On 22 September 1918, the first direct radio message between London and Sydney was sent.
“Send reinforcements, we are going to advance”. That through being “altered in transit” was relayed as “Send three and four pence, we are going to a dance”. Same principle as the parlour game Chinese Whispers.
World War One? Apocryphal? Possibly. But it was a very real problem as sensitive military messages were transmitted from sub-station to sub-station. The submarine cable that ran from Darwin, through the Indonesian archipelago and on to “Mother England” during the First World War left Australia’s communications, to say the least, vulnerable.
Billy Hughes, prime minister at the time, worried about it. Before the war Marconi, credited as the inventor of radio, had offered to personally come to Australia to advance Australia’s communications but hostilities prevented that.
Ernest Fisk, born in England, was sent to Australia to establish Marconi operations locally and became managing director of Amalgamated Wireless (Australia) Ltd.
On September 22, 1918, came evidence of his labours. The first messages received direct from Wales and by wireless telegraphy were transmitted on that date.
The messages were dispatched by the prime minister, who had been visiting troops on the Western Front, from the Marconi company’s new Transatlantic station in Caernarvon (Wales). It was received by Mr Fisk, at his experimental wireless station at his home in Wahroonga.
The message sent by Morse code from the prime minister said: “I have just returned from a visit to the battlefields – where the glorious valour and dash of Australian troops saved Amiens and forced back the legions of the enemy – filled with greater admiration than ever for these glorious men and more convinced than ever that it is the duty of their fellow citizens to keep these battalions up to their full strength.”
John Bishop, president of the Hornsby and District Amateur Radio Club will tomorrow (Saturday) arrange a re-enactment of the successful transmission at the monument adjacent to Mr Fisk’s property.Advertisement
He said: “They didn’t think it would work. But it did work and that opened up the possibility of communicating around the world.
“That first message was a bit ‘jingoistic’; support for the war was starting to wane within the Australian public and Hughes’ message was to both praise the efforts of the Australian troops stationed on the Western Front and to encourage greater support within Australia to send reinforcements to maintain our battalion strengths. It was unknown at the time that the war would end before the close of the year.”
The Sydney Morning Herald reported a day later: “Although the better part of a lifetime has elapsed since the laying of the first submarine cable between England and Australia, the days when the steamers brought the first news from Europe are still fresh in the memory of many of Sydney’s citizens.”
Jo Harris, vice president of the Ku-ring-gai Historical Society added: “Fisk had people there all day, every day. At 1.15pm local time the very first direct wireless message came through from Wales. This isn’t just a Ku-ring-gai or NSW thing. It was a worldwide achievement. Billy Hughes said it was a miracle.”
Among those attending the re-enactment in 2018 were be several members of the Fisk family including Jane Fisk, whose husband, Ernest, was the eldest son of Ernest senior.
She said her father-in-law was one of the most fascinating men she had ever met. “My husband would have been one year old in the October when the message came through in the September.
“I would loved to have seen his father’s face when the Morse code dots and dashes came through. It would have been amazing with him realising it had been done.”