The former high frequency
beam wireless transmitting station, some 80 km west of Melbourne, is located just south of the town of Ballan. The 154 Hectare
site (450 acres) is now used by the Victorian Country Fire Authority for training and hospitality purposes.
April 8 1927
The facility commenced transmissions as the Australian transmitting station for the Australia-England
beam wireless service, and was given the name Fiskville in 1933 in honour of its founder, Mr Fisk.
The beam wireless
network provided high-speed telegraphy and "radio pictures" between the UK and Australia, and a Canadian link was added in
later years. The receiving station was at Rockbank, about 60 km west of Melbourne, and landline and wireless links were used
interconnecting the main offices in Melbourne and Sydney with the transmitting and receiving stations.
centre still has many of the original buildings, which have been preserved and are now used for convention accommodation for
visitors. The main entrance is in the form of a high brick archway, with the date of completion (1926) shown prominently in
There is a small bronze plaque outside
the entrance, commemorating the Beam Wireless service, and advising that the last transmission was on May 311969. The CFA
took over the site in 1971.
At its peak, the station had three 25 kW HF transmitters, with 94 antennas. There were
three steel lattice masts, 75 metres high, and 195 metres apart, each weighing 50 tons. The guy wires were supported by concrete
blocks, 33 metres from the base of each tower. The entire antenna structure ran in an east west direction, and supported cross
arms of 27 metres in length. The azimuth was about 330 degrees, which was shortpath to Europe. The same antennas were used
at about 120 degrees, for longpath.
The operating frequency was in the 12 MHz region, using some interesting circuit
designs! The generator actually produced the carrier, at around 12 MHz - there were no crystal controlled devices. The thing
was essentially a huge AC generator.
Historical notes indicate that it had been originally proposed to set up the service
on long-wave, as had been the practice in Europe and North America at the time, but that was abandoned due to constraints
of space and power! The beam wireless was one of the first services to exploit HF propagation commercially, as shortwave had
been thought to be unsuitable for global communications.
The number one transmitter continued in service right up
At its inception, the station used two 25 kW
transmitters, with the call-signs VIZ and VIY. A third transmitter was added at a later stage, and the station continued broadcast
high-speed telegraphy until its closure in 1969. In its later years, it was used also for carrying scanned "radio pictures".
One transmitter and antenna was used for broadcasting to the UK - the other for Canada. The English stations were
located at Grimsby (transmitter) and Skegness (receiver). The transmitting station in Canada was at Drummondville, and at
Yamachiche, for the receiver.
The Ballan station used three towers to support two curtain antennas with reflectors.
Each transmitter consisted of a three-stage power amplifier, driven by a master oscillator. The transmitters were keyed from
a control room in the Melbourne Central business district (Queen Street), via "landlines". Plate voltage was a mere 20,000
Transmission speeds of up to 200 words per minute were achieved, using automated signalling, and controlled
by punched tape.
Commercial (mains) power was not connected to the Ballan site until 1941, and prior to that, power
was generated locally by three 165 HP oil-engines coupled to direct-current dynamos. One generator supplied filament power,
presumed to be AC. There were no batteries.
The Ballan station was huge by the standards of the day, and the antenna
towers were visible up to many km across the surrounding plains.
The technology was the best available at the time,
and was the first commercial exploitation of shortwave long distance broadcasting. The system was not designed for voice,
and it's interesting to recall that the first shortwave voice transmission from Victoria was later in 1927, from a transmitter
co-located at the site of the original 3LO mediumwave station, in the western Melbourne suburb of Braybrook. This transmitter
also operated around 12 MHz, and was very similar in design to the Ballan telegraphy station, with the addition of a modulator.
This transmitter took the callsign VK3ME
and continued to operate (along with a sister station in Sydney - VK2ME) - until the start of World War 11, when it was taken
over by the Government.
The Amalgamated Wireless of Australia company (AWA) was responsible for setting up the Ballan,
Rockbank, and Braybrook stations.
A visit by the author was made to the site in 2002, which revealed that the concrete
blocks are still there protruding about one metre above the ground, and there were still the heavy iron rings attached, which
were used for the guy wires. The original transmitter hall remains, and has been extended with office facilities for the CFA.
A photo taken in 1928 of that building should be compared!
The concrete foundations are in fact now
part of the centre's golf course, and there is nothing else remaining of the feeder system or maintenance blocks. Neither
was any trace to be found of the steel masts or guys, which is understood were dismantled by the CFA in 1971.