History of the Telstra Research Laboratories
A plan for the future
The first Laboratories accommodation was provided in 1923 when Sidney Herbert Witt was appointed as the head of a Research Section of the then Postmaster-General's Department (PMG). The one-man Research Section was allocated 300 square feet of space in the attic of the old Commonwealth Offices building in Treasury Place, Melbourne.
In 1924, when the staff increased to two, the embryo Laboratories moved to a larger area of 1,600 square feet in Melbourne House, 360 Post Office Place, Melbourne.
In 1925, with an increase in staff to five, this area was increased to 5,000 square feet.
By 1932, the staff had increased to 35 and they had outgrown the space in Melbourne House. They moved into a larger area of 24,000 square feet at 59 Little Collins Street, Melbourne which became the headquarters of the Laboratories base for the next 55 years.
Little Collins Street,
This building was originally purchased as the future home of City East Exchange and, by coincidence, it was directly opposite the building at 60 Little Collins Street which had housed the Office of the Superintendent of the first Australian telephone exchange. This manual exchange was established in 1880 under the private ownership of W. H. Masters and J. T. Draper, and was located on the site of the Old Stock Exchange.
first Australian telephone
the first Australian telephone
By the late 1950's, the Laboratories staff were at 200, spread over five buildings in the Melbourne Central Business District (CBD).
By the 1970's, the laboratory staff numbers were over 500 with accommodation spread over eight buildings in the Melbourne CBD. Other buildings had also been utilised from time to time. These current and "other" buildings were:
Little Collins Street
This was the Laboratories headquarters and the only building owned by the Department. Acquired in 1932.
One floor became the computing centre for the Laboratories. First leased in the 1960's.
Commonly known as "Cheneys" after the car company that first occupied the site. This building faced towards the Southern Cross hotel - a source of much entertainment over the years. A unique water powered lift was in the building and still used up to the late 1970's. First leased in the early 1960's.
Commonly known as "Southern Motors" after the car company that first occupied it. The ground floor was completely flooded in 1972 when Melbourne had 100mm of rain in 2 hours. First leased in 1970.
Commonly known as "Watkins" after the meat works that first occupied it. First leased in the 1940's.
Watkins and many other buildings were demolished to make way for the Telstra building at 242 Exhibition Street. However, the rear brick shell of Watkins was preserved in an atrium like space overlooking the internal food court within the 242 "building"
Front of 262 Exhibition
Rear of 262 Exhibition
First leased in the late 1950's. The 1st and 2nd floors were used as a training annex for technical staff. Trainees entered the (then) Postmaster Generals Department (PMG) as "Technicians in Training" and embarked on a 5 year course. The first few years were spent at the training annex. The building was demolished in the late 1960's.
Little Leichardt Street
First leased in the late 1960's as a replacement for 51 Latrobe Street after it was demolished. The Ground floor housed the Labs battery group. The 1st floor housed the Labs PCB facility and the 2nd floor was the second Labs training annex. After 1977, no more trainees were recruited and the training annex was no longer required.
Front of 28 Little
Side of 28 Little
Commonly known as "Taubmans" after the paint manufacturer that first occupied it. First leased in the 1950's.
Originally a Cable Car terminus building. First leased in the mid 1960's. Used as a base for Environmental Physics and general storage.
Front of 1007/9
Rear of 1007/9 Rathdowns
Commonly known as "Poster House". First leased in the 1950's. Lease terminated when Cheneys was leased.
A building in
Sherwood Place (a laneway off Lt. Lonsdale Street)
Used to store Environmental Physics equipment until Rathdowne Street was leased in the mid 1960's.
A Plan for the Future
In the late 1960's, the Laboratories management recognised the need to plan for future accommodation needs. The current suite of buildings were old, mostly leased and generally not suited to Laboratories work. In 1968, a policy decision was made to re-establish and consolidate the Laboratories in specially designed buildings as soon as possible. Two sites were initially selected for the purpose, one at South Melbourne and one at Clayton near Monash University. Preliminary plans envisaged the consolidation of "development" activities at South Melbourne and "research" activities at Clayton.
Feasibility studies indicated that significant advantages would be gained by grouping all of the Laboratories activities on one site. Consequently, in 1972, a 7 hectare site was purchased in Blackburn Road, Clayton.
Undeveloped site in
A submission was prepared for building a new special purpose Laboratories complex complete with a plan to progressively move to the new site. Copy of submission: Proposed Research Laboratories Monash, North Clayton, Victoria, Stage 1 (31 pages)
Things of interest to note in the submission are:
Details about some of the CBD buildings that were being utilised
Aerial photograph of the site showing the original drive-in complex
Plans for future development shows buildings covering most of the drive-in site
The logo on the cover page of the submission. This logo was created for the Research Laboratories on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee - 50 years of establishment
A further 12 hectares adjoining the 7 hectare site was also purchased for long term development. This site was later sold to Monash University.
Leases on three of the buildings in Melbourne were due to expire in 1974 so Laboratories Management decided to relocate the staff in these buildings to leased office and laboratory space in a complex known as "Lyon Park" in Winterton Road, Clayton. This complex was close to the proposed new site in Blackburn Road and was intended to be temporary accommodation until construction of the buildings in Blackburn Road was complete.
A "Lyon Park" committee was established to represent the staff interests in the move to Lyon Park and they were successful in gaining compensation, flexible hours, a cafeteria and landscaped grounds for the Winterton Road Clayton staff. The staff at the Winterton Road Clayton Research Laboratories were the first Government Department to have flexible hours and it was seen as test case for the rest of the Public Service.
In 1975, the first groups moved from Melbourne to Winterton Road Clayton into two buildings known as Blocks CS and CN.
building in Winterton Rd.,
building in Winterton Rd.,
The owners of 140 Exhibition Street (Cheneys) had been attempting to remove the Laboratories from the building for a number of years prior to 1975. They intended redeveloping the site and had taken out a building permit which would expire before the Laboratories intended moving out. The Laboratories resisted moving, preferring to wait until the accommodation at Lyon Park was ready. It was thought that the Laboratories were paying exorbitant rent in the latter years. This led to the extraordinary situation where some renovations commenced in the building before the Laboratories had moved out, thus keeping the building permit active.
Construction of Stage 1 at
Blackburn Road commenced in 1973 and was completed in 1978, when the
official opening was held. In that year, the first Melbourne based
groups moved to Blackburn Road, Clayton.
For the official opening, a brochure was produced: Official Opening of Telecom Australia Research Laboratories Complex (15 pages)
The opening was also reported in the July 1978 issue of the Telecom Magazine.
The second stage of the Blackburn Road buildings was completed in 1983 when the remainder of the Melbourne based groups moved to Blackburn Road.
The Clayton buildings consisted of 6 special purpose buildings named M1, M2, M3, M4, M5 and M6. The brochure above provides further details of the buildings.
The last building constructed on the site was M8, containing the administration, library and cafeteria complexes. M8 also included a sophisticated auditorium, the first specially designed presentation complex in the history of TRL. The M8 foyer was fitted out with a static presentation of Telstra research activities. In 2001, the foyer area was upgraded and given the title of "Technology Showcase" - a centrepiece for Telstra's R&D tours program. Before M8 was constructed, the cafeteria was located in M1.
The Winterton Road site was finally vacated in 1990 when remaining staff moved to the Blackburn Road complex.
In 1996, the Laboratories experienced a 30% cut in staff with work in some areas discontinued. This left the Laboratories with an excess of space. About the same time, the Global Operations Centre of Telstra were looking to consolidate their operations in Victoria and the Laboratories site was an ideal location. By 2001, the Global Operations Centre had taken over three buildings, increased parking space and improved site security. The Henderson Road entrance was also opened.
In 1999, a section of the Laboratories moved back into the Melbourne CBD.
In 2002, the original guard house was demolished and a new one erected adjacent to building M2.
Following a staff suggestion, Laboratories management agreed to a proposal to name roadways on the Monash site after Laboratories Directors.
Staff cuts continued and in 2005 TRL was officially closed. In 2007, the last TRL persons left the site and the buildings were later demolished. See here for more information about the closure.
Over the years, the Laboratories have utilised field sites all over Australia, both manned and unmanned.
Two notable sites were:
In the late 1960's, a number of sites were established on the Nullabor Plain to perform propagation measurements in preparation for a proposed East-West microwave link. Once the sites were setup, teams of 2 persons spent 2 weeks living on site maintaining equipment and performing measurements. At the end of the 2 weeks, they would drive to the "Indian Pacific" railway line, leave the vehicle there and catch the train back to Melbourne. A new team would arrive and drive the vehicle back to the test site. This system continued for a number of years.
Back at the Laboratories, a large team worked full time analysing measurement results.
"Clear Across Australia" was a film made by Morris Murphy about the planning, training, propagation tests and installation/testing of the East-West microwave link in the late 1960's and early 1970's He was a cinematographer in the PMG. The National Film and Sound Archive have a copy.
In 1973, the Laboratories commissioned a field trial of an Integrated Switching and Transmission (IST) model exchange, the first fully electronic exchange to switch live telephone traffic in Australia. The model exchange was fully designed and built in the Laboratories.
The exchange was first housed in Windsor telephone exchange but later moved to a tin shed at the rear of St Kilda telephone exchange. Some of the normal telephone traffic through St. Kilda exchange was siphoned off and passed through the model exchange.
For nearly 20 years, Laboratories staff monitored and assessed the digital switching equipment until the trial was closed in 1991.
Other well used field sites
Caldermeade, The Gurdies, Mt. Cotteral, Innesvale, Cloncurry and Darwin.
In the 1980's, with advent of cheap computing facilities, remote monitoring of field sites increased thus reducing the need to visit remote sites as often.
By 2003, the Laboratories had very few field sites remaining.
In December 2005, TRL was officially closed.
Closure of TRL. About 80% of the staff accepted redundancies and the rest obtained positions in other areas of Telstra.
The Big Walk The story of three intrepid staff who, on their first day at the new Clayton site, walked to Clayton from their old building in the Melbourne CBD carrying the old buildings name plate.
Last updated: Nov 2016