Microwave Towers Merredin to Eucla.

As the 20th century ground on, the existing telephone and telegraph infrastructure rapidly grew insufficient for the country’s transcontinental communication needs. While there was a copper wire between Perth and Kalgoorlie, and Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta, by the end of 1963 the system’s multiple 12-channel telephone circuits were falling behind demand for communication. Expensive and cumbersome, the decision was made to move away from cable to a wireless system, and the way paved for the Trans-Nullarbor Microwave Link, the first major communication link between the east and west coasts of Australia.

In 1966 a $10 million contract for the 2GHz microwave radio system between Northam (WA) and Port Pirie (SA) was signed. Over the 2300km route, proposed were 60 repeaters for the main 600-channel telephony bearer and its standby, which was also to carry and required interstate TV signals.

This truck and trailer were purchased for the delivery of blue metal and sand for the microwave tower bases

This truck and trailer (Leyland Super Hippo) were purchased for the delivery of blue metal and sand for the microwave tower bases.

A company called EPT had the contract to build the towers, and Little Industries the contract to support the construction of the towers with haulage and the supply of materials. The towers would arrive disassembled by rail to Parkston, a rail site out of Kalgoorlie, sent from the east coast. There they would be loaded onto the company’s trucks and carted to a building site every 25 miles Merredin to Eucla. Each site was different in its demands as towers built high on features were shorter, meaning smaller footings and less metal, and on the wide open flat, like the Eyre Highway, each tower needed to be taller, calling for more blue metal, sand and material. Thousands of hours of engineering, fabrication and labour went into each, and they were built well. One needs only to traverse the landscape to see the metallic frames reaching skyward still to this day. Some still gleam, given a new lease on life with upgraded, current-day technology for east-west links, or studded with antennas for mobile networks. But most, now non-functional and forgotten, switched off many years ago and their equipment pulled down, stand tall and silent, their presence nothing more than a mark of the passing of time and a tip of the hat to those that laboured to build them.

Continuing from 1967 to 1970, and running almost in parallel with the water carting on the Eyre Highway, the microwave towers proved another key contract for Noel and Little Industries. The demands of the work created the necessity the company needed to expand its equipment, which had been structured almost entirely around the carting of timber. Instead of a problem, Noel saw the opportunity to commit to investing in back-tipping trailers with which the company could efficiently cart the blue metal and sand from its quarry in Kalgoorlie. This, the company’s first non-timber job, shaped the company’s future, and positioned them to break into the haulage industry in the Goldfields.