22 June 2014

Celebrating the Centenary of Balmain’s First Automatic Telephone Exchange


On Saturday 12 July a very successful celebration of 100 years of the Balmain telephone Exchange took place. Local residents had the opportunity to have a look inside the exchange and see demonstrations of historic equipment.

Leichhardt Mayor, Darcy Byrne, Federal and State members Tanya Plebisek and Jamie Parker attended the event.

Our thanks to our representatives, Telstra and their staff, Balmain Rotary (for the sausage sizzle)and all the volunteers who made the day a success.

Negotations continue between Telstra and Leichhardt Council for the demolition of the unused front part of the exchange for conversion to public square

A Brief History of Balmain Telephone Exchange

Prior to 1914 the Balmain Telephone Exchange site was open space next to the iconic 1886 Balmain Post Office. Balmain’s original 1888 manual telephone exchange, located inside the P.O., had 15 subscribers who included Mort’s Dock and Engineering Works, Callan Park Hospital for the Insane and Biloela Gaol on Cockatoo Island.

It didn’t operate at night or on weekends. With the rapid increase in the use of telephones automatic exchanges replaced the small manual ones. The first automatic exchanges in NSW opened in Balmain, Newtown and Glebe in 1914.

The Balmain exchange, officially opened on 11 July, was located in a separate two-storey brick building at the rear of the present exchange. The building cost £1,150 and the Chicago built exchange equipment £8,195.

The front, lower section, of the present telephone exchange was opened in 1957 and the rear, higher section, built on the site of the 1914 exchange, was opened in 1971.