1930: Twopence would buy Awanui mast

Auckland Star, 24 May 1930, p 11


Is is probably not general knowledge that the Government wireless station at Awanui is now “dead,” but it is a fact, nevertheless. True, the 400-foot mast still sways to the lightest breeze that floats in from the wide Pacific or rolling Tasman, but it is no longer a greedy mechanical arm thrust skyward to catch messages from afar or throw New Zealand news to lands hundreds of miles over the distant horizon. The mast is there simply because no one has been kind enough to the New Zealand Government to take it away.

Like the sheerlegs at Devonport — the Harbour Board would wish the huge spidery thing at the bottom of the ocean if they could — the Awanui wireless mast is now of no commercial value. A steel lattice structure, it has had its day, and unless a buyer who is willing to take over the mast with the property comes along, the Government will be put to the expense of dismantling it. A report that explosives are to be used to topple the thing over and make a spectacular stunt of the job is not confirmed by the department concerned, but the officials do not deny that twopence would he enough to buy all 400 feet of it. As is stands now, the mast is a responsibility, and is regarded as a handicap to the sale of the land. The station is officially closed, much of the apparatus has been dismantled, and it is rumoured that before the year is very much older the mast will be taken down.

Out of Date.

Seventeen years have been ticked off the calendar since the Awanui wireless station was established, but to many the mere fact that it is connected with radio keeps it comparatively new. Actually, however, it is out of date and does not warrant the cost of its upkeep. In the days just prior to the war wireless was in its infancy and its vast possibilities were undreamed of. The system selected for Awanui was a Telefunken one, and the plant was installed under the direction of two German engineers named Moens and Reinhardt [Eugene Reinhard – Ed.]. The site chosen was an area of low-lying ground about four miles out from Kaitaia. Considerable preliminary work was necessary — a huge concrete base for the mast and concrete anchors for the stays — and this was carried out by the Public Works Department. The actual cost of the work was not available today as the files are not in the Auckland office.

In 1913 little was known of the effectiveness of low power plants and shortwave transmission and reception, and at Awanui a 75 horse-power, four-cylinder engine was installed to drive the 50,000 watt, 500 cycle, dynamo. This power was necessary to work such a place as Suva, but the job can be done now with 50 watts. So much for the huge strides that have been made by radio since Awanui came info existence. When first built the station had a day range of 1200 miles, and when it is remembered that the stations at Auckland and Wellington then boasted a range of little more than 100 miles, it is easily realised that it was looked upon as the “big voice” of the Dominion. A sister station was also established at Awarua, at the Bluff, but the southern station was never regarded with the same importance as Awanui.

Originally Awanui was served by a staff of seven or eight and the amount of traffic that had to be handled was sufficient to keep them busy. In recent years the staff has been gradually reduced, and in March last the station was closed down for ever. For a long period Awanui picked up the regular time signals from the old world. But it is chiefly for the importance with which is was regarded during the dark days of the war that the station will be remembered.

War-time Memories.

There has always been much sadness attached to the passing of an old ship; in a lesser degree there is sentiment connected with the demolition of Awanui’s wireless “arm”. In the words of one officer in the Telegraph Department the mast did its work well. In the period of the war, when Von Spee was out for mischief with the Scharnhorst and Gneisnau, it was Awanui that was best fitted to keep in touch with Allied warships stationed in this part of the world as a precaution against possible enemy attack. It was rumoured at the time that if German warships ever approached New Zealand they would have two main objects in view – the destroying of Westport and the blowing up of the Awanui wireless station. And of, course, the fact that the station had been erected under German supervision on a site that was open to bombardment from either coast was made the subject of much gossip.

But there was no attempt by any German cruiser to wipe out the station, and about the only exciting thing that happened in the locality throughout the war period was the sighting of a German seaplane, believed to have been sent aloft by the raider Wolf while laying mines off the coast — it was one of these unsavoury “eggs” that sent the Wimera to the bottom with considerable loss of life. The report “that a German plane had been, sighted” was generally pooh-poohed, but there seems little doubt in the light of subsequent happenings that the information was correct.

In the days that the more nervous section of the population lived in fear of an enemy attack Awanui was a place of vital importance, and for years afterwards it was regarded as a national asset: to-day its four hundred foot mast can be bought for twopence. Who bids?