Communication by telephone between Attunga and Tamworth was made as far back as 1894.  By 1895 a petition was sent to the postmaster general asking that telephone communication be made between Manilla and Upper Manilla. Three years later, tenders were called for the work. However, it was not until 1904 that Manilla took telephone communication seriously. Already two or 3 'phones had been installed, but attempts to obtain the required 20 subscribers to establish an exchange had failed and it wasn't until September 1906 that the first numbers were allotted. In 1906, the acting Postmaster General supplied particulars in connection with establishment of a telephone exchange, requesting a list of those interested in connecting up, after which the agents, Wilshire & Garling, would receive details of costs to prospective subscribers.

Simpson Telephone

Chemist J.E. Simpson's Telephone  Photo: Dom.

Manilla Post Office c. 1900s

A public telephone had been installed by the P.M.G. (Postmaster General's Department) in the Manilla Post Office and the Exchange was subsequently built in March 1907. The 'phone was a Condenser type which could be used on the existing Telegraph Line, which had been connected to Manilla for over thirty years. A condenser telephone could be used on the same line as the Morse key and so was quite economical to install, not requiring an extra line to be put in.  

In October 1907, Manilla's Postmaster reported that there were 27 subscribers and 2 waiting to be connected. Within a year or so, he was writing to the Postmaster General in Sydney, complaining about the increased work and 'begging respectfully' for a 'competent switch attendant' so that the Telephone Exchange could satisfy public demand. Although there was only an average of 49 local and trunk (distance) calls switched through each day, there were many extra incoming calls for residents without a home connection, who had to be found and called to the Post Office. 

Telephone Rates 1906
Fees for telephone subscribers in 1906.

Preliminary work began on Manilla Telephone Exchange in March 1907 with poles erected from the railway station towards the town. By May, telephone sets were being installed in subscriber businesses. When first opened in [c.1908], it offered a very efficient service to the townspeople. Most didn't have their own phone, but could still receive calls, with the switch operator running around town summoning people to a telephone call at the Post Office. The daily average was 49 calls, both local and trunk  [distance].

By 1926, the Manilla exchange had 210 subscribers, with more on the waiting list. With a newly renovated post office, came space for expansion of the exchange. 2 new boards were installed and a second attendant engaged.

1907 Manilla Phone listings.png
Local Telephone Subscribers1909 
1909 telephone lines notice
Telephone Line Notice c.1909

Manilla Telephone Switchboard [1 of 4]
(Manilla Heritage Museum)

Manilla telephone exchange switchboard

The END of an ERA

Manilla's 'Number Please' girls

The changeover from the manual exchange system to the automatic exchange at Manilla happened at 7.00am on Wednesday, 26th March 1980. 

At that time, Telecom's Technicians severed the links to the manual exchange and connected Manilla subscribers to the automatic equipment. Manilla subscribers were able to dial their own calls within the local network and to other places throughout Australia via the Subscriber Trunk Dialling (STD) system. 

Information on making telephone calls from Manilla was shown on page 16 of the 1980 northern inland telephone directory and new six-figure telephone numbers for Manilla subscribers were also listed. Telephonists were no longer employed at Manilla after the manual exchange closed and operator-assistance for trunk calls, enquiry calls and like services were provided from the Tamworth Manual Assistance Centre. "And so," they said, "the shutters fall on an era that has seen us to modern day technology - the sounds of voices of service giving way to a very impersonal 'beep-beep". 

^1982Manilla Telephone Exchange Workers

" 2 phone numbers are provided for the Fire Brigade, a business number, which is connected to the Fire Station and the Captain's Residence (851---) and a special number for the reporting of fires (851---). 

When a person rings to report a fire, by ringing the special number 851--- the FRS system takes over and rings the phones in six different firemen’s residences. Any of these firemen or their wives will accept the call and can activate alarm bells in all firemen's homes and also sound the station siren to summon the men to attend the fire. In the unlikely event of none of these six phones being answered within about 30 seconds, the FRS system activates a special set of relays in the exchange and the alarm bells in all firemen's homes are rung automatically. The system also acts off the station siren, which will continue to sound until one of the firemen attends the station to accept the call. All Manilla residents should keep the Fire number (851---) near their phone for use in case of an emergency. 

The business number (851---) should be used for enquiries or information concerning the Brigade and (851---) ONLY for Fire or emergency calls. It is very important for the caller to stay on the line until the call has been answered, even though the siren may have already sounded because the Brigade will not know the address of the emergency until the caller gives the information. " 

Manilla Express March 1980

 From front: Iris Sing, Norma Russell, Jean Lawler, Judy Upson, Ida Kimber, Carol Hanley-Smith

Manilla Express March 26 1980

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Off-site links: The TELEPHONE

History of
in Australia

NBNCo Educational Factsheet

History of COMMUNICATIONS in Australia

Australian Bureau of Statistics