Can You Hold Please?

Switchboard, Lower Creek Exchange, 1936

Australia’s first telephone exchange was opened in Melbourne in August 1880. That was only two years after the world’s first exchange in the United States, and just four years after Alexander Bell first spoke on a telephone. However, it was a “luxury,” and one that would not come to many parts of the Mid North Coast until much later.

Despite parts of the Upper Kempsey being opened up by cedar and timber cutters, the present road to Armidale from Kempsey did not come into common use until the end of the 19th Century. It was used for horse and bullock teams until the 1890s and became accessible to general traffic in 1902. The isolation of the area can be seen by the creek names: Three Day Creek (Nulla Creek); Five Day Creek; and Seven Day Creek (Lower Creek).

A telephone and receiving office was established at Lower Creek, a small village 90 kilometers west of Kempsey and on the Kempsey-Armidale road, in January 1916. Just a few months earlier, a young boy slipped whilst using an axe and severed a big toe on one foot. The boy’s father mounted his horse to ride to the nearest telephone office to call the doctor; however, while cantering along the road, the animal stumbled and fell, breaking the man’s collarbone. Both patients were transported to Kempsey by car the next day for surgical treatment.

The Lower Creek telephone equipment was upgraded with this exchange equipment in 1936. At the time, there was just one subscriber. Special radio equipment was added in 1962 as a backup system following the disastrous floods of the 1950s where telecommunications networks were destroyed.

In 1982, the Lower Creek Post Office and exchange were closed. Subscribers were initially connected via a party line to Kempsey, but in 1984, they joined the nearby Comara automatic telephone exchange which had been the last manual exchange of the Macleay.


When and where was the first telephone exchange opened in Australia?

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