History of the Telstra Research Laboratories
Memories of Andre Domjan - Brian Beck
I have fond memories of working in the PMG
for Andre (Andy) Domjan in the Trunk Test
Laboratory in the Engineering Building, Franklin St, Adelaide in the mid 1960s. He was heading up a project to upgrade
the VH telegraph system.
He introduced me to the magic of semiconductors and digital technology, when it was in its infancy within the PMG. He was a great guy to work for and I remember many occasions when we were sitting around the morning tea table, his face lit up and he asked for the large tin of Arnotts biscuits to be passed to him. The tin always had blank white paper on the top on which he furiously drew schematic circuits. Whenever this happened, we knew we had weeks of work ahead of us building the equipment outlined on the biscuit tin lid and then putting it through its paces.
He designed, and we technicians built STAR - Series Type Automatic Readout, which provided an electronic interface with a Teletype machine, which could receive input from a number of further devices he built. I forget the names of these further devices. One of them monitored live telegraph traffic, measuring the lengths of signals and bringing up an alarm if they fell outside acceptable limits.
Another device sent a signal on long line carrier equipment (say Adelaide to Darwin), which was then sent back and monitored. If the signal broke, even for only a few milliseconds, the device measured the time delay, displayed it on an early frequency meter which was interfaced to STAR and the Teletype machine, which printed out the location of the fault. Andy got this equipment to the stage where it was regularly identifying line faults to the actual line pole on the Adelaide-Darwin route, with the linesmen being staggered when they went out and found the fault, precisely as predicted. Many of these faults were also intermittent and within repeater stations, which resulted in a Senior Technician, Ray Nottage, arriving at the repeater stations, armed only with a short length of dowelling and a small rubber hammer, proceeding to place one end of the dowel on successive components of the equipment and giving the other end a light tap with the rubber hammer, while I, on the other end of the phone in Adelaide, let Ray know if the Teletype machine indicated he had found the intermittent fault. This was known by the description of "Vibration Testing" and identified many problems before they became bigger ones. It certainly increased the quality of the system very significantly.
The time measurement for this system required oscillators with crystal accuracy, but the budget did not stretch that far and we were reduced to raiding old disused equipment, salvaging their crystal containers, breaking them open, retrieving the quartz strips and the cutting them down to size with pliers, building a mounting system for them, then using emery paper to reduce the length until they would oscillate at the required frequency. I predicted that this would not be possible, but Andy insisted and to my amazement, it worked amazingly well.
One story I heard about Andy, is that, while working as a Technician's assistant in the 1950s, was that he was required to install a telephone line into a premises in King William St, Adelaide. There was no obvious way to get the line into the building, so he came back the next day with a 22 calibre rifle and shot a small hole into the corner of a large fixed-pane window at the front of the building. Amazingly, this operation didn't shatter the glass and the customer was duly connected to the telephone network!
At one stage, many of us who worked with Andy and operated his equipment were getting so confused by his theories and his equipment, that he gave us all a series of lectures on binary switches, multi-vibrators, Schmitt triggers and analogue to digital converters etc. Our image of him as an egg-head with his head in the clouds, changed during those lectures. Even with his, at times, difficulty with English and his Hungarian accent, he was amazing in putting his knowledge into simple steps, always checking
whether we were being left behind.
In the late 1960s, I was studying in Melbourne and by then, Andy was working in the PMG Research Laboratories on designing solid state digital exchange equipment and during my vacation he arranged for me to be employed supervising trainee technicians, building a small test telephone exchange. I was saddened when I discovered that he died in Canberra in 1984.