History of wireless telegraphy and broadcasting in Australia/Topical/Biographies/Frederick William Stevens

From Wikibooks, open books for an open world
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Frederick William Stevens (1898–1966) led a varied career. In younger days he was with the Royal Australian Navy Radio Service serving at the Coastal Radio Station at Samarai. After qualifying with the Marconi School of Wireless he was appointed to the engineering staff of Farmer's broadcasting station 2FC in 1923, then transferred to 3LO Melbourne as assistant engineer in 1924. But he is best remembered for his five-year period with 4QG (Queensland Radio Service) 1925 to 1929, covering the entire time of its control by the Queensland Government. After commencement of the National Broadcasting Service, he continued in private enterprise as senior engineer with both 4BH and 4BC. But a love of flying saw him joining QANTAS in the mid 1930s as one of their earliest pilots. During the second world war, he combined his flying and radio skills in the Aeradio field. After the war, he became a public servant with the Department of Civil Aviation, ultimately being awarded a MBE and concluding in a senior role.

Early life and family[edit]

Frederick William Stevens was born at Camberwell, Victoria in 1898[1], first child of George Frederick William Stevens and Emma Stevens nee Daws. His father was a lighthouse keeper for the Victoria Government, and served at several lighthouses on the Victorian coast. There were two other children of the marriageː Rubie Medic Stevens (born Camberwell, 1900)[2] and Harold Robert Stevens (born Queenscliffe, 1901)[3]

The family moved from lighthouse to lighthouse as father George was transferred by his employer. George had qualified for his employment in 1889.[4] In 1899 George was at the Gellibrand lighthouse and was on duty at the time of the Edina-Excelsior collision, subsequently giving evidence at the Marine Court of Inquiry.[5] He was posted to Split Island lighthouse around 1898 (son Frederick often said in later life that he was born there). In the early 1900s, George was lighthouse keeper at the Port Nelson lighthouse near Portland and a popular figure in the Portland Rifle Club, finally departing the region towards the end of 1906[6] for another period of service at Split Island.[7] While lighthouse keeper at Wilson's Promontory in 1908, the family entertained the Victorian Governor, Sir Reginald Talbot when he and his entourage were camping in the vicinity, inspecting the reservation for a national park.[8] The family were several years on the remote Cliffy Island and Frederick's strongest childhood memories derive from that time. George took a year's furlough from Cliffy Island in 1916 at half pay. At the conclusion of his furlough, George was appointed head lighthouse keeper at Point Lonsdale and served there for 8 years until his retirement in 1924. At the end of his professional career at Point Lonsdale, George observed aspects of the collision between the Wyrallah and the Dilkera, and again he was called to give evidence at the Court of Marine Inquiry.[9]

Telegraph Messenger[edit]

In November 1912, Frederick sat for the Postmaster-General's Department examination for Telegraph Messenger, a common path for entry into the public service. He passed the exam, with good results in handwriting and spelling, but quite weak in arithmetic which was essential for further advancement.[10] He resat the examination in April 1913,[11] and August 1913,[12]. Frederick finally passed the full examination in May 1914[13] and his permanent appointment to the Postmaster-General's Department was confirmed in the following month, with effect from September 1913.[14]

Postal Assistant[edit]

In June 1916 he was confirmed as a postal assistant at the Woomelang post office with effect from 30 November 1915.[15] Woomelang is a small village in the Mallee region of Victoria and at the time was the location of a railway station. Duties would have included routine assistant to the local postmaster. But World War I was already well underway and Frederick had been exploring enlistment opportunities, albeit unsuccessfully.

Wireless training[edit]

Frederick would have been exposed to wireless telegraphy at an early age. Lighthouses were equipped with receiving equipment shortly after the establishment of the coastal radio service in the early 1910s. Likely also he learned the Morse code from his father as lamp / Morse was the method of communicating between lighthouses and ships within eyesight. Finally his work as a telegraph messenger with the Postmaster-General's Dept would have exposed him further to the professional telegraphists in that organisation. It is possible he also undertook formal training in wireless telegraphy through the several wireless schools that operated in the early 1910s.

Naval Transport Corps[edit]

Frederick was unable to enlist with the expeditionary forces during World War I, however his prior wireless training enabled him to obtain a position with the Naval Transport Corps.[16] It is assumed that his duties here were as one of the ships wireless operators. It had always been common practice for wireless operators to shift routinely from ship to ship. As one voyage was completed, they would take their alloted shore leave and at the conclusion be signed onto the next departing ship of the mercantile marine. Therefore Frederick would have had experience on a number of different ships during this period of service.

Royal Australian Naval Radio Service[edit]

Towards the end of World War I, Frederick transferred to the Royal Australian Naval Radio Service. He was posted to the Samarai Coastal Radio Station in mid-1918[17] and became officer in charge of the station. Frederick became involved with the local community and in September 1920 was appointed to the Samarai Chamber of Commerce.

PMGD Coastal Radio Service[edit]

The majority of the staff of the Royal Australian Naval Radio service were transferred to the new Coastal Radio Service of the Postmaster-General's Department in October 1920. However Frederick's lack of formal qualifications prevented a permanent appointment and it was necessary for him to be granted an exemption to continue at his Samarai post.[18] In October 1921 the exemption was extended for a further 12 months.[19] In 1922, he departed Samarai and was appointed as a radio telegraphist at VIM the Melbourne Coastal Station. The Willis Island Meteorological Station (Callsign CGI) had been established in the summer of 1921/1922 on a temporary basis as a weather and cyclone warning service.[20] In October 1922, Frederick volunteered for a six month tour of duty at the lonely outpost on a small islet in the Coral Sea, accompanied by J. Hogan of the Melbourne Bureau of Meteorology and G. Kempling from the Cooktown Coastal Radio Station (Callsign VIC). Initially they were also accompanied by a working party of 15 builders and labourers who were tasked to make the facility a permanent structure, but that group returned to the mainland after a few weeks activity.[21] The tour of duty on Willis Island was an uneventful one, with no cyclone activity being experienced throughout. The team returned to Townsville on the SS Bopple in early May 1923, with Stevens and Hogan soon returning to Melbourne on the SS Wyreema.

2FC - Farmer's Ltd[edit]

Stevens' return to Melbourne in May 1923 coincided with great public interest in broadcasting. A conference had been called of all parties with interest in broadcasting and under the influence of Ernest Thomas Fisk of AWA, the ill-conceived Sealed Set system was introduced in the Wireless Regulations of 1923. Farmer's Ltd was granted a licence for the high power Sydney station under this system and Stevens was appointed to the engineering staff prior to its commencement at the conclusion of 1923.

3LO - Broadcasting Company of Australia[edit]

Farmer's Ltd had an interest in the new high power Melbourne station 3LO and Stevens was transferred to Melbourne as assistant engineer to progress its establishment. The station commenced operation in October 1924 as the second high power broadcasting station in that city.

4QG - Queensland Radio Service[edit]

All aspects of the development of station 4QG were a matter for great public interest. A "sealed set" station had not been established for Brisbane following the commencement of the 1923 Regulations. When the 1924 Regulations were implemented, there was little interest in the establishment of an A class station or even a B class station. The Brisbane and Queensland wireless industry had survived on a handful of amateur broadcasters led by 4CM. The announcement in late August 1924 that the Queensland Government had applied for the A class licence for Brisbane revitalised the industry. John William Robinson was appointed Director of 4QG in December 1924[22] and took up duties in January 1925.[23] Under Robinson, who was an experienced journalist, Stevens acquired media skills to supplement his technical skills, and this enabled him to raise his own profile and would stand him in good stead throughout the remainder of his professional career.

It was first announced in February 1925 that Stevens had been appointed as Chief Engineer and Deputy Director to Director John William Robinson,[24] however he did not commence his duties until April 1925.[25] One of his earliest "duties" was to act as best man in Robinson's marriage to Miss Florence Burch of St. Kilda, Melbourne.[26] In the first two months with the Queensland Radio Service, the pace of work was modest as key decisions on siting and equipment acquisitions had already been made by Robinson and expected commencement of the 5000 watt station was end 1925. The Government recognized that quality reception would be available throughout Brisbane on most receivers. But a primary objective was to serve the more distant districts during the daytime and the entire state at night. There was concern about available receiver quality for distant reception. A series of tests were conducted at Toowoomba in mid-June by Robinson and Stevens.[27] Following the tests, the Government announced a decision to immediately establish a lower power 500 watt service as a temporary service until the high power station commenced and the pace of work required of the staff accelerated.

Legacy and late life[edit]

Jeffryes' meticulous records of wireless reception quality during the second year of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition were correlated by himself, and by other expeditioners, with other observations of variables such as magnetic readings, auroral intensity, and St Elmo's Fire. These identified, perhaps for the first time, the impacts of Antarctic conditions upon low frequency radio wave propagation.

The expedition's head and designated spokesman, Douglas Mawson, had little to say in his published histories about Jeffryes' active service in Antarctica. For almost 100 years, the unfortunate wireless operator's name was suppressed from most Antarctic records. But in August 2010, the Australian Antarctic Division honored Jeffryes for his pioneering winter service by naming a previously unnamed glacier after him. The Jeffryes Glacier is located at 67°4' South, 143°59' East, in the Australian Antarctic Territory. It should not be confused with the Jeffries Glacier.[28]

In December 2013, the first opera to be based on Mawson's 1911–14 expedition to Antarctica, The Call of Aurora (by Tasmanian composer Joe Bugden) was performed at The Peacock Theatre in Hobart. A chamber opera, The Call of Aurora investigates the relationship between Douglas Mawson and his wireless operator, Sidney Jeffryes.


  1. "Family history research service", Victorian Government, https://www.bdm.vic.gov.au/research-and-family-history/search-your-family-history, retrieved 13 June 2019. 
  2. "Family history research service", Victorian Government, https://www.bdm.vic.gov.au/research-and-family-history/search-your-family-history, retrieved 13 June 2019. 
  3. "Family history research service", Victorian Government, https://www.bdm.vic.gov.au/research-and-family-history/search-your-family-history, retrieved 13 June 2019. 
  4. "PUBLIC SERVICE EXAMINATION.". The Australasian (Victoria, Australia) XLVI, (1192): p. 32. 2 February 1889. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article139696223. Retrieved 15 June 2019. 
  5. "SUNK IN THE BAY.". The Herald (Victoria, Australia) (5988): p. 2. 26 September 1899. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article241242761. Retrieved 15 June 2019. 
  6. "Portland Rifle Club.". Portland Guardian (Victoria, Australia) LXIV, (5528): p. 3 (EVENING). 23 July 1906. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63962633. Retrieved 15 June 2019. 
  7. "Rifle Shooting.". Portland Guardian (Victoria, Australia) LXIV, (5555): p. 3 (EVENING). 24 September 1906. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63963283. Retrieved 29 June 2019. 
  8. "SOCIAL NOTES.". The Australasian (Victoria, Australia) LXXXIV, (2,197): p. 44. 9 May 1908. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article139213985. Retrieved 15 June 2019. 
  9. "WYRALLAH INQUIRY". Geelong Advertiser (Victoria, Australia) (23,995): p. 8. 29 April 1924. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article166049616. Retrieved 18 June 2019. 
  10. "COMMONWEALTH PUBLIC SERVICE.". Commonwealth Of Australia Gazette (Australia, Australia) (78): p. 2587. 7 December 1912. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article232446968. Retrieved 22 June 2019. 
  11. "COMMONWEALTH PUBLIC SERVICE.". Commonwealth Of Australia Gazette (Australia, Australia) (35): p. 1218. 10 May 1913. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article232457810. Retrieved 22 June 2019. 
  12. "COMMONWEALTH PUBLIC SERVICE.". Commonwealth Of Australia Gazette (Australia, Australia) (60): p. 1941. 30 August 1913. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article232470229. Retrieved 22 June 2019. 
  13. "COMMONWEALTH PUBLIC SERVICE.". Commonwealth Of Australia Gazette (Australia, Australia) (31): p. 973. 6 June 1914. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article232367381. Retrieved 22 June 2019. 
  14. "COMMONWEALTH PUBLIC SERVICE.". Commonwealth Of Australia Gazette (Australia, Australia) (37): p. 1105. 27 June 1914. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article232367600. Retrieved 13 June 2019. 
  15. "COMMONWEALTH PUBLIC SERVICE". Commonwealth Of Australia Gazette (Australia, Australia) (9): p. 140. 20 January 1916. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article232467610. Retrieved 13 June 2019. 
  16. Benson, Roderick J. (1990). The establishment and early development of broadcasting in Queensland: a study of the Queensland Radio Service, 1925-1930. Brisbane: Griffith University. http://librarycatalogue.griffith.edu.au/record=b1200552~S1. 
  17. "GENERAL HINTS.". The Argus (Melbourne) (Victoria, Australia) (22,894): p. 6. 17 December 1919. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4635525. Retrieved 18 June 2019. 
  18. "COMMONWEALTH PUBLIC SERVICE.". Commonwealth Of Australia Gazette (Australia, Australia) (93): p. 2019. 28 October 1920. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article232517903. Retrieved 22 June 2019. 
  19. "COMMONWEALTH PUBLIC SERVICE.". Commonwealth Of Australia Gazette (Australia, Australia) (10): p. 165. 2 February 1922. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article232525798. Retrieved 22 June 2019. 
  20. "CYCLONE WARNINGS". The Telegraph (Queensland, Australia) (15,566): p. 2 (SECOND EDITION). 18 October 1922. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article178421748. Retrieved 13 June 2019. 
  21. "Willis Island Station.". Townsville Daily Bulletin (Queensland, Australia) XXXVIII, (12,378): p. 4. 24 October 1922. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article62522694. Retrieved 13 June 2019. 
  22. "State Wireless". The Telegraph (Queensland, Australia) (16,235): p. 5 (second edition). 11 December 1924. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article182724007. Retrieved 6 July 2019. 
  23. "STATE RADIO STATION.". Daily Standard (Queensland, Australia) (3743): p. 11 (SECOND EDITION-3 p.m.). 6 January 1925. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article179451514. Retrieved 6 July 2019. 
  24. "PERSONAL.". The Daily Mail (Queensland, Australia) (7157): p. 9. 4 February 1925. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article218325451. Retrieved 19 June 2019. 
  25. "STATE RADIO". The Telegraph (Queensland, Australia) (16,343): p. 2 (SECOND EDITION). 18 April 1925. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article179998628. Retrieved 19 June 2019. 
  26. "ITEMS ABOUT PEOPLE". Daily Standard (Queensland, Australia) (3834): p. 10 (SECOND EDITION--3 p.m.). 24 April 1925. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article185182870. Retrieved 19 June 2019. 
  27. "WIRELESS RECEIVERS.". Toowoomba Chronicle And Darling Downs Gazette (Queensland, Australia) LXIV, (143): p. 10. 17 June 1925. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article253927819. Retrieved 6 July 2019. 
  28. Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Glaciers

Further reading[edit]

  • Carty, Bruce. Australian Radio History (4th ed. Sydney, 2013) [1]
  • Curnow, Geoffrey Ross. The history of the development of wireless telegraphy and broadcasting in Australia to 1942, with especial reference to the Australian Broadcasting Commission: a political and administrative study. online
  • Given, Donald Jock. Transit of Empires: Ernest Fisk and the World Wide Wireless. (Melbourne, 2007) [2]
  • Hadlow, Martin Lindsay. Wireless and Empire ambition: wireless telegraphy/telephony and radio broadcasting in the British Solomon Islands Protectorate, South-West Pacific (1914-1947): political, social and developmental perspectives. (Martin Hadlow, Brisbane, 2016) [3] [4]
  • Ross, John F. Radio Broadcasting Technology, 75 Years of Development in Australia 1923–1998 (J. F. Ross, 1998) [5]
  • Wireless Institute of Australia (editor Wolfenden, Peter). Wireless Men & Women at War (Wireless Institute of Australia, Melbourne, 2017) [6]

Transcriptions and Notes[edit]

More than 240 key articles/references (from an identified 260) relevant to Frederick William Stevens, mainly from the NLA's Trove (especially Digitised Newspapers) have been transcribed for ease of reference here: Frederick William Stevens - Transcriptions and Notes