HISTORY TALKING | Getting the message across … one way or another

DIALIED IN: Orange Oral History Group members Anna Magnani, Stuart Carney, Monica Knight and Dick Page talk communication methods - modern and from older times - at Orange City Library. Photo: JUDE KEOGH 0816jkhistory1
DIALIED IN: Orange Oral History Group members Anna Magnani, Stuart Carney, Monica Knight and Dick Page talk communication methods - modern and from older times - at Orange City Library. Photo: JUDE KEOGH 0816jkhistory1

“I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better knowledge, sent to where I knew him on the Lachlan years ago” – A.B Paterson.

Just how long that letter took to reach its destination is a matter for conjecture, but it obviously did because the poet goes on to say that “an answer came directed in a writing unexpected, and I think the same was written with a thumbnail dipped in tar”.

When that poem was written the Post Office was the only means of delivering mail, and pride was taken in its ability to deliver it as quickly as possible. Banjo, having worked for a period in the post office, would no doubt have shared that pride.

It was also home to the telephonists who manned the exchange through which all calls were directed.

These women were essential in maintaining communication, no more so than in times of crisis like flood and bushfire, when they worked with the firefighters to keep people informed of dangerous situations.

The linesmen were also at the forefront of the effort to keep people connected in difficult conditions and worked in all weather to make sure the telephone lines were intact.

Not everyone was lucky enough to have a phone in their youth, and if they were it was sometimes used in an emergency by neighbours.

“We didn’t have a phone when I was a child,” said Orange Oral History Group member  Pauline. “If we had to we could walk three kilometres to a neighbour but we only did that about three times a year.”

If you had no phone and wanted to make a long distance call, it was necessary to go to the Post Office and book a call at the at the counter and wait in a queue until your name was called to be directed to a phone booth.

“A three-minute call was allowed at the end of which you could have an extension and pay for another three minutes.

“My sister used to ring England and speak for so long it would cost her $200,” Monica said.

A three-minute call was allowed at the end of which you could have an extension. My sister used to ring England and speak for so long it would cost her $200.

When most of us eventually managed to get a manual phone we would ring the exchange which would connect us to the appropriate number.

“My sister rang our parents,” said Lynne “and the telephonists said ‘they’ve just gone down the paddock, ring back later’.”

“I used telegrams quite a bit when I didn’t have a phone,” said Elma.

This would probably surprise today’s young people who have probably never heard of them. It required a visit to the Post Office where you wrote your message and the operator would telegraph it in Morse code to the post office nearest to the recipient, from where a boy on a bike would be dispatched to deliver it.

What a convoluted way compared with today’s text or talking face to face on the screen.

Rosemary mentioned another way which was popular.

“I was nursing at a small country hospital and if someone died or was born, you just rang the telephonists to spread the word,” she explained. Sending a post card was also a method of keeping in touch and “they were often delivered several times a day,” she continued.

Radio was our window to the world in those pre-television days.

As well as providing vital news broadcasts during the war years, they were a source of entertainment with music, drama and the ever-ubiquitous serials like Portia Faces Life, When a Girl Marries and of course the ever popular Blue Hills.

Many children made their own crystal sets which could be listened in private because it used its own receiver.

And then came television, which changed our lives and the way we entertained ourselves.

Gone were the simple pleasures of radio as we clustered around the box in the living room. But at least we were doing it as a family group, as we watched and discussed it later.

The communication device which seems to have both broadened our horizons and made us lonelier was the mobile phone which was first commercially produced in 1973 but took about three more decades to overtake the landline.

In many ways it has made us safer and closer to our friends and family, but in other ways we are missing the warmth of actually being with another human being.

“We are missing a lot of non-verbal communication,” commented John.

“The way people react to a statement, the expression on their faces and the use of hands during conversation,” Dick agreed.

“I was talking to my doctor about online diagnosing and he remarked that a lot can be gained from watching the way a person talks and expresses themselves during a consultation.”

“I owned an Employment Agency,” said Pauline, “and personal presentation was very important”.

Anna, our newest and youngest member, reminded us that we can now both hear and see on our screens with the help of technology.

“I am Italian and every morning I talk and see my family in Italy.”

Bill, one of our more senior men in the group, concurred enthusiastically. “I play chess on the computer with my son who lives in Sydney. It is a great way to keep in touch.”

As with all the changes our group discusses, we find that, while we miss some things in the past, there is much in the future to look forward to.

We are the in-between generation: caught between two worlds and valiantly doing our best to keep up.

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