Awarua Radio 1913-1919

1913

Awarua Radio under construction, as pictured in the Auckland Weekly News, 29 May 1913

The antenna was an umbrella type on a 394ft mast which weighed 60 tons and sat on glass insulators. All three concrete blockhouses for the tower guys are visible in this photo. Muir & Moodie Photo, Auckland Weekly News, 29 May 1913. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries

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.
– Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives: Post & Telegraph Department, 1913

Awarua wireless station VLB opened on 18th December with Mr ALM Willis as Officer in Charge and Mr E Dunwoodie the first man on duty. Other officers were GH Robins, PO Spry and H Adamson who were under the control of the Telegraph Engineer in Invercargill, Mr EH Lawn.

The engine building and one of the three anchors for the guy wires supporting the 394ft mast at Awarua Radio

The engine building and one of the three anchors for the guy wires supporting the 394ft mast at Awarua Radio. Date unknown.

Aerial feedlines leaving the transmitter building at Awanui Radio or Awarua Radio

Aerial feedlines leaving the transmitter building at Awanui Radio or Awarua Radio. Date unknown.

Three cottages were built for staff.

Awarua Radio ZLB seen from the top of a 394ft mast.

Looking north from the top of the 394ft steel tower at Awarua Radio VLB. The main road from Invercargill to Bluff runs across the centre of the photograph and the three staff cottages are clearly visible.
Photo courtesy Alan Glennie

1914

John L Davies became Officer in Charge.

Kerosene lighting was replaced by a “Wizard” lighting system.

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.
– Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives: Post & Telegraph Department, 1914

In August following the outbreak of the First World War, John L Davies, Palmer O Spry and E Dunwoodie left for Samoa with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (Advance Party) to take control of the wireless station at Apia which was, like Awarua, a high-power Telefunken station. Even though Davies had been in charge at Awarua, he was to be Assistant Engineer, reporting to Spry, in Apia.

WRH (Harry) Clarke became Acting Officer in Charge while Davies was in Samoa.

1915

John L Davies returned from Samoa and resumed his role as Officer in Charge. WRH (Harry) Clarke, who had been Acting in the role for a little over two months, took charge of wireless at Auckland.

Awarua’s first manager, ALM Willis, also served in the war, sailing for Egypt in 1915.

Soldiers guarding Awarua Radio during World War 1 pose with staff members.

Soldiers guarding Awarua Radio during World War 1 pose with staff members. There is a good chance that the man front and centre in the top hat was John Davies, who was known to be short. It could, on the other hand, be Harry Clarke, the only other manager of the station during the war years. Click on photo for larger version.

1916

SY Aurora

SY Aurora, Photo: Frank Hurley, Mitchell Collection, State Library of NSW

Recently the wireless station at Awarua served a useful purpose that is unusual in these waters. The chronometers of the ‘Aurora’ had not been checked since that vessel’s departure for the southern seas. The vessel was returning damaged, and required correct time to check the chronometers. Arrangements were made by which at the three consecutive hours of 11am, noon, and 1pm the Observatory clock at Wellington was connected direct to a land-line circuit to the Awarua wireless-station. The length of this circuit was approximately 650 miles. The ship was on the lookout for a wireless signal, which was despatched by preconcerted arrangement practically stimutaneously [sic] with its receipt over the land circuit. The result was found to be highly satisfactory.
– Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives: Post & Telegraph Department, 1916

WRH (Harry) Clarke, former Officer in Charge of Awarua wireless station, died of jaundice in Mesopotamia (Iraq) while serving in the First World War.

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.
– Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives: Marine Department, 1916

Observations are being made at Chatham Islands and Awarua of atmospheric electrical disturbances which prevail in greater or less degree at all times. These are despatched to the British Association for the Advancement of Science.
– Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives: Post & Telegraph Department, 1916

On 23 March, Awarua Radio telegraphist Alfred Goodwin received the following wireless message from Ernest Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party aboard Aurora WVSQ in Antarctica. The message was addressed to King George V of England:

Sire,
Aurora driven from Winter Quarters Cape Evans Blizzard May 6th and set north frozen in pack ice. Rudder smashed ship disabled present position lat 65° 00 S long 155° E. Prospects of relative safety of Southern party is doubtful. Little provisions and clothing at Ross Sea Base. I pray Your Majesty will permit ship proceed with all haste to Cape Evans McMurdo Sound with provisions and clothing.
Your Majesty’s Humble & Devoted Subject
Stenhouse
Master Aurora 1

Read more about the Ross Sea Party and the drift of SY Aurora.

1917

WFC (Frank) Whiteman became Officer in Charge.

Improved methods of detecting signals by means of the ultraudion were introduced at Awarua, Wellington, and Auckland a few months ago, and apparatus for the other stations has been procured and will shortly be brought into use. The results obtained at Awarua, where the apparatus has been extensively experimented with, have been particularly gratifying. The signals of stations using damped and undamped waves invariably come in of readable strength from American, Asiatic and European stations. The use of this detecting-apparatus with a particular combination of the receiving-circuits has demonstrated that daylight signals from stations using the ordinary wave-lengths can be rendered plainly audible, which by the ordinary methods and the use of the crystal detector could not be heard.
– Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives: Post & Telegraph Department, 1917

A billiards table was installed in the social room.

Transmitter at Awarua Radio, c1918

‘Transmitter at Awarua Radio, c1918’

Spark gap transmitter at Awarua

Spark gap transmitter at Awarua. Courtesy RG Newlands, who believes the venetian blinds distinguished Awarua from Awanui, which had holland blinds. If this is correct then the previous photo may be Awanui. It is also possible that this photo was taken at Pennant Hills, which we know had venetian blinds.

Keying relays for a spark gap transmitter, at Ferrymeade museum in Christchurch. Could these have been from Awarua Radio? Compare them with the photos of Awarua's sister station Awanui Radio

Keying relays for a spark gap transmitter, at Ferrymeade museum in Christchurch. Could these have been from Awarua Radio? Compare them with the photos of Awarua’s sister station Awanui Radio. Photo 2016 Alex Glennie

Another view of the spark gap keying relays

Another view of the spark gap keying relays. Photo 2016 Alex Glennie

Nameplates on the keying relays, written in German. The one on the left translates as "Wireless Company - Telegraphy Berlin"

Nameplates on the keying relays, written in German. The one on the left translates as “Wireless Company – Telegraphy Berlin”, which was commonly known as Telefunken.2 Photo 2016 Alex Glennie

1919

The ‘British Official Wireless Press’ was first transmitted from Leafield, Oxford. Awarua observed the press but did not copy.

Awarua was the official standby station for schedules between VMA and Apia, and VLA (Awanui) and Apia in cases of transmitter failure at those stations.


Notes

1. Tyler-Lewis, K. (2006). The lost men: The harrowing saga of Shackleton’s Ross Sea party, Preface, Viking Penguin.
2. Wilson, A.C. (1994). Wire and wireless: A history of telecommunications in New Zealand 1890-1987, (p 95), Palmerston North, New Zealand: Dunmore Press.

» 1920-1929

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