Awarua Radio 1913-1919

1908: A conference in Melbourne, Australia considered the feasibility of a radiotelegraph link from Australia to New Zealand as a parallel system to the existing submarine communications link. A similar link from New Zealand to Fiji was envisaged.

1910: Tenders were called for two New Zealand Government wireless stations, one at Awarua for Australia-New Zealand and one at Awanui for New Zealand-Fiji. Tenders were received from Marconi Co and Australasian Wireless Co which represented Telefunken. Telefunken was the successful tenderer. The cost of the two stations was £25,000.

1912: Construction began. See photos and blueprints for the antenna system.

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.

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, AWNS-19130529-14-2

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.

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

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

SY Aurora

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

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

1917: WFC (Frank) Whiteman became Officer in Charge. 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.

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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