Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia)

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Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd
Founded 1909
Headquarters Homebush West, New South Wales, Australia
Website www.awa.com.au
Workers at AWA's Ashfield, NSW factory in 1936. Photo courtesy State Library of NSW

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd (later AWA Ltd) is an electronics manufacturer and broadcaster based out of Sydney, Australia. Throughout most of the 20th century AWA was Australia's largest and most prominent electronics organisation, undertaking development, manufacture and distribution of radio, telecommunications, television and audio equipment as well as broadcasting services.

After the sell-off of most of its assets and operating divisions, AWA is now primarily an ICT services company.

History[edit]

The company commenced operations in 1909 as Australasian Wireless Limited (AWL), a Telefunken wireless agent.

In 1912 when the English Marconi Company sued the Australian government for infringing their patent (and AWL issued writs against firms using Marconi equipment), the government decided in future to use circuits designed by John Balsillie.[1] Eventually the two settled their differences and, in July 1913, formed a new company, Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd, with exclusive rights throughout Australasia to the patents, 'present and future', of both Marconi and Telefunken. Later that year the new entity established the Marconi Telefunken College of Telegraphy, (later renamed the Marconi School of Wireless (MSW)).

The first chairman was (Sir) Hugh Denison. (Sir) Ernest Fisk, a foundation director, was general and technical manager. In 1916 he became managing director and in 1932 chairman.

In 1918, the first radio broadcast from the UK to Australia was received by AWA with then Prime Minister Billy Hughes praising the troops he has just inspected on the western front. In 1930, AWA transmitted the first newsreel pictures from Sydney to London.

In 1922, the Australian Government, requiring a direct radio service with the UK - in lieu of submarine cables - commissioned AWA to create a service. The government boosted the new company's capital and became its majority shareholder. In 1926, the company established two large beam wireless stations on 180 hectare sites; a receiver site in Victoria at Rockbank near Melbourne and a transmitter site at Ballan near Ballarat which eventually become known as Fiskville. A shortwave beam radiotelegraph service between Australia and Britain,[2] undercutting the cable companies, was inaugurated on 8 April 1927 and terminated on 31 May 1969. In 1928, it established a similar service between Australia and Canada. In April 1930 the Empire radiotelephone service commenced.

The Australian Government in 1922 granted AWA exclusive rights to operate the Coastal Radio Service (CRS), a network of maritime radio stations that eventually included stations in New Guinea which had been hurriedly installed when Japan entered World War II. The Overseas Telecommunications Act 1946 resulted in the creation of the Overseas Telecommunications Commission and ownership of the CRS was transferred to this new organisation on 1 October 1946.

AWA continued in maritime operations supplying marine radio operators to Australian registered vessels. The AWA Marine Division with its headquarters in the Sydney suburb of Leichhardt continued to wholesale marine communications and radar equipment to the Australian maritime and leisure-boating market into the mid-1980s.

In addition to being a maker of broadcasting equipment and a leading manufacturer of consumer radios, AWA Broadcasting (eventually to become AWA Media Pty Ltd) was the first and at one time the largest commercial radio network in Australia. AWA owned and operated many Australian metropolitan and country AM radio stations over the years, including 2CH Sydney, 3MP Melbourne and 6KY Perth. AWA purchased 3XY Melbourne in 1991, relaunching it in 1992 as 3EE (Magic 693). AWA Media soon sold 3EE and 2CH was also sold in 1994.

The AWA Building 45-47 York Street in Sydney was completed in 1939 becoming an instant landmark with its art-deco style and large white radio tower on top (in the shape of the Eiffel Tower) and was the tallest building in Australia until 1958. It remained the AWA head office until the 1990s and is now heritage listed.[3]

During World War II, the Marconi School trained an extensive number of military personnel in signals and communications. Additionally, the Department of Defence appropriated and operated the Ballan facility for military radio operations, eventually returning it to civilian operations with the Overseas Telecommunications Commission (OTC). OTC joined with Telecom Australia in 1992 to form the Australian and Overseas Telecommunications Corporation, later to become Telstra Corporation.

AWA continued to have major involvement in the Australian defence electronics industry. It worked closely with the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) in developing the electronics in the Ikara anti-submarine weapon, Nulka EW rocket drone, AN/SSQ-801A Barra sonobuoy (with Plessey as Sonobuoys Australia Pty Ltd), Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM), Agile Gliding Bomb and ALR-2002 Radar Warning Receiver, as well as providing support to the initial Jindalee Over The Horizon Radar trials. AWA Defence Industries (AWADI) was formed in October 1988 by the merger of the defence electronics business of AWA with those of Thorn EMI Electronics Australia and Fairey Australasia. AWADI was sold to British Aerospace Australia in April 1996.

With Radio Corporation of America (RCA), AWA established a joint venture (Amalgamated Wireless Valve Co. Pty Ltd) to manufacture radio valves (vacuum tubes) at the Ashfield works under the AWV, RCA and Radiola brands. During World War II AWV produced a range of defence electronics materiel, including klystrons and magnetrons for radar equipment. In 1958 AWV commercialised research work by the AWA Research Laboratories to set up a plant to manufacture transistors and AWA Semiconductors was born. AWA continued to distribute products from RCA Semiconductor into the mid-1980s.

In 1987 AWA MicroElectronics Pty Ltd was formed to design and manufacture integrated circuits and established a fully operational wafer foundry, integrated circuit fabrication facility and design centre. The group was a joint venture between AWA Ltd (64%), British Aerospace (25%) and the NSW Government (11%). This group was sold off to Quality Semiconductor Australia Pty Limited (now Silanna) in 1996.

Immediately after the World War II through to the 1980s, AWA was extensively involved in the design, development and manufacture of advanced aeronautical communications, navigation and surveillance systems. These systems included the VHF Aural Range (VAR), Distance Measuring Equipment (DME) for airborne use and ground beacons, VHF Omni Range (VOR), Air Traffic Control systems (known as AWANET) and a Microwave Landing System (MLS) called Interscan. Many of these developments were undertaken jointly with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Australian Department of Civil Aviation. Some of these products are now produced and supported by Interscan Navigation Systems,[4] which for some years was a privately held stand-alone company, but is now a fully owned subsidiary of Indra Sistemas S.A., a Spanish defence and ICT contractor.

The AWA Communications Division was a developer and vendor of telephone and radio communications systems, in particular microwave radio. The division merged with Plessey Communications to form AWA Plessey Communications Division. The AWA share in the group was sold to Plessey of the UK to become Plessey Asia Pacific Communications Division and in 2001 was again sold and renamed Longreach Wireless.[5]

With its commencement in the 1930s, AWA Aviation Department (later Aviation Division) operated the major avionics servicing organisation in Australia and Papua New Guinea through a number of service depots located at major and secondary airports, with a large workshop located in Airport West, Victoria. From 1948 to 1991 AWA held the contract to install and maintain the avionics of the Australian domestic airlines (Ansett-ANA, later Ansett Australia and Trans Australia Airlines, later Australian Airlines and subsequently Qantas). The Aviation Division was sold to British Aerospace in 1996, before being sold again to Rockwell Collins to be absorbed within its Australian avionics maintenance operations.

AWA engineers were working with Marconi in England on television systems from 1948 and in 1954 AWA provided the first (experimental) TV broadcast in Australia during Queen Elizabeth II’s Australian Royal Tour. AWA moved into TV broadcasting again in 1980 when it purchased QTQ-9 in Brisbane, which it sold to Alan Bond in 1985 when Bond started to assemble his ownership of the Nine Network.

AWA was a major manufacturer of television receivers under the AWA Radiola Deep Image brand from the mid-1950s until the relaxation of import tariffs under the Whitlam Government in the early 1970s. With the increased competition in the marketplace, AWA joined forces with Thorn Electrical Industries UK in 1973 to create AWA-Thorn Consumer Products Limited, to produce colour televisions in Australia. Thorn colour television receivers modified for Australia were marketed as AWA or Thorn models, with local improvements being made to these over the ensuing years.

AWA-Rediffusion Pty. Ltd, a company jointly owned by Rediffusion International and AWA Limited was formed in 1971. The business was a platform to enter the Australian market with Rediffusion systems similar to those offered in the UK by RIS/RBE and included products and services such as Reditune Background Music, CCTV, Hotel Audio Distribution and Specialist Information Display Systems. In 1974 AWA-Rediffusion branched into the television sales and rental market setting up a chain of retail shops under their Redihire name. Colour Television arrived in Australia in March 1975, around ten years after the UK. and Redihire had been preparing for the event for over a year with six shops opening in and around the Sydney area with the company's HQ in Roseville NSW. Television rental accounted for around twenty percent of the initial market and Redihire adopted a 'rent or buy' marketing approach from the onset majoring on existing models that were being made for AWA-Thorn by Mitsubishi Electric of Japan. This division of AWA was also the Australian distributor for many audio equipment manufacturers, including Tannoy, Revox, AKG Acoustics having already an established association with AWA.

In 1975, AWA brought the first Pick minicomputer system to Australia, and set up a computer services arm.

1979 saw the closure of the MSW when it moved to Launceston Tasmania to become part of the Australian Maritime College. Later that year, the last Australian-made AWA appliances were produced at the company's Sydney manufacturing plant in Ashfield. From the late 1970s, appliances such as TVs were being made for AWA-Thorn by Mitsubishi Electric of Japan. This division of AWA was also the Australian distributor for many audio equipment manufacturers, including Tannoy, Revox, AKG Acoustics and Clarion (car audio). In 1984, Mitsubishi Electric purchased AWA-Thorn, (renaming it "Mitsubishi Electric AWA Pty Ltd"), marketing their VCRs, stereos and TVs in Australia while retaining 'AWA' in the brand name.

In 1984 AWA acquired Electrical Equipment Ltd, a major manufacturer of power transmission equipment and the AWA group had a combined staff of over 10,000.

Through research done at the AWA Research Laboratories, AWA was an early entrant into the design and development of optical fibre technology in Australia. In 1984, AWA, in partnership with Corning of the USA and Metal Manufactures Limited, established Optical Waveguides Australia Pty Ltd (OWA). AWA later sold its interest in OWA, which was eventually purchased fully by Corning to become Corning Noble Park, but closed in 2003.

AWA reported in 1987 $49 million in foreign exchange losses due to unauthorised trading in 1986 and 1987.[6] Over the next decade, in what developed into a landmark case in Australia, there were legal proceedings against auditors for failing to identify the trading, as well as cross claims against the company's directors, the foreign exchange trader and the banks involved.[7] In May 2010 the employee at the centre of the foreign exchange losses, Andrew Koval, was extradited from the United States to face criminal charges. He had previously defended a civil suit in relation to the matter.[8]

In 1988, the company was renamed "AWA Limited", and in August sold its telephone manufacturing and related businesses to Exicom Ltd.[9] A year later, AWA Computer Support Services was established as an independent business unit. In the early 1990s, unable to compete with cheaper imported appliances, AWA exited the field of domestic appliances and consumer electronics, and focused on industrial technology.

In the late 1980s AWA established AWASCo Pty Ltd, a joint venture with Serco Group plc of the UK. The company provided facilities management services to federal and state agencies, and eventually Serco purchased AWA's share to form Serco Australia.

In 1991 AWA acquired Smorgon Technologies, a world leader in totalisator systems. The company developed and operated state-of-art wagering systems that were installed around the world.

In 2001 AWA was acquired by Jupiters Limited, which was soon acquired by Tabcorp. Then in 2004, the company was spun off, and is once again an independent company.

In 2006 AWA acquired Telefix Sales Pty Ltd, which has been servicing home entertainment products since the early 1960s.

Summary of Company Names[edit]

  • Australasian Wireless Limited (AWL) - 1909
  • Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd (AWA) - 1913[10]
  • AWA Defence Industries (AWADI) - 1988
    • sold to British Aerospace Australia in April 1996
  • Amalgamated Wireless Valve Co. Pty Ltd (AWV)
  • AWA MicroElectronics Pty Ltd - 1987
  • AWA Plessey
  • AWA-Thorn Consumer Products Limited - 1973
    • In 1984, Mitsubishi Electric purchased AWA-Thorn, renaming it "Mitsubishi Electric AWA Pty Ltd"
  • Optical Waveguides Australia Pty Ltd (OWA) - 1984
  • AWA-Rediffusion (Pty) Ltd. 1971 - 1986.
  • In 1988, the company was renamed "AWA Limited"
  • AWASCo Pty Ltd
  • AWA Computer Support Services established as an independent business unit - 1989
  • In 2001 AWA was acquired by Jupiters Limited, which was soon acquired by Tabcorp.
  • In 2004, the company was spun off as AWA Limited, and is once again an independent company.

Current[edit]

AWA is proud to celebrate over 100 years in the technology business.

Today, AWA provides independent technology service solutions for large organisations, ICT and AV vendors, resellers, distributors and outsourcers. With offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, and Newcastle plus a national network of more than 700 service agents AWA provides a truly national service network. Customers can access AWA support 365 days a year and 24 hours a day. [11]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lindsay Cleland, 'Balsillie, John Graeme (1885 - 1924)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, Melbourne University Press, 1979, p. 162.
  2. ^ Paul Hewitt, Tetney Beam Station, 1993, tetneybeamstation.blogspot.com. Retrieved 2010-03-16.
  3. ^ "AWA Building (former), 45-47 York St, Sydney, NSW, Australia (entry AHD18919)". Australian Heritage Database. Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Retrieved 2010-03-16. 
  4. ^ Interscan Navigation Systems
  5. ^ Longreach Wireless
  6. ^ A.N. Maiden, "An Electronic Horror Story", Time magazine, 27 July 1987. Copy available at http://www.vk6fh.com/vk6fh/awacrashpg1.htm
  7. ^ Trevor Sykes, "Anatomy of a $50m loss", The Bulletin, 19 January 1993, Pp 67-73. Copy available at http://www.members.westnet.com.au/impeh/awacrashpg3.htm
  8. ^ Elizabeth Sexton, "Whiz-kid faces the music, 17 years on", Sydney Morning Herald, 26 May 2010. Copy available at http://www.smh.com.au/business/whizkid-faces-the-music-17-years-on-20100525-wb29.html
  9. ^ David Tomlinson, "AWA ends telephone era", The Australian, 8 August 1988. Copy available at http://www.members.westnet.com.au/impeh/awacrashpg2a.htm
  10. ^ http://search.asic.gov.au/cgi-bin/gns030c?acn=000_005_916&juris=9&hdtext=ACN&srchsrc=1
  11. ^ http://www.awa.com.au/about-awa/our-history/

External links[edit]