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.
Three cottages were built for staff.
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.
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:
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
Master Aurora 1
1917: WFC (Frank) Whiteman became Officer in Charge. A billiards table was installed in the social room.
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.