Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd

AWA Badge

AWA commenced in 1909 in Sydney as Australasian Wireless Limited (AWL), where it distribited Telefunken of Germany electrical equipment.

In 1922 the British Marconi company sued the Australian government for infringing their patents. AWL issued writs against firms who were using Marconi equipment. The government decided the best solution would be to use circuits designed by John Balsillie, inventor of the ‘Balsillie System’ of wireless telegraphy.

By July 1913 the two parties settled their differences. A new company was formed. Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd. AWA had exclusive rights throughout Australasia to the patents, ‘present and future’, for both Marconi and Telefunken.

Later, in 1913, the new company established the Marconi Telefunken College of Telegraphy. This was renamed to the Marconi School of Wireless (MSW) due to hostilities with Germany. The school was moved from Sydney to Launceston, Tasmania to become part of the Australian Maritime College.

The first AWA chairman was Sir Hugh Denison. Sir Ernest Fisk, also a founding director, was made General and Technical manager. In 1916 Fisk became Managing Director and in 1932 was made AWA Chairman.

Fisk was an important driver of the company. He had arrived from England during mid-1910 on the Otranto to demonstrate Marconi’s apparatus for the Orient Steam Navigation Co. Wireless was still largely the preserve of amateur enthusiasts with little interest from the government. In 1911 Fisk returned to Australia as resident engineer to represent Marconi interests in the region.

In 1916, on one of his regular visits to England, he had arranged for a series of test transmissions from the Marconi long wave station in Caernarvon, Wales. Australia was wholely dependent on underwater cables for its contact with the world. Fisk obtained official permission to use a receiver in his home in Sydney. In September 1918 he arranged for the transmission of messages to Australia from the prime minister Billy Hughes and Sir Joseph Cook and established that direct wireless communication between Britain and Australia as a practical proposition. In August 1919, the first public demonstration of radio telephony took place in Sydney.

In 1922 the Australian government, insisting that it was not prepared to settle for anything less, commissioned A.W.A. to create a direct a direct radio service, rather than the British proposal of short range relays. Thus the Australian government boosted the company’s capital, and became its majority shareholder. A beam service between Australia and Britain, undercutting the cable companies, was inaugurated in April 1927, and between Australia and Canada in 1928. In September 1927 A.W.A. pioneered Empire broadcasting; in April 1930 an Empire radio-telephone service.

AWA 1936

Fisk and other executives inspect valve production at the Ashfield factory in 1936.
State Library of NSW.

Following intensive lobbying for the introduction of radio broadcasting, the Government, in May 1923, calls a conference of the main players in the radio manufacturing industry. This led to the sealed set regulations where stations could be licensed to broadcast and then sell sets to “listeners-in”. The receiving device would be set to receive only that station.

2BL began broadcasting on 23 November 1923, followed by 2FC on the 9 January 1924. Melbourne 3AR and 3LO commenced on 26 January and 13 October 1924 respectivly. These were Class “A” broadcasters. These were the orignial “sealed set” broadcasters that became the Australian Broadcasting Commision in 1932.

Meanwhile, AWA established it’s own broadcast station’s and ended up with the largest network in Australia.

This eventualy came to an end in 1993 with sale of 3EE. AWA had bought the station in 1991 as 3XY. 3XY, the top rating station in Melbourne through the 1970s, had gone into severe decline following the establishment of commercial FM services. In fact many of 3XYs DJ’s had jumped ship and established the successful 3EON-FM. AWA immeadiatly ceased broadcasting 3XY, and much to the changrin of the Australian Broadcasting Authority, failed to broadcast for over six months. When broadcasts began again the station had changed it’s name to 3EE – the breeze, on 693Khz instead of 3XY’s 1422Khz.  However, it continued to change formats, then owners, until it was finally bought by the company behind 3AW, who swaped frequencys. It is now owned by Nine Holdings.

The factory on Parramatta Rd. Burwood, NSW. 1935.

State Library of NSW.

During the 1970s AWA entered into an agreement with Thorn of England. Establishing rental and sales shops for their televisions under the Redifussion brand. This also opened up the distribution of many audio equipment manufacturers, including Tannoy, Revox and AKG Acoustics

Radio manufacture followed the lines of other manufactures. However, the extensive deals with Marconi, Telefunken, GEC of England, and RCA of America over the years, gave AWA an edge over other manufacturers except perhaps Philips.

From the mid 1950s AWA concentrated on television with modified designs from England, and then when colour was established Mitsubishi Electric of Japan.

Radio production ended in the early 1970s when the Whitlam government reduced tarriffs making local production unviable.

Like most of Austalia’s major electric companies, the AWA name was slaped on cheap nasty equipment, but this seems to have ceased.

Over the years AWA was involved in many military, and other engineering activities, but this is a short summary of their consumer area’s.

Today AWA is a division of the Cabrini conglomerate, a health enterprise owned by the Catholic Church. AWA provides computer support and services to the health sector.