History of the Telstra Research Laboratories



Memories of Telstra Research Laboratories – Rick Coxhill 1964 – 2003


I related a few of these in my send-off speech in July 2003. People liked the stories so I elaborated on the ones I related and added a few more. Some stories came from work colleagues.

Despite all the negative things I have mentioned below, the Labs was a great place to work.


Scariest Moment

Happened in about 1965 when I was a trainee and based in the Labs Training Annex in the Melbourne CBD at 51 Latrobe St., Melbourne. After an intense drinking session at one of local hotels, I upset one of the more burly trainees. He grabbed me by the ankles and hung me head first out through a window from the second story. I thought I was going to die.


Most Inspiring Moments

1.       In 1989, when all the Labs were finally on the one site, the then Director Harry Wragge gave a speech in front of most of the Labs staff making a big issue of the fact the Labs were finally all on one site.

2.       When Frank Blount became CEO of Telstra in 1992, he arranged for a free concert for all staff at the (now) Rod Laver arena.

In both the above cases I came away feeling inspired. Did not last long though.


Things I Particularly Remember

  • The Melbourne CBD flood in 1972 when 100mm of rain fell in 2 hours. I remember looking out the second storey at 117 Lonsdale St., and watching cars floating down the street. Getting home that evening was a nightmare. No trains because Flinders Street Station was flooded. Most roads were flooded.

  • The Labs open days in 1969, 1973 and 1985.

  • The Labs Annual Balls in late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The first Labs Ball was in 1968 at the “Stardust Room” in St. Kilda. It burnt down soon after the first Ball (no fault of the Labs) and subsequent ones were held at “Aylesbury Court” in Brighton. These were big events with attendances around 400. We went to every one.

  • When based in the CBD, going to the pictures when one was bored. Usually saw other Labs people there hiding in the shadows.

  • The Material Store the Labs once had. It was virtually shutdown in 1996. It had everything. Tools, metal, electronic components, office supplies and much more. It had an annual budget of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Unfortunately it was abused. The boss lady store person once told me that based on the store records, she estimated every person in the Labs had at least 6 full sets of tools.

  • The practical areas the Labs once had that were very useful for personal projects. The in-house Painters and a “Model Shop” that had every conceivable type of metal fabrication equipment and highly skilled people who knew how to fabricate anything.

  • The clerical support we used to have.

  • The terrible toilet paper we had in the training annex. It was like hard greased paper and with no perforations.

  • The move to Clayton and the subsequent setting up of everything including social activities. In conjunction with David Duckworth, I organised a debenture scheme where staff loaned money to purchase 2 billiard tables. We constructed a “booking board” where players booked and payed 20 cents for a timeslot to play on the tables. Everyone who loaned money was repaid with interest within a year. We had fantastic support from everyone in setting this up. The painters helped with the booking board and the workshop made the overhead lights. The tables were slate based and extremely heavy. We had to get the tables up narrow stairs from the ground floor to a mezzanine floor. The boys from the workshops helped with this and it was very difficult. Another group of people set up a branch of the Credit co-op at Clayton providing a banking service on-site.

  • The field trips to the Nullabor Plain in the late 1960’s. They were working holidays. I was lucky enough to go 3 times.

  • When based in the CBD, the “black afternoons” that usually occurred on pay days and the subsequent hiding places we used to dry out. In those days, most areas had laboratories with lots of bench space. Underneath the benches were cupboards where you could stretch out and sleep in the dark. The Cheneys building at 140 Exhibition Street also had a very long self-contained toilet on the top floor where you could lock the door and stretch out on the floor for a good sleep. When we moved to Clayton, good sleeping places were difficult to find but we eventually found one. The Clayton building had service ducts around the outside accessed via doors from the inside using a special key. One time a tradesman was doing some work in the duct and left his key in the door whilst he went to lunch. On return, the key had disappeared and we convinced him that he had misplaced it. Many an afternoon was spent having a sleep in the fold up lounge chair we placed inside the duct. It was a lovely place to sleep, dark and very quiet.

  • Getting paid in cash. New bills have a certain captivating aroma. Also, it was a good chance to see everyone who worked in the building because within 10 seconds after the word “pay” was uttered everyone in the building appeared. Most people stopped getting paid in cash in the 1980’s. For a while, it was ones right to be paid in cash if they so desired. A few people continued getting paid in cash for as long as they could but I believe they did it more to inconvenience the system rather than for their own convenience.

  • The huge technology dispute in the 1970’s which the Union won. We attended many fiery meetings at Festival Hall about this issue.

  • The Labs API children’s Christmas parties at Ferny Creek reserve. Staff pitched in to wrap the presents handed out by Father Christmas who was a prominent staff member. We took our children there many times. I recall we also had a few children’s Christmas parties on the Monash site at Clayton.

  • The staff Christmas functions at Jells Park in the late 70’s and early 80’s. These were well attended and enjoyable. The Labs then moved to having Xmas functions on site.

  • When I first joined the Labs, we were issued with a “Kit” of tools and a toolkit number. The number was engraved on every tool. My Kit number was 134 (see also a list of Tool Kit Numbers).

  • When I was a trainee from 1964 to 1967, we had to spend some time at the Tooronga Training School which was near the corner of the Monash freeway and Tooronga Road. Normie Rowe (the pop singer) was a trainee in my year and in 1967 long hair was the fashion. Normie had particularly long hair and was told to cut it. He did not want to cut his hair so this prompted him to leave and pursue his pop career. Many others (including me) were also asked to cut their hair. I did not cut my hair but just brushed it back rather than let it hang over my ears and forehead and that made them happy.

  • The first year of my training (1963) was spent full time at the Tooronga Training School. As part of our metalwork training we had to file a brass block (about 5 cm big) so that every face was perfectly square with every other face. This was a very difficult task. I did manage to complete it, but I recall many others never finished. They had filed so much that the original 5cm block was so small they could barely hold it in the vice.

  • The Labs had a building at 10 Lonsdale Street which has centre median strip parking. From the windows facing Lonsdale Street, many interesting things were seen to happen in the front seats of the cars parked there.

  • We were able to get "Trade Orders" for goods for either business or personal use. You had to get a special form from a special clerk.

Most Embarrassing Event for Telstra Management

The hiring of Bruno Sorrontino as Director in 1992. He was subsequently exposed by Labs staff as not having the qualifications he claimed to have and resigned after 5 weeks. The involvement of TRL staff will never be forgotten by a certain Telstra executive who hired Bruno.

I was a member of a group that met with Bruno after he was hired where he outlined his plans for the Labs. I must admit that he was a good speaker and impressed me with his plans for the Labs.
See also various media articles about Bruno


That which should not have happened

The “Rotten Apple” episode. In late 1970’s, the Apple Computer company released the Apple II computer. An enterprising person in the labs obtained a circuit diagram and wire wrapped a copy of the circuit. Then copies of the printed circuit were produced together with copies of peripherals and software. Nearly everyone in the Labs were involved in one way or another. The trouble was it got out of hand and word spread to the outside. Two incidents occurred that made me realise that it should never have happened.

1.       Around 1982, I was at a party and someone who I had never met before asked me where I worked. I said the (then) Telecom Australia Research Labs. They quickly retorted “Oh, isn’t that where they are making the Apple boards?”

2.       Someone rang a very senior executive in (then) Telecom Australia and asked if they could get him an Apple circuit board.

Apart from all the above, it was a good learning exercise for staff and I don’t believe Apple lost any money.


Space Wars

The term used within the Labs to describe the wars between management and staff that occurred whenever new accommodation was being designed. I was always happy to have a job and a seat to sit on. For many others it was a constant battle to ensure that they got what they thought they were entitled to. This tended to drag out the design process time and cost heaps of money.
One time a whole floor was being refurbished. This involved moving most walls and new carpet. The old carpet was industrial quality and still in good condition. I negotiated with the guy doing the renovations and obtained some of the old carpet which I laid in our lounge and bedrooms. It served us for years but I eventually pulled it out and reverted to polished boards. At one point during the renovations, electricians had turned off the power and were ready to remove all the old power points on the walls that were to be moved. Overnight, all the power points disappeared. After a quiet word to a few individuals they reappeared the following day.


Most Enjoyable Personal Times

1964 and 1965 at the Labs Training Annex in the CBD at 51 Latrobe St. Could not wait to get there and did not want to go home. Learnt at lot, played pranks and mixed with a variety of people my age. Brian Waldron, the guy in charge, was one of my mentors. Despite having to deal with some extremely wild trainees, Brian was always in total control and very well respected by every trainee. He helped many of the wild trainees with various problems.
I also remember that in 1964 I had my first introduction to the Beatles in the training annex. One of the later year trainees had a turntable and he continually played the very early Beatles records.


Secret Projects

I only discovered just before I left that a some Labs staff were working on secret projects. These were not secret in the sense of not letting your competitors know about them but ones significant to National intelligence and security.


Pranks and Funny Incidents

  • When based at the training annex in 1964 and 1965, each floor had a different year of trainees. Occasionally, the guy in charge, Brian Waldron, would disappear. This was a cue for one floor to raid another and tie up one or more of the trainees. Many a time Brian would come back and find someone tied up. Surprisingly, he was very tolerant of this behaviour and would just laugh it off.

  • Bricks in the pannier of bike riders.

  • Mechanical alarm clock placed in someone’s bag set to go off in the train.

  • A plastic tube running from inside equipment through a wall into another area. At a crucial moment when the equipment was being operated, smoke was blown through the tube. Some people ignored it, others panicked.

  • A fine piece of wire inserted in the socket that an oscilloscope probe plugs into effectively shorting it out. Took some people days to find the problem.

  • Placing a blank piece of paper behind the graticule on an oscilloscope.

  • Pushing someone’s car into a city lane so narrow that the doors could not be opened. To get the car in, one person laid on the car roof with their hand through the drivers side window steering. The other pushed. Don’t know how the owner got their car out.

  • A wire clipped to the rear of a persons jumper as they left to go home. The wire would dangle behind them all the way through the CBD streets to the train station.

  • A funny incident that happened on the train. A work colleague was sitting in the train fiddling with a gas lighter in his pocket. He must have opened the gas release mechanism a few times and first filled his pocket with gas and then on the next flick ignited the gas whereupon a huge flame burst out from his pocket. He claims it frightened the whatsit out of him and all the passengers around him dispersed very quickly.

  • In the mid 1970's we got the idea of soldering empty aluminium drinks cans together end to end so they nearly reached the ceiling. We would leave these long cylinders in groups around the laboratory. Unfortunately, soldering aluminium is not very effective and one day a cleaner happened to knock a group of cylinders with her broom. The cylinders crashed to the floor breaking the solder joints and a few hundred cans smashed onto the floor making an enormous racket. The poor cleaner nearly had a heart attack.

  • In the early days we always had April fools day pranks. One I remember well was a sign on the women's toilet. Someone had obliterated the "i" in toilet so the sign read "Women To let" and underneath was a piece of paper with the words "Apply room xx". This room happened to be full of women.

  • Electronic magazines once had these slips that you fill in and return if you were interested in receiving promotional material from an advertiser in the magazine. Many a time we filled in the slips in the name of someone we did not particularly like. In a few weeks they received hundreds of letters. I suppose it made them feel important.


Sporting Accidents

For many years we played squash during lunchtime at the Clayton squash courts. I had a history of damaging a few of my opponents. The two worst incidents I recall were 1) One John Kelly had the imprint of a squash racquet on his back (complete with strings) for a few weeks after I slammed my racquet into his back. 2) One Roger Smith lost a front tooth when my racquet accidentally connected with his mouth. We found the tooth and it was successfully replanted by a dentist.


Best TRL Times

The “Golden Years” of the Labs were from about 1970 to 1996. Plenty of staff, unlimited money and resources. Labs were at the forefront of technology and the move to Clayton motivated lots of people.


Worst Administrative System

In the late 1990’s, Telstra moved towards reducing the clerical support and having every possible administrative system on-line accessible via a browser. For some things this was very good.
One system they never got right (at least until I left) was the one used to collect a persons time and project details. First known as TAPS and later Integral, Telstra purchased it from a Company called SAP. This system had a terrible user interface and I believe it was designed by a 10 year old as the result of a Primary School competition. Despite many complaints from users directly to managers and via the Employment Opinion Survey (EOS), it never improved. This is a good example of how useless the EOS was. After writing all this, I was contacted by "Alan" who related his experience with Integral which was most interesting. Read about it here.


Most Useful Outputs from the Labs

These are detailed in the Labs history. The main three are the Digital Radio Concentrator System (DRCS), Priority13 System and the IST Model Exchange.

In general, the most useful things the Labs did were related to solving problems with, or improving the Corporations internal processes.

For a while, the Labs executives were besotted with commercialising everything and even starting the commercialisation process as soon as a project commenced. In some cases, you had to prove that the project could be commercialised before it commenced. This was always viewed by the staff as a waste of time and they were proved correct in the end.


The Cure for Insomnia

Take a book home to read on the programming language LISP. The theory was that LISP requires intensive computing power to run so it tends to bog your brain down as well.



I always looked forward to POETS day (Piss Off Early Tomorrows Saturday) and the potential to leave early (with Flextime). As a joke, I liked to remind people how many days were left to the weekend.


Administrative Improvements

I must admit that there are some things that have improved over the years. When I first started, the paperwork associated with doing anything was enormous. Here are a couple of improvements I can think of:

1.       The personal Corporate Credit Card. Enabled one to purchase items easily, book airline tickets, pay for taxi fares and other things. Prior to this you had to order items through the system (which could take ages) or use Petty Cash, cab charge vouchers etc.

2.       Obtaining a new standard PC became much easier when the PC Lease system evolved. Although your options were limited, the system was efficient, quick and all done on-line.

3.       On-line leave application and approval. Was just being introduced when I left and I could see the usefulness of the system.


Missed Opportunity

In the early 60’s, we spent a lot of time at the hotels in the CBD. One time near Christmas, we met some girls who were involved in a pantomime at the Princes Theatre. They invited us backstage to the Theatre but none of us went. I will never know what I missed.


Putting The Moz On

There were a few people in TRL who seemed to have the ability to "put the moz on things". Certain things they used caused that thing to stop working. I don't know if these people were unlucky or there really was some ESP issue involved.  I was aware of one person who was entering his PIN for a card inside a bank. The instant he finished entering the PIN the banks internal computer system crashed. The teller even intimated it was his fault. We were also very wary about receiving email from these people as the moz appeared to be electronically transmitted. There were a few instances when as soon as you opened the email from them your computer crashed.


Silliest thing anyone has done

Cheneys, one of the early TRL buildings in the CBD, had a water powered lift. The system was archaic. The door interlocks did not work reliably. It was very slow and always breaking down. After entering the lift and manually closing the doors, there was a rope visible through a hole in the lift shell. You pulled the rope up to go up and down to go down. A Labs staff member on the first floor summoned the lift (I cannot remember how you did this). A fault caused the top of the lift to stop level with the first floor and the lift doors could be opened. This person pushed a trolley onto the top of the lift, closed the doors and pulled the rope to go up. When the lift neared the next floor they nearly got crushed as the lift reached the top of the lift well. Why this person did not realise they were not inside the lift but on the top remains a mystery to this day.


Biggest Battles

When the Labs were based in the city, staff had continual confrontations with the “Grey Ghosts” (parking officers). The Cheneys building had a rear lane which was a convenient place to park. Parking signs put up by the Melbourne Council mysteriously disappeared. Chalk marks on tyres left by parking officers were rubbed off. Officers were abused. One time, an officer was writing out a parking ticket when he had a bucket of water thrown over him. The water came out of a first storey window at the rear of Cheneys. The officer raced into Cheneys and up the stairs but the culprit had disappeared (I know who it was and it was not me).

A related problem with parking in the CBD was that you had to move your car every few hours to avoid getting booked. After moving your car a few times you would tend to forget where you last parked it. To find it, one would just walk around the immediate blocks searching because you knew it was parked somewhere close. The advent of GPS phones would have solved this problem.

One work colleague was well known for the getting a high number of parking tickets in the lane behind Cheneys. Nearly every time I walked past his car there was a parking ticket on the windscreen. Because he got so many parking tickets, it was rumoured that he had arranged an automatic deduction for the parking tickets from his pay with the Melbourne City Council.


Spreadsheets in the Corridors

From 1987 to 2003 redundancies occurred in most years with the majority in 1996, 2001 and 2003. It got to the stage that whenever the word redundancies was mentioned people gathered in the corridors to discuss the latest news. A work colleague coined the "spreadsheets in the corridors" phrase whenever people compared spreadsheets and strategies for maximising their pension or payout.


Scorched Earth Policy

This is a well known phrase that has been applied during wartimes. I was credited in applying this policy whenever I embarked on a cleanout of old equipment. People loved hanging onto old equipment “just in case we might need it” but I was usually successful in getting rid of it. I must admit the policy came back and bit me a few times when I threw out something that was later needed.


Silly things I did

·         In the Southern Motors building in Lonsdale Street in the CBD, I took my Mini car up the goods lift to the second story and drove it around the corridors.

·         In 1964, a group of us nicked off from the training annex and followed the Beatles around the city.

·         Throwing paper planes out of the training annex window onto Latrobe Street in the 1960’s. This resulted in a police officer visiting the annex and being promptly told to leave because he was on Commonwealth property.


Biggest Wastes of Time

1.       From a technology viewpoint, generally anything to do with television, eg Video phones, interactive TV, Web TV.

2.       The Employment Opinion Survey (EOS). For years I ignored it and actively encouraged people to not fill it in as this is the only way that management will take notice. In my discussions with various high level managers over the years and particularly in the weeks before I left, all the managers I discussed this issue with privately agreed with me that it was a waste of time. I was never sure why Telstra persisted with it but I suspect they were locked into some agreement to provide the data.
One year, management were offering a free chocolate frog for every person who submitted an EOS. I remarked to the then Director that this was a bribe and he got very upset.
Did I have a better system for collecting opinions from staff? Well I did and often suggested it at the Staff consultative meetings I was involved in but it was never adopted because of the cost. The suggestion was to add an additional survey sheet inside the EOS with specific TRL questions.
I loved listening to the spin that the Telstra executives put on the results of EOS surveys. Anything can be interpreted in a positive way.

3.       Most of the “make the staff feel better” programs such as Vision 2000, Investment in Excellence, Six Sigma and many others. I have been involved in a few. There was never any assessment made of the value of these programs after people completed them and it would be difficult to do anyway. On many occasions, I monitored the changes to people before and after they participated in these programs. Most claimed it made a difference but I was unable to see any changes. The American gurus who devise these programs and flog them to the Telstra executives got the most out of them. I predict the next one will be called “Eight Epsilon”.

4.       The movement towards on-line training. It probably saves heaps of money but can never replace face-to-face training and it is so easy to cheat. With the move to on-line training, there became more courses that were compulsory and your Manager nagged you about completing them. Many of these I considered a waste of time so I cheated to get them out of the way quickly. On-line courses start with a set of training pages and then conclude with questions. I would save a copy of each training page in Word on my PC and then when it came to answer the questions I just looked back in Word for the answers.


Contentious Issues

In 1992, an overzealous computer administrator had the idea that the "names" of all computers in Labs should be allocated by the group that looked after the centralised computer facilities. Up till then each Branch or Section had developed their own sub-networks and computer names were selected by the users. Apart from a few unacceptable names there was absolutely no reason to change any of the names. This proposal got under my skin and I organised a petition to the Director of TRL against the proposal. With help from others I obtained 300 signatures. The Director agreed that there was no reason to change and the proposal never eventuated. We won! See this poem about the same overzealous computer administrator who did other things that annoyed people.


Worst TRL Times

The mass redundancies in 1996 when we lost a third of our staff (150 people). Made even worse by finding out about the proposed redundancies via a taxi driver. Prior to the redundancy announcements, the taxi driver was ferrying a couple of Labs executives and overheard their conversation about the proposed redundancies. He mentioned the conversation to some other Labs staff he was ferrying later (who happened to be Union reps). The Union reps confronted the executives and they admitted it was true.
See also the media articles about redundancies


The Marshmallow

People trying to do useful things were always battling with management. One of the engineers I respected likened the process to fighting with a giant marshmallow. He said that as you fight your way in, the marshmallow closes in behind you, eventually trapping you. A good description.


Mystery of the Speeding Fine

TRL has always had a pool of vehicles that people can use on an ad hoc basis. Until the late 1990’s, there was booking diary in a central location where potential users booked a time when they intended using a vehicle. The system was simple, worked well and rarely abused. People used the vehicles on the basis that they were responsible for any traffic infringements. I recall that I once got parking ticket which I paid and I know of others that had other infringements and paid them. One time, management were trying to determine the user of a vehicle that had incurred a speeding fine but discovered that the relevant page in the booking diary had been ripped out! They never found the culprit.


Are you with Me.

This story was related to me by a colleague at TRL who interviewed numerous Telstra field staff on their attitude to change.

Whenever a new Manager is appointed they gather the team together for a talk and detail their plans for improvement. The plan usually involves changing the way something is done. It is important that the new Manager gets the team on their side and fired up so the talk usually ends up with the evangelistic phrase "Are you with Me" and the associated flag waving. The trouble is that older workers have seen it all before. New Managers in the field only hang around for a short time and are never there long enough to see the results of, or be responsible for, the changes they implemented. Is it any wonder that older workers get disillusioned.


Managing Recreational Time

I was a stickler for having breaks at particular times, going away from your normal location and talking to a different group of people. My schedule was 10.00 for morning tea, 12.12 for lunch and 3.00 for afternoon tea. Despite the repeated jibes I got from workmates, I always believed it was a good thing. In particular, getting away from your normal work environment and talking to others is very important. There were many people who would eat their lunch out of the top drawer of their desk and continue working.


Best TRL Public Relations Exercise

The open days of 1969, 1973 and 1985. In those days, we spent months preparing displays and had unlimited money. We also had a wide variety of things to show. In particular, things that you could touch, bits that moved and spectacular visual shows such as the lightning display. The feedback we got from the public was tremendous. These days there is nothing much to show except displays on computer screens which is boring.


The People

Although I did not particularly like some people, I never had a heated verbal or physical confrontation with anyone at the Labs.

The Labs people have spanned both ends of the Political, Physiological, Sexual and Physical spectrum. A large proportion had Doctorates and many had 2 or more degrees.

Intelligence. I have had the privilege of working with people of extremely high intelligence. I have learnt so much from these people. Their brains work completely different to mine. They think of things that I would never have thought of. Some of these people frightened me with their intellect.

Some examples:

  • Those that could solve a jumbled Rubik’s Cube in 10s of seconds. How did they do this? I believe they had created a mathematical model of the cube in their mind and thus knew the exact steps to take the cube to any point.

  • Those that wanted to learn a new technical subject and would take a book on the subject home that night. The next day after reading the book they knew more about the subject than the person who wrote the book and could remember everything they read.

  • Asking a question or looking for the solution to a problem and looking into the eyes of the person you are addressing. You could virtually see hundreds of powerful computers processing through their eyes and know they have the answer well before you have finished speaking.

  • Be given a circuit diagram that was obviously scribbled in a hurry and so complex that you had no idea how it worked. Build it and it worked without any debugging.

  • C programmers that write programs with nested pointers infinite levels deep. Somehow they could visualise the pointer structure and know exactly it works.

  • People who can write documents that are perfectly structured and understandable in the first draft. They never need to edit anything; it just flows perfectly formatted from their mind to the fingers.

  • Those with multiple degrees where learning anything new is just too easy.


Peculiarities of highly intelligent people:

  • Many were useless at doing anything practical. For example, one person never learnt to solder properly despite my many efforts to teach him.

  • Some had unusual pastimes such as watching soapies. Maybe this was an outlet.

  • The Labs always had a high proportion of people with Doctorates. For some it was very important that “Dr.” was used wherever possible, particularly in the nameplate on their door.. Others didn’t seem to care. This always amused me and I noticed that those who always liked to be known as Dr. often had a class problem and this was reflected in the way they treated you.

  • They always seemed to assume that because they were highly intelligent and knew a subject they could also teach the subject. Unfortunately, this was not always the case. I found that some were hopeless at explaining anything although they undoubtedly knew the subject. Most were excellent at explaining things.

  • High intelligence does not always equate with doing useful things. Many projects conceived by these highly intelligent people were a complete waste of time. I had a pretty good hit rate in flagging these projects as a waste of time but the instigators were able to drag them out for years. They may not have been very good at assessing the usefulness of their ideas but were very good at promoting their cause.

  • I generally found that highly intelligence people were very enthusiastic about things. This was a good motivator.

Political. Had from far Right to far Left. Made for interesting discussions over the years.

Physiological. Have met some strange people. Remember one who robbed a bank at lunch-time.

Physical. Have worked with people who had all types of physical disabilities. Paraplegics, blind and deaf people. All of these people have inspired me because in most cases they were more useful than a couple of normal people put together and despite their disability they got the job done. Seeing these people accomplish things makes you realise how well off you are.

The Labs Network. If you wanted to find out something about any subject, there was always someone in the Labs who knew the answer.


Over the summer period, the Labs would employ University students (we called them vacuum students). Many of these students were extremely intelligent and excelled in many areas. One I remember had a Black Belt in judo, was a gifted piano player and could program better than many of the existing Labs employees. I often wonder what happened to these students and if they are making a useful contribution to society.


Faster than Email or Twitter

In the late 1960’s an incident occurred that will never be beaten for speed of communication. The Labs Cheneys building in the CBD faced the Southern Cross Hotel (now gone). That day there was a fashion parade occurring in the Southern Cross and the ladies were changing on the first floor directly across from the first floor in Cheneys. The ladies noted the interest from some Labs staff and decided to put on a show for the boys. Word spread fast and within microseconds every available Cheneys window space was taken, there were people on the roof and the catwalks on the building site behind Cheneys was packed with building workers eagerly looking through binoculars. One of the lady ringleaders later became a Miss Australia.


Most useful Equipment

During the time I worked as an electronic technician designing and building electronic equipment, there were 3 items of equipment that proved most useful.

1.       When microprocessors burst onto the scene in the 1970’s, the labs were leaders in the field. Most equipment we constructed contained a microprocessor. Debugging these circuits was difficult until the “Logic Analyser” was developed. I recall attending a seminar where Hewlett Packard introduced one of the first Logic Analysers (the model 1610 I recall) and everyone’s eyes bulged. It was a huge leap forward and proved to be one of the useful instruments for debugging digital circuitry.

2.       Also in the 1970’s, Hewlett Packard introduced the first generation of microprocessor controlled Spectrum Analysers. These were highly sophisticated instruments and extremely easy to use. The ability to fully control the instrument via computers such as the HP 9845 complemented its usefulness.

3.       Also in the 1970’s, Hewlett Packard introduced multi-colour high speed plotters. Coupled with the instruments mentioned above, one could quickly produce very sophisticated plots.

In the 1970’s and 80’s, some instrument companies had sales representatives that visited us from time to time. The visits were useful for both parties. They got lots of information from us on ideas for instruments and we got the latest brochures. I was always suspicious that some brochures were just an idea for a potential instrument; nothing had been designed yet. Just some specifications and a picture of what the front panel might look like. The Labs were a very good place to sound out ideas for new instruments.


Biggest Technological Innovation

The Internet. Although not developed by TRL, we were using it in the 1980's and realised its potential. It was not until the early 1990's that business and Telstra realised its usefulness. In the early days, we were using it for various internal projects. Upper management (outside of TRL) were not very supportive of anything to do with the Internet. They could not see its potential and in fact made life difficult.


TRL Directors

During the 1990's and early 2000's I got to know the Labs Directors very well through my various Union involvements. Paul Kirton is a very compassionate person and has pulled lots of strings for those made redundant. Hugh Bradlow I personally like despite having many disagreements about Union issues with over the years.


Most Useful Projects I Worked on

I always tell people that it is not important whether you consider the project you are working on to be useful. Just do the work and increase your skills and knowledge.

1.       A Data Test Set for measuring the Bit Error rate on data networks. Designed and constructed by Technical staff in the late 1970’s. Stored data on magnetic tape and later analysed on TACONET. Constructed 10 of these. Widely used around Australia. One of the first instruments used in Telecom to be microprocessor based.

2.       Software for drawing telecommunication sites with the associated antenna radiation patterns drawn around the mounted antennas. Called RadHaz. Used by hundreds of Telstra staff in its peak. Subsequently commercialised and enhanced by an outside company. Currently gains royalties for Telstra.


My Message to the Telstra CEO

Move your office to the basement rather than the top floor. Commuting would be much faster and the morale of Telstra staff would soar.


Why should you Remember Rick Coxhill

For those who have ever used flextime, you can thank Rick Coxhill. In 1974, a committee was set up to represent the staff interests in the move to Clayton and they were successful in gaining compensation, flexible hours, a cafeteria and landscaped grounds for the Winterton Road Clayton staff. I was a member of that committee. Maybe it should have been called Ricktime.


Last Updated

Jan 2015