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50th reunion celebrating Sydney and Melbourne’s first fast connection


A special celebration will take place in Sydney today marking the 50th reunion for workers who built one of Australia’s biggest and most important telecommunications projects of the 20th century.

The laying of a co-axial cable between Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, brought Australians closer together by allowing direct phone calls and simultaneous television broadcasts for the first time.

Starting in 1960, thousands of workers worked on the project, laying 15,000 tonnes of cable over the six hundred mile, or nine hundred and sixty kilometre route, including passing under 17 rivers.

Seventy members of the original construction team came together for the 50 year reunion, which they expect will be the last such gathering.

Organiser Dick Corin, one of the senior engineers on the project, said the cable was laid through some of Australia’s toughest terrain, under extreme weather conditions and used revolutionary technology that was years ahead of its time.

“The two lead surveyors who planned the cable’s path walked the entire route and in the end decided to follow the track originally marked by the early explorers Hume and Hovell – in a sense the link is a tribute to them,” said Mr Corin.

“The cable travelled 600 miles, almost 1000 kilometres, and was laid over mountains, the sides of gorges, under rivers and beneath many rail crossings, busy roads and under the sprawling suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney.”

The cable took five years to build with the teams laying the cable two to four feet (60cm-1.2m) below the earth’s surface (pictured below), averaging five miles (8km a day). Two thousand plans were drafted by hand, 15,000 tonnes of equipment were hauled across the length of the route, with 3000 coaxial joints and 103 minor repeater stations built.

Kate McKenzie, Telstra Innovation, Product and Marketing, echoed the words of then Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies when he said that the cable was a system of communications that was the envy of most people in the world.

“This was a visionary project – one which anticipated the role telecommunications would play in helping loved ones connect, and fulfilling the ongoing desire of people to stay connected,” said Ms McKenzie.

“With today’s superfast broadband and mobile technology it’s hard for us to truly grasp the scale and impact of what the men and women achieved 50 years ago in the laying of this cable. However listening to the stories and seeing the photos of the project; the early equipment used, the rugged landscape, the flying foxes, the hauling of cable under fast flowing rivers, along the sides of gorges and in sprawling ducts under our major cities, really brings it home.”

“We salute everyone involved in this project, their foresight, commitment and the perseverance they showed in advancing communications in Australia.”

Coaxial cable stats:

- Work commenced in Casula, NSW in 1960 and was opened on April 9th 1962 when the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies made an interstate direct call
- The cable travelled through Sydney, Campbelltown, Mittagong, Bowral, Moss Vale, Marulan, Goulburn, Canberra, Yass, Gundagai, Wagga Wagga, Albury, Wodonga, Wangaratta, Benalla, Euroa, Seymour and Melbourne
- The cable was laid across a 600 mile route (960km) following the path tracked by Hume and Hovell
- The rugged areas were surveyed by air before surveyors walked the route
- A pegging party followed the surveyors pegging out the path for the cable to be laid
- The cable was laid two to four feet (60cm-1.2m) below the earth at a rate of approximately six feet (1.8m) a minute, averaging at best rate of five miles (8km) a day
- 15,000 tonnes of cable and other equipment were hauled across the route
- The cable passes under 17 rivers including the Murrumbidgee
- 2000 hand drawn plans were drafted in the design of the project
- 103 minor repeater stations were built
- The cable has 3000 coaxial joints
- The cable was built in Germany and transported to Australia by ship
- The cable took two and half years to build at a cost of seven million pounds
- The cable supported the simultaneous live broadcast of the 5th test of the 1962-63 Ashes series to Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne - a major milestone in Australian television history
- The cable remained in use for two decades, when it was finally superseded by optical fibre links.

Note to media:

- High res images for media use are available to download.
- To arrange an interview with one of the workers involved in laying the cable please contact Ingrid or James on the numbers below.


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