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Australian Telephone Box History

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CORNER TYPE PUBLIC TELEPHONE: In 1940 in conjunction with the introduction of a new telephone cabines (see Fig. 6 P.T. Cabinets) which had glass on three sides and a glass door, a new instrument was designed for corner mounting (Fig.21) in this particular cabinet. The local call instrument was finished in vitreous enamel for resilience

and featured an enlarged dial ring which formed part of the case, and an enlarged coin chamber to overcome past faults associated with overflowing coin recepticle. The in�strument also featured a handset with flexible metal cord.

This public telephone along with its associated cabinet, although used in N.S.W. between 1939 and 1945 was quickly discontinued. The cabinet was based on the British Post Office pattern but unlike the British cabinet which was made of concrete and later cast iron, it was decided that the Australian model would be built of sheet steel, with hollow walls, which proved disasterous in our climate. Unfortunately the specially designed and in many respects quite advanced instrument was also abandoned.

Fig.22

No obvious reason for this instruments discontinuance has been discovered. The instrument itself was known as No.1  Wall, and it may have been that its adapt�ability to tariff change and inadequate protection from vandalism caused it to be phased out so quickly. The nature of the exchanqe network of the day may also have presented problems. In any case a clear decision seems to have been made in favour of the Variable Tariff (or Long Tom as it was sometimes known), which seems a pity in view of its obviously advanced design and additional features.

The first public telephones in Sydney were provided at the Telegraph Receiving Room General Post Office on 5th March 1893. Subsequent public telephones were also provided on departmental premises usually at the telephone exchange or local Post Office. From the turn of century onward it was recognised that the general public, the vast majority of whom did not have access to telephone facilities should be provided with a local service housed in a public telephone 'box'. To do this effic�iently and conveniently it was necessary to provide a telephone instrument in a well designed street cabinet.

The changes in these cabinets over the years has been most interesting. Bear in mind the utilitarian function of this type of street furniture which also needs to be an aesthetically acceptable public amenity. Not only is it essential that these facilities be efficient in their use, and aesthetic in appearance, but they must be durable and economic to maintain. This later aspect has always presented engineering problems due to climatic variations throughout the State (wide variation in temper�ature and humidity) vandalism problems, durability and availability of materials used. Coastal sites may have rust problems, inner western regions may have white ant or rotting hazards. Ventilation was also a prime consideration in cabinet design.

Although private telephone density has risen far beyond what could have been envis�aged at the beginning of the century, there has remained a need for public telephones at key points throughout our cities and suburbs.

Fig.1 Early Acoustical Cabinet at GPO Sydney.

were provided with three half glass panels and two glass panels in the door. Lighting however was poor so too was ventilation. This type was originally installed with a lino�leum covered wood floor mounted on wooden plinths. The cabinet being constructed of timber (with galvanised iron clad roof) suffered joinery rot due to capillary entry of ground moisture.

The bulk of the above type precluded its installation from many city streets and in fact a very wide footpath was required in suburban -locations before it could be accom�modated comfortably. A few of these cabinets are still in use. Inside livery was red dappled with black. An equally old yet 'scaled down' variety is depicted in Fig.4 and 5 nf a cabinet which stood outside the North Randwick Post Office.

Left Fig. 2 Right Fig. 3

Left Fig. 4 Right Fig.5

It was quickly found that there were several inherent weaknesses in timber cabinets, which were: a) joinery is a point of weakness and difficult to exclude weathering, b) Wood tends to rot around the lower portion, c) ventilation in wood cabinets inadequate, d) they require frequent repainting. For these reasons other materials for cabinets were looked at.

The BPO Type cabinet (Fig.6) is a close copy of the design used by the British Post Office and was called Kiosk No.3. It was made of steel, and small quantities were made during the war years, but due to failure of the surface by rust, and poor vent�ilation, production was quickly abandoned. Note however the cast asbestos cement roof which was to be adopted in later designs.

Another innovation adopted in 1927 (Fig.7) was the precast 'Pipe Type' conErete cabinet with wooden door and concrete floor. The cabinet itself was in fact made from cylin�drical precast pipe with two small half length windows. These cabinets featured precast concrete roofs, some of which were flat with small conical metal ventilators

in the centre, whilst others were conical and ornamented to represent small roofing tiles.

Left Fig.6 Right Fig.7

Another steel cabinet was tried in 1951 (Figs. 8 and 9) after development work by PMG Sydney Workshops. The chief feature was the adoption of louvres for cross ventilat�ion, which was incorporated in the later Temperate design. The body was cast steel with a cement base. Although the concept of louvre glazing gave much improved vent�ilation the 'heating' aspects and maintenence of steel cabinets was considered unsat�isfactory and the type abandoned.

Left Fig.B Right Fig.9

Head-box types of cabinets were first seen in the 1920's in safe or protected locat�ions such as Railway Stations and PDst Offices. Figs. 10 and 11 are examples of early head-box cabinets found in Sydney streets.

Left Fig. 10 Right Fig. 11

The problem with these was that they were unpopular with the public. The door tended to close in on you, and your legs got wet in rainy weather, space restrictions were also annoying. On the credit side they were good in locations where space was at a premium. They were cheap to construct and relatively easy to maintain.

The Second World War saw a resurgance in their use due to their mobility, e.g. they were favoured for army camps, airports, dockyards etc., and economy of material in con�struction whilst still providing good ventilation, protection for the instrument and user. Two types adopted in the war years Figs. 12 and 13 below, Fig.12 was known as 'Red Riding Hood'.

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Left Fig. 12 Right Fig. 13

The use of multiple or banks of cabinets is still popular in heavy usage locations. Below Figs.14 and 15 at Central Railway (cabinets now demolished), Post Office loc�ation at Maroubra Figs.16 and 17 (now gone) and Wynyard Railway Station (underground Sydney) which still exist to-day without the two penny call fee of course.

Above Figs.14 and 15 Central Railway Station.

Above Figs.16 and 17 Maroubra Post Office.       Below Fig.18 Wynyard Station Sydney.

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In 1933 a new style was introduced (known as the Flag Type) of wooden construction it represents a revised Federation style (Figs.2 and 3) with either half or full length fixed glazing. The galvanised iron clad pagoda type roof was also similar to the earlier concept, except for being dimensionally much smaller, as was the whole cabinet. Earlier floors were constructed of timber which in some cases, particulari.y in country centres were fitted with a switching device, so that by stepping on the floor, the cabinet light was activated. Later, however, concrete floors were used exclusively, and the cabinet hclted down by means of four angle brackets. Some very much later models feature cannibalised asbestos roof's from the Tropical type cabinet.

The basic forms were:

a)

Glazed

half

length

two

sides

and

door,

b)

Glazed

full

length

two

sides

and

door,

c)

Glazed

half

length

all

sides

and

door,

d)

Glazed

full

length

all

sides

and

door.

Fig. 19 is an example of d) while Fig.20 is an example of a),

As popular as these cabinets seem to have been with the public, they still possessed shortcomings, particularly in ventilation and maintenance, but it is sad to think they will have completely disappeared from our streets by the early 1980's.

Left Fig. 19 Right Fig.20

Fig.21 Bankstown Mall where old cabinets were specially provided

in 1979.

In 1956 Sydney Workshops adopted another design as standard, known as the Temperate style (Fig.22), this cabinet was built of timber but featured louvre glazing as opposed to fixed glass glazing and an asbestos cement roof. Again the wooden floor was omitted and the cabinet mounted on four metal angle brackets one and a half inches above the concrete floor base. Durable timber was specified, and lighting and acoustics improved with a plush-fitting and acoustic lining in the ceiling. The louvre glazing provided most of the ventilation, and was assisted by ventilation through the ceiling and under the gap between sides and floor. Inside colour for both 'Flag' and 'Temperate' styles was light green dappled dark green.

Fig.22                                                               Fig.23

The late 1960's saw experiments with the first aluminium cabinet (Fig.23) to be adopted. This cabinet underwent basic design changes in recent years and the cur�ved roof has been abandoned in favour of the more functional flat roof.

With the establishment of Telecom Australia in 1976, which took responsibility in

this area from the Australian Post Office, Telecommunications Division, the red livery of cabinets was abandoned in favour of Telecom Gold, and interiors of existing

wooden cabinets to be recoloured gold dapled with orange. The Coin Telephone No.3 programme will mean the replacement of all wooden cabinets in NSW with the modern aluminium type by the early 1980's.

All of the types of cabinets depicted were used in IUSW and some were peculiar only to IUSW, whilst other states had types which were only used locally and thus not seen here.

History of the Telephone in New South Wales, Jim Bateman, 1980
ISBN 0 95944787 0 1

Picture - with thanks to Ric Havyatt