ANARE communications 1947-1985

Older style colour photo of a radio operator at the set
Radio operator A. Hawker at the radio console, Davis (VLZ) 1957 (Photo: R Dingle)
The Wilkes radio room is has reel-to-reel players and a teletype machine. Very basic!A man stands up to talk on a phone in a small, bare room.Typed telex giving situation reports from the boat to the stations and making jokes about the Melbourne CupTelex room with communications equipment and operators

Early ANARE communications

Morse code

In the years following World War II, the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions (ANARE) explored and surveyed the Australian Antarctic Territory in East Antarctica. During the establishment of Australia’s Antarctic stations in the 1950s, the use of Morse code allowed communication between ships, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) survey aircraft, and ground stations.

At each ANARE station, messages were exchanged with Australia, and other nation’s Antarctic stations, via Morse code. Trained RAAF radio technicians maintained the High Frequency (HF) transmitter, receiver units and antenna systems, while radio operators used typewriters to record received messages, and Morse keys to transmit messages. HF radio transmission involved harnessing the upper atmosphere to bounce electro-magnetic signals at designated frequencies off reflective layers in the ionosphere to the ground and back again, thereby sending the signals across long distances.

Teleprinters, facsimile & radphones

In the early 1960s, the introduction of teleprinters (an electro-mechanical typewriter used to send or receive typed messages) largely replaced communication to and from Australia via Morse code. However, Morse code was still used to communicate with ships and field parties. Walkie-talkies with a short range of about 10 kilometres were used for field work or ship to shore communication during station resupply.

During this time, the radio telephone, or ‘radphone’, allowed voice to voice communication from Australia to Antarctica for the first time. An expeditioner would book a call with the radio operator who would contact Sydney Radio to establish a connection to the International Telephone Exchange in Sydney. The exchange would then dial the person and connect with the expeditioner in Antarctica. The lack of privacy (anyone on station or with a short-wave radio receiver could listen) and expense of calls limited its popularity. In addition, a change in weather conditions could cause frustrating black-outs, noise interference, and regular fade-outs – making conversations on the radphone difficult!

As a result, expeditioners continued using the more reliable teleprinter system to communicate with family and friends via the ANARE telegraphic code called ‘WYSSA’ (whizzer). The WYSSA five-letter code was a combination of letters used to form set phrases. Both sender and receiver consulted the code book to create messages that were then transmitted via the teleprinter:

WYNAN YIGUM YIKYR WYSWO, John

WYNAN = Glad to hear you are better

YIGUM = I have grown a beard which is awful

YIKYR = This place gives you a pain at times - but it’s worth it

WYSWO = Love and kisses

In the days before satellite and email, the reliable WYSSA system allowed expeditioners and their families to exchange regular messages.

In the 1960s, a facsimile system was also introduced to transmit photographs or scientific data. A picture gram based system, it allowed station doctors to take an x-ray, develop a black & white photograph, put it in the facsimile machine, and transmit it to a specialist. Telex also allowed scientists to communicate data from stations back to the program managers.

Keeping in touch - via the news radio!

The ABC’s Radio Australia was easily picked up down south. It was a popular way of receiving news from home up until the early 1980s. Families sent letters and personal messages to the Calling Antarctica program. Radio announcers would read these out, play requested records and give ‘pleasant’ news updates.

In the early years, some expeditioners enthusiastically embraced ham radio as a hobby. Antarctic hobbyists could communicate with other hams in Australia, or with expeditioners at other Antarctic stations – sometimes to play chess!