1927 - Beam Wireless from Australia

Project Overview
1800s - Land Telegraphy
1874 - Guglielmo Marconi - a Tribute
1895 - Wireless Telegraphy
1901 - Wireless Telegraphy
1902 - Wireless Telegraphy in Australia
1904 - Australian Coastal Radio
1906 - Wireless Telephony
1912 - Melbourne Radio - VIM
1914 - Shortwave Wireless Telephony
1920s - Commercial Shortwave Telephony Development
1920s - Receivers
1920 - The huge RCA Longwave Station in New York
1920 - Wireless broadcasting in Australia
1920s - First shortwave stations in Victoria
1921 - Discovery of Shortwave Propagation
1921 - Koo Wee Rup (Victoria) Experimental Wireless Receiving Station
1923- Longwave Broadcasting in Australia
1923 - Evolution of Australian Domestic Radio
1924 - 3LO - Melbourne's Second Broadcaster
1924 - 3AR - Melbourne's first broadcaster
1924 - The Braybrook (Melbourne) Transmitting Site
1925 - First Shortwave Stations in Western Australia
1926 - First Shortwave Stations in New South Wales
1926 - RAAF Communications - Laverton (Vic)
1927 - Beam Wireless Worldwide
1927 - Beam Wireless from Australia
1928 - ABC Lyndhurst (Victoria)
1930 - AWA Receiving Station at La Perouse (Sydney)
1930 - AWA Radio Centre at Pennant Hills
1933 (to 1969) - Shortwave Radio Clubs in Australia
1936 - Ship Broadcaster - the MS Kanimbla
1939 - Belconnen Communications Station (Canberra)
1940 - RAAF Receiving Station at Werribee (Victoria)
1941 - RAAF Frognall (Melbourne)
1941 - ABC Brisbane
1942 - Army Wireless Chain - west of Melbourne
1942 - Dutch Stations in Australia
1943 - ABC Radio Australia - Shepparton (Victoria)
1943 - Army Shortwave HF Stations in Melbourne
1944 - ABC - Radio Australia - Looking Back
1945 - PMG Receiving Station - Highpark (Victoria)
1945 - Radio Australia - DXers Calling
1946 - Radio Australia - Communications Programs
1946 - VNG Time Signal Station
1948 - Radio Australia QSL Cards
1948 - ABC Sydney
1966 - ABC Cox Peninsula (Darwin)
1970 (to 2012) - Shortwave Radio Clubs in Australia
1975 - ABC Gnangara (Western Australia)
1975 - ABC Carnarvon (Western Australia)
1978 - Omega Navigation Station - Woodside (Victoria)
1985 - ABC Northern Territory
1989 - ABC Brandon (Queensland)
2003 - Private Shortwave Broadcasters
Timeline - Part One - 1839 to 1927
Timeline - Part Two - 1928 to 2012
SPECIAL - Licencing of Shortwave Broadcasters
SPECIAL - Radio Receivers for Shortwave
SPECIAL - Radio Monitoring as a Hobby
Bibliography, References and Resources
Links to the author's personal websites

1928 - Ballan transmitter building

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.

The Fiskville 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 Roman numerals.

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 to 1969.

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 Volts!

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.

1926 - Ballan transmitting site

1928u - Ballan transmitter site

2002 - Ballan antenna guy wire supports

Receiving Station at Rockbank
This also had three antenna masts, with two 16 HP oil engines for power, coupled to 110 Volts, 90 Amp DC generators, which were used to charge a bank of accumulators. The bank consisted of 60 230 amp-hour accumulators. There were two additional generator sets - one to charge the "A" batteries, the other for the "B" batteries. The "B" battery generator delivered 6 Amps at 300 Volts.

The actual operating frequency appeared to be around 12 MHz, for both transmitters, and output would have been a form of "narrowband" CW.

Incoming signals from Canada and the UK were converted to 8 kHz, and then modulated to a 1 kHz audio tone, and then sent on their way to the control centre via telephone lines.

The receiving station at Rockbank was subsequently taken over by the Australian military, used in partnership with the United States Army, until 1969 and some of the towers were transported by low-loader in 2002 to HCJB's new shortwave facility at Kununurra, Western Australia.

The Australian Beam Wireless service has been widely researched by many technical historians, and it has great historical importance to anyone in Australia having an interest in the development of radio in this country.

The British Wireless Commission had recommended that a 5th station should be constructed in Australia, and according to the Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper in the United States, the suggested location was at Canberra, the national capital.

However, it was considered that the two AWA shortwave stations already on the air, Rockbank/Ballan in Victoria and Pennant Hills/La Perouse in New South Wales, were sufficient for regular communication with England and an additional station at Canberra was therefore not necessary. Interestingly though, a large shortwave station was subsequently constructed near Canberra, and this station also was noted on occasions with radio broadcast programming.

Fiskville may be visited without appointment: it's about 5 km south of Ballan on the main road to Geelong, and one may enter via the 75 year old driveway under the arch, or via a side-road, which is well marked.

There were special experimental transmissions arranged by UK amateurs to commemorate the 75th anniversary in 2002. The British Radio Amateur Old Timers' Association organised a special event station at the site of the old Marconi station at Tetney, Lincolnshire, between the April 5 and 8 with the callsign GB75GBH.

Beam wireless technology was phased out in the 1960s due to the introduction of undersea cables and satellite circuits, and as far as I know, Fiskville never operated in voice mode.

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