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About the AHTS.

(Australian Historic Telephone Society Inc.)



Many people in our age have a purely utilitarian love affair with communications technology. The marriage is one of convenience only, and the old is as quickly discarded as it was embraced in the face of new advances. Some, however, like the founders of the Australian Historic Telephone Society (AHTS), take the long view. They love the products of an industrial age purely for their own sake- though the emphasis varies with the individual.

First come the “old technicians”. Communications technology has always fascinated those who work with it, and within the industry there has always been a group of people who find and keep obsolete equipment simply because of what it is, or for the long, comfortable associations and memories attached to individual items. Add to that the large number of people in the community who hoard anything technical, whether they understand it or not. Throw in the retro home decorators; the history buffs, and those overcome with nostalgia for a bygone age, and the only ingredient missing is something to pull them all together.

Foundations, People, and Philosophy

The AHTS was the first significant telephone collectors society in Australia, and soon came to represent all of the wider facets of vintage telecommunications collecting. It could be said that five individuals with a shared vision were the drivers behind the birth of the Society, which began life in a flurry of activity associated with both the staging of a Telephone Centenary Exhibition, and the publication of a small book, “100 years of the Telephone” by Frank Soden.

These foundation members were Frank Soden, Bruce Whitehead; Murray Murfett; Pat Haley and Reuban Watson. Frank Soden was the mainstay, and it was largely due to his efforts, with contributions from Bruce Whitehead, that the book 100 years of the Telephone got to press. This was produced to coincide with the Centenary year of Bell’s invention (March 1876-1976).

The Exhibition, also commemorating the Centenary of the Telephone, was arguably the first Australian, non-governmental, public display of its size and scope, with nearly 200 telephones and related pieces on view. It was staged at a venue called The Dorchester, (now demolished) in Melbourne’s Alexandra Gardens, and was also coincident with Melbourne’s annual “Moomba” festival, thus drawing upon the crowds who traditionally flock to the Carnival’s other attractions. One senior member of the Society, who joined some time after seeing the Exhibition, recalls being amazed at the outstanding displays of telephones by Bruce Whitehead and (particularly) Frank Soden, with his Ericsson collection – he had “never seen anything like it!”

This was a fitting comment, and one that would have pleased the founders – for from the start, the Society was committed to the twofold goals of furthering members’ interests, and of raising public awareness about Australia’s telephone heritage through periodic displays.

The formal establishment of the AHTS as a body of collectors did not actually occur until 13th August, 1976. The first issue of the Newsletter was also printed that month, and in addition to the business of electing the first office-bearers it records a request for membership by Georg Ek, of Colorado USA. Georg has been an institution in the Society as much as Frank himself. The Soden and the Ek families became firm friends, exchanging several international visits, while at the same time helping the AHTS to attain a profile in America. In fact, those who attended the Society’s major exhibition in 1997 will recall both Frank and Georg, who was in Australia on a visit, working together for a very long time to arrange Frank’s telephones for the breathtaking main display. This was a symbolic moment for the Society. It was the last time those three foundational influences in its history would be together.

From the outset a central part of the Society’s activities has been the publishing of the newsletter, originally released monthly, and now printed every 2 months. This is more than just notice of AHTS business. Various editors, beginning with Frank Soden who served longest in this capacity, have turned the newsletter into a very high quality digest of technical, historical and social items to do with telephony in all its facets.

The AHTS has mounted several exhibitions other than those already referred to, and it is part of the Society’s policy to continue doing so. As they take a taxingly large amount of voluntary time and effort, the dates of “Shows” are irregular. However the ethos behind them is unchanging – the public need to know about their telecommunications history. At the same time the public exposure is necessary for the continued growth of the organisation, and for the health of individual collections, which are broadened by the contacts made during exhibitions. As well, displays attract members of the public with historic items which might otherwise be lost, or go unappreciated due to lack of knowledge.

Outworkings

Although primarily based in Melbourne, Victoria, the Society has members all over Australia, and worldwide. The AHTS was responsible for the beginnings of the other large Australian group – the Sydney-centred Australasian Telephone Collectors Society, whose foundation members came from within our own Society. There has also been a recent Renaissance of telephone collecting in Western Australia, with some existing AHTS members of long-standing attracting enough newcomers to form a Sub-Branch. This was formalised in February 1998, and, it is hoped, will be the first of many such expansions.

In addition, the AHTS has reached out to other bodies with an historical interest, such as the Australian Telecommunications Society and the telegraph-focussed Morsecodians, in an effort to unite efforts to save Australia’s telecommunications history.

AHTS Mail address: PO Box 1090, Greythorn, Victoria, 3104


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