Australian Screen

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Naming the Federal Capital of Australia (1913)

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clip Telegraphists spread the news education content clip 1, 4

Original classification rating: not rated. This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

The intertitles at the beginning of this clip explain it all: ‘Telegraphists at work sending the news to Sydney. 200 words a minute. A record’.

Curator’s notes

Telegraphists, or telegraph operators, used morse code to communicate information in the days before contemporary forms of mass communications. This clip is a vivid illustration of the typical work that telegraphists once did, and the importance of their profession.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This black-and-white silent clip from 12 March 1913 shows telegraphists and other individuals crowded into a temporary structure telegraphing news of the ceremony to name Canberra to Sydney, New South Wales. The intertitle, with typing error, announces that the telegraphists shown sitting behind their keyboards, wearing black waistcoats and shirtsleeves, are sending the news to Sydney at a record 200 words a minute. In the foreground a large pile of telegraph tape spills out onto the ground and a man adjusts its flow.

Educational value points

  • The clip shows telegraph operators in 1913 using telegraphy to send out news of the ceremony to name Canberra. The telegraphists convert the news into the dots and dashes of morse code, which are then punched onto paper tape by pressing the appropriate character keys on machines with typewriter keyboards. The tape is transferred to a transmitter that ‘reads’ the tape and converts the code into long and short electrical impulses.
  • The clip communicates the excitement felt at the time about the speed of 200 words per minute achieved in the telegraphic transmission of the news of the naming of Canberra. From 1905 new equipment that doubled transmission speeds had been introduced and in 1912-13 the inventions of Frederick Creed (1871-1957), including keyboard perforators, re-perforators and printers that could ‘read’ morse code, revolutionised the system.
  • The streams of paper tape seen descending onto the floor contain telegraph messages recorded in rows of punched holes, based on traditional morse code dots and dashes, produced by an automatic transmitter. At the receiving end of the telegraph a re-perforator punched incoming morse signals onto paper tape that could be decoded by the Creed morse printer into readable text. Early computers also used punched paper tapes for the transmission and storage of information.
  • The scene of the busy ‘news room’ conveys something of the excitement felt on 12 March 1913 when the governor-general’s wife Lady Denham (1884-1954) officially named the nation’s new capital Canberra. As the laying of foundation stones signified the start of building, 500 invited guests, 2,000 troops and about 3,000 spectators gathered on the hill, now named Capital Hill and the site of Parliament House, to witness and publicise the ceremonies.
  • News of this major event in Australia’s history was sent via telegraphy as it was a cheap and reliable form of communication and until the Second World War remained the main means of long-distance communication in Australia. Telephone services had developed independently in each state with no link between them until a Sydney-to-Melbourne line opened in 1907. In 1913 there was still no national telephone network and telephones remained very expensive.

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australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions.

When you access australianscreen you agree that:

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  • You may download materials for your personal use or for non-commercial educational purposes, but you must not publish them elsewhere or redistribute clips in any way.
  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

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ANY UNAUTHORISED USE OF MATERIAL ON THIS SITE MAY RESULT IN CIVIL AND CRIMINAL LIABILITY.

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