THE YEAR OF 1956 - FULL TIME WORK
In late 1955, whilst
in Form 5 at Camberwell High School, the time was approaching to decide what
to do for a full time living. It was not possible for me to continue on to Form 6, and ultimately University, as my parents
could not afford the fees. I underwent a vocational guidance assessment, and the results were somewhat vague, suggesting that
my career path should be “something technical”!
I decided to contest
the Australian Public Service entrance examination, along with thousand
of other kids,.
In late 1955,
I was offered a position in the Postmaster’s General’s Department as a Trainee Technician, a five year course
in Telecommunications, and commenced on January 9, 1956, aged 16 years.
was not really my first preference, as I had wanted to join the Department of Civil Aviation as a Trainee Technician in radio,
but there were very few vacancies there.
So I entered the PMG’s
Department, completing the course in December 1960, and gained an award for Dux of the school in my final year .
1956 was Melbourne’s
Olympic Games year!
I would remain in the
Department, for 41 years, through its various transformations, to the present-day entity Telstra, ultimately leaving in 1997
as the beneficiary of a very generous voluntary redundancy package.
On leaving the
Company, my substantive designation was Professional Engineer, Level 4, and I had been employed as an Engineer since January
1965, across many areas of involvement..
From the early 1950s,
the Government had embarked on a massive Telecommunications expansion program, nationally.
This included the replacement
of all magneto and Central Battery "CB" telephone exchanges and telephones, the conversion of old Strowger exchanges (dating
to early 1900s) to the modern 2000-type system, the introduction of direct dialling of trunk calls without the need for
an operator, the construction of hundreds of small automatic Crossbar exchanges in rural and semi rural areas. and the laying
of new pit and pipe to support the program..
It also saw the phasing
out of aerial/overhead wires with underground cable, and the replacement of old dial-type telephones with modern push-button
New switching systems
were becoming available, such as Stored Program Control (SPC) which used the Swedish Crossbar system instead of the older
archaic electromechanical "step" switches.
NEW NATIONAL TRAINING SCHEME
To assist in managing the massive increase in network capacity,
a huge commitment was made to the recruitment and training of technical staff, mainly through the introduction of the five-year
Trainee Technician program, which ran from the early 1950s into the 1960s.
Trainees were 15 or
16 year olds, many from country areas.
Selection for training
required passing of the annual Commonwealth Pubic Service entrance exam.
Thousands of Trainees
passed through the scheme, who after graduation were appointed to disciplines of telephone exchange maintenance, telephone
exchange installation, telephone maintenance, long-line equipment installation and maintenance, radio, or PABX installation
Since the late 1940s,
shorter training schemes for adults had been operating where returned servicemen and other adults could undertake training
for up to four or 18 weeks.
To manage this massive
"TIT" program, training schools were set up in major capitals, some housed in converted factories, stores, Victorian
era mansions, or warehouses.
In 1956, there were
three schools in Melbourne - two in West Melbourne (Batman St and King St), and in South Yarra (the former "Grong Grong" mansion)
In 1964, these schools
were discontinued as part of a site rationalization program, in favour of a refurbished larger establishment in East Hawthorn,
in Auburn Rd, the former Westclox factory.
The first year of training
was at the schools where trainees would learn basic practical skills specific to the Dept's needs, and theoretical training.
My wages, in 1956, were
25 shillings a week!
In the second and following
years of training, field training to various work centres would be arranged, usually close to trainees’ places of residence,
and supervised by senior technical staff and Field Supervisors.
Some school attendance
was also required.
These field visits would
range from one to four weeks and trainees’ work and performance would be closed monitored and assessed.
In parallel with the
TIT scheme, a Lineman-in-Training scheme was operating, offering training in eternal field practices for several weeks, which
would include cable jointing, external plant construction, and pit and pipe work.
LIT schools had
been set up in various capitals.
In Melbourne, the main
Lineman’s School was located at Fisherman’s Bend, adjacent to the Yarra, and we, as TITs had to survive a
four week stint here in mid winter to gain an appreciation of skills and practices relevant
to external plant.
Bend centre had its origins in the war years, and was on land owned by the nearby Commonwealth Aircraft Company and the former
Fisherman’s Bend airport.
It consisted of a large
open paddock, with a central admin block where lectures were conducted. The practical work was done in converted "Nisson huts"
- wooden floors, and curved tin walls and roofs.
In the third year, the
amount of time spent in the Technicians school was reduced, and field visits were extended.
In fourth and fifth
year, Trainees were allocated to their final "stations" with only minimal attendances at the schools.