22nd September 2018

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This September will be the centenary of the reception in Australia of the first wireless telegraph messages sent in morse code direct from the United Kingdom.

In the Northern Welsh town of Waunfawr on a cool and overcast night, the Australian Prime Minister of the day William, known as Billy, Hughes drafted a message for Senatore Guglielmo Marconi to send to Australia by wireless. It was Sunday 22nd September 1918 and the Prime Minister had just returned from the battlefields in Europe.
The message was a press release to the Australian public. It praised the valiant and gallant efforts of the Australian troops serving on the western European front and was designed to bolster continuing support for the war effort within the Australian public.
This was to be the first direct wireless message sent from the United Kingdom to Australia and the recipient was Mr Ernest Thomas Fisk who had an experimental wireless station in the attic of Lucania, his residence at the corner of Stuart and Cleveland Streets in Wahroonga.

The message from Billy Hughes read:
"I have just returned from a visit to the battlefields where the glorious valour and dash of the Australian troops saved Amiens and forced back the legions of the enemy. Filled with greater admiration than ever for these glorious men, and more convinced than ever that it is the duty of their fellow-citizens to keep these magnificent battalions up to their full strength."

A second message was also transmitted from the Marconi station in Wales and received ten minutes later by Fisk at Wahroonga from the Minister of Navy Sir Joseph Cook who had accompanied Billy Hughes on the visit to England.

The message from Cook was:
"Royal Australian Navy is magnificently bearing its part in the great struggle. Spirit of sailors and soldiers alike is beyond praise. Recent hard fighting brilliantly successful but makes reinforcements imperative. Australia hardly realises the wonderful reputation which our men have won. Every effort being constantly made here to dispose of Australia's surplus products."

The two messages had both significant technological and national interest. From the technological point of view, the successful transmission and reception of a wireless message around the world without the need for intermediate relay stations was at the cutting edge of wireless technology of the day and defied the accepted understanding of wireless propagation.

From the national interest point of view, Australia was embroiled in a world war and very much depended upon communication with the mother country being maintained. However, those communication links were either relayed wireless messages or a single undersea cable from Darwin and looping through the Indonesian archipelago to the subcontinent. Both links were extremely vulnerable and, if cut by the enemy, would isolate Australia and jeopardise its safety.
Billy Hughes and Ernest Fisk had many discussions on how to maintain and protect the communication link back to England and were convinced that a direct wireless link, although not thought reliable or even possible by the experts, was the only viable option. This then was a challenge taken up by Fisk and the starting point for a series of experiments between Fisk and Marconi to further develop the capability of wireless communications, culminating in the event of 22 September which demonstrated that around the world wireless communication was actually possible.
Since that historic 22 September 1918 day, a monument has been erected at the corner of Stuart and Cleveland the two streets. It was unveiled in December 1935, when the former Prime Minister, Mr ‘Billy’ Hughes, addressed the assembly and Marchese Marconi also spoke by wireless from Paris in France.
At the unveiling ceremony, Billy Hughes said:'Wireless was a miracle which had opened up a new world far more spacious than that discovered by Columbus. Nothing would do so much to promote international peace as that modern miracle".

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On Saturday 22nd September 2018, there will be centenary celebrations at the monument. At 1pm ‘The Ku-ring-gai Male Choir’ will sing the Welsh and Australian anthems and at 1.15pm the original Morse code message will be heard by all present and a Morsecodian will decipher the message which will then be read to the gathering, including Fisk family members, Politicians, local Councillors, Ku-ring-gai residents, wireless enthusiasts and historians.
The assembly will then move to St Andrew’s church hall across Cleveland Street where further celebrations will take place. There will be many displays including old and new wireless equipment, radio stations operated by “Hornsby and District Amateur Radio Club” with a special callsign for the occasion and official stamps to commemorate the day as well as refreshments. These displays will be open from 11am to 4pm in the church hall and are free for everyone to attend.

The First Direct Wireless Messages from the United Kingdom to Australia Centenary ceremony can be watched live from 1pm AEST (3am UTC)