earnshaw (Engineer)

Wireless communication on long waves between Awanui and Apia, Samoa, a distance of 1550 knots [sic], established shortly after the seizure of the Samoan group by the New Zealand Expeditionary Force on behalf of the Imperial Government on the outbreak of war, continues to be satisfactorily maintained.
– AJHR: Post & Telegraph Department, 1916*

Wireless weather forecasts which were discontinued at the commencement of the war have been resumed during the year, and are sent out through the radio stations at Awanui, Wellington, and Awarua on the usual reporting nights, and at other times when deemed necessary.
– AJHR: Marine Department, 1916*

1917

In December, John L Davies, previously Officer in Charge at Awarua Wireless Station, became Officer in Charge at Awanui, replacing LW (Pat) Bourke, who became Superintendent of Telegraphs at Napier.

The erection of a residence at the Awanui wireless station for the use of the engineer was completed during the year.
As indicating collateral uses which wireless stations may serve, ‘time’ was transmitted on one evening from the Observatory clock, Wellington, to Tahiti. The clock was arranged to make contacts at intervals of a minute and worked a relay at Awanui over a land-line about 600 miles long, the relay in turn operating a sounder which served as a key to work the high-power transmitting apparatus. Ten separate signals which were sent were reported as having been received in an entirely satisfactory manner at Tahiti, the distance covered being 2245 nauts.
– AJHR: Post & Telegraph Department, 1917*

1918

John L Davies left in August to return to Apia with the Samoa Reinforcements. Assistant Engineer Bill Walker returned from war.

1919

John L Davies returned as Officer in Charge.

Awanui Radio VLA, circa 1919
Awanui Radio VLA, circa 1919. Photo: Northwood Brothers
The engine house and tower base, possibly 1919
The engine house and tower base, possibly 1919. Courtesy: Te Ahu Museum
Awanui Radio VLA in 1919. The Officer-in-Charge's house (left) and Officers' Quarters, with the station visible in the distance. A woman with a boy on horseback stand in Wireless Road in the foreground.
Awanui Radio VLA in 1919. The Officer-in-Charge’s house (left) and Officers’ Quarters, with the station visible in the distance. A woman with a boy on horseback stand in Wireless Road in the foreground. Photo: Northwood Brothers
Awanui Radio 1919
Detail from the photo above

» 1920-1930


Notes

* Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives