History of Radio in Tasmania

2023 signals the centenary of organised amateur radio in VK7.

By Richard Rogers VK7RO

The following is a short history of radio experimentation and the efforts of many to form into a variety of organisations to represent and support this wonderful hobby of ours. It has been a rocky and sometimes blood stained road we have travelled. The following are some of the highlights.

Wireless experimenters were busy in Tasmania before the First World War, 11 stations being listed in 1911. F.W.Medhurst (later 7AH) and W.P.Hallam contacted visiting warships in 1901. Geoff Hall (later 7GH) said his best DX using a spark transmitter and coherer receiver was only 200 yards! The Marconi company built a station at Devonport in 1906 to demonstrate communication with Victoria. Father Shaw, the “wireless priest” erected a station on King Island in 1911. The coast radio station, VIH, was built in Hobart on the Queen’s Domain in 1912.

By 1913 there were about dozen radio experimenters in Launceston and Hobart who were conducting experiments with spark transmission.

A Wireless and Electrical Club was formed in Hobart after the First World War. Later, after a visit to Hobart by H.R.Gregory, who was involved with the Wireless Institute of Australia in Sydney, the Tasmanian Division of the WIA was formed at a meeting in Hobart on the 21st February, 1923. The Launceston Wireless Club was granted affiliation in October, 1923.

The Hobart club started boldly with its own rooms in Trafalgar Place. However, following an unsatisfactory demonstration of wireless at Hobart’s “Palais de Danse”, which was probably due to a lack of knowledge of public address, there was dissension amongst the members. Later demonstrations held in a hall where the audience was quiet and not attempting to dance, were successful, Sydney broadcasting stations being received.

As noted above, the dissension left its mark. Trevor Watkins, 7AA, noted in his log: 7/4/24 – 1st AGM – very lively!! [two exclamation marks]

From the Listener In, 14th March,1925, Wireless Club Reports:

The Hobart Radio Experimenters’ Club is a strong body of wireless enthusiasts . . . The club was once known as the Wireless Institute, but a split occurred (in the course of which some blood was spilt and a black eye told its tale), and the new body was formed with the donor of the black eye as president. The Wireless Institute is still in existence, but in a rather negative state at the moment. . “

The WIA meeting voted to not send a report of the proceedings to the press, but next week the Tasmanian Mail on it’s Radio page headlined – “Stormy Scene at First Annual Meeting”. In April 1925, the Tasmanian Mail commented that the attempts to establish a radio club had been “a laughable failure” with “ceaseless and childish bickering”.

So the Wireless Institute headquarters moved to the affiliated Launceston club and was officially incorporated in 1925. In Hobart, the Radio Experimenters Club completed their first year “with harmony their motto”.

The 5th Federal Convention of the WIA was held in Hobart in 1928 when the proceedings took 5 1/2 days. The Convention was also held in Hobart in 1935, 1967 and 2022.

Regular Field Days and Fox (hidden transmitter) Hunts were held and were a feature of the conferences and the times.

In 1926 the Queen’s Domain Coast Wireless Station was upgraded to valve equipment.

By 1930 the Division’s meetings were being held in Hobart where the majority of the council members lived. In 1931 a news bulletin and QSL bureau started.

During the early 1930s there was much activity in Hobart with field days and dinners. In photographs of the time the WIA blazers were popular. There were other radio clubs active during the 1930s, notably the Devonport Radio Club and Army Signals Radio Club. The Hobart Radio Research Club was disbanded following the reactivation of the WIA in Hobart. Club callsigns listed in 1929-36 included 7HR, Hobart Radio Research Club; 7PR, Launceston Technical College; 7SR, Army Signals Radio Club and 7WI the Divisional station.

By 1937 activity was at a low ebb and the committee noted an “unsatisfactory financial state . . . liabilities exceed bank balance”. In 1938 they noted a “downward trend of Institute affairs and lack of cooperation by members” and proposed a reorganisation of the Tasmanian Division. Later that year they visited Launceston and northern members to discuss the latter’s dissatisfaction.

However at the next AGM in 1938, when the bank balance was £1-19-3 and the debts £14-10-7 with £16-3-6 in outstanding subscriptions: “Doug Fisher, 7AB, surprised the meeting by offering Northern members resolutions – that the headquarters should be in Launceston and that the Northern members were dissatisfied … the meeting was out of order and the president could not gain control … in view of Mr Fisher’s caustic remarks … it was agreed to call a special general meeting to discuss HQ location”

Unsurprisingly, the special meeting held in Hobart resolved that the headquarters remain there. However this kerfuffle led to the formation of the Northern Zone of the WIA in Launceston in 1939, where Col Wright, VK7LZ, was the main organiser.

Patrons of the Tasmanian Division were F.W. (Pop) Medhurst VK7AH and L.J.Crooks VK7BQ.

During WW2, with many members absent and transmitting prohibited, there were no meetings held. After the war there was an enthusiastic reforming of the club which soon had more than 100 members.

The Northern Zone of the Division was reformed in Launceston in 1948 and the Northwestern Zone formed about 1950.

However during the 1960s there were further rumblings from the North regarding their neglect and in 1973, when activity in Hobart was slack, the Tasmanian Division was reorganised, based in Launceston, as a statewide body overseeing branches in the North, Northwest and South.

The move to a National WIA lead to the winding-up of the Tasmanian Division of the Wireless Institute in October 2004 and the WIA Tasmania Division branches formed into separate affiliated clubs.

In the South the Radio and Electronics Association of Southern Tasmania, based in Hobart was incorporated in 2004 and their clubrooms are the Historic Coast Wireless Station on top of the Queen’s Domain in Hobart;

In the North the Northern Tasmanian Amateur Radio Club based in Launceston was formed in 2004 and incorporated in 2009 and their clubrooms are the Scout Hall Archer Street Rocherlea, Launceston.

In the North West – the North West Tasmania Amateur Radio Interest Group was formed which later became the Cradle Coast Amateur Radio Club and was incorporated in 2009. The North West Tasmania Amateur Television Group was also formed and later became the North West Tasmania Radio & TV Group and then later became the North West Tasmania Amateur Radio Club and was incorporated in 2021 and their clubrooms are the Scout Hall Alexandra Street Ulverstone.

There are also a number of less formal groups notable among them, the Sewing Circle Net who boast the longest running Net in VK with links back to the 1940s. The Sewing Circle host the Meet the Voice event at Ross annually. The West Coast Radio Group, the NW Radio Experimenters and Social Group and the Central Highlands Amateur Radio Club who ran the Tassie Trout Award, the Wadda Cup sprint contest and hosted the biennial Miena Hamfest.


WIA : https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/tas/search/results?s=wia&searchTarget=library&qu=wia

Trevor Watkins : https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/tas/search/results?qu=trevor&qu=watkins

Historical Photos:

Photos are from the collections of VK7 Amateurs, WIA Archive, Trevor Watkins and Chris Long.