AWA. Celebrating 100 years. Pride in our past. Passion in our future.
Today AWA Limited is Australia’s leading independent technology services company.
We can trace our business origins back over 100 years to 1909 and this year, 2013, we celebrate 100 years as AWA [Amalgamated Wireless Australasia].
The Early Years
AWA commenced operations in 1909 as Australasian Wireless Limited (AWL), as a Telefunken wireless agent.
The English Marconi Company sued the Australian government for infringing their patent and AWL issued writs against firms who were using Marconi equipment. The government decided the best solution would be to use circuits designed by John Balsillie, inventor of the ‘Balsillie System’ of wireless telegraphy.
The two parties settled their differences and July 1913, they formed a new company, Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd. AWA had exclusive rights throughout Australasia to the patents, ‘present and future’, for both Marconi and Telefunken.
Later, in 1913, the new company established the Marconi Telefunken College of Telegraphy, later renamed the Marconi School of Wireless (MSW). In 1979 this moved to Launceston, Tasmania and becomes part of the Australian Maritime College.
The first AWA chairman was Sir Hugh Denison and Sir Ernest Fisk, also a founding director, was made General and Technical manager. In 1916 Fisk became Managing Director and in 1932 was made AWA Chairman.
The Radio Years
The Australian Government granted AWA the exclusive rights to operate the Coastal Radio Service (CRS), a network of maritime radio stations that eventually included stations in New Guinea that 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 then transferred to this new organisation on 1st October 1946.
The first radio broadcast from the UK to Australia was received by AWA with the then Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, praising the troops he has just inspected on the Western Front.
The Australian Government needed a direct radio service with the UK and they commissioned AWA to create a service. The government increased the new company’s capital and became its majority shareholder.
Broadcasting and Media
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.
AWA 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; this site became known as Fishville.
A shortwave beam radiotelegraph service was set up between Australia and Britain. This new service undercut the early cable companies and was inaugurated on 8 April 1927, this service continued until 31 May 1969.
AWA established a similar service between Australia and Canada. In April 1930 the Empire radiotelephone service commenced.
AWA transmits the first newsreel pictures from Sydney to London.
The AWA Tower
The famous heritage listed AWA Building at 45-47 York Street in Sydney was completed. It became an instant landmark with its art-deco style and large white radio tower on top, in the shape of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It was the tallest building in Australia until 1958 and remained the AWA head office until the early 1990s.
AWA established a joint venture (Amalgamated Wireless Valve Co. Pty Ltd) with Radio Corporation of America (RCA), 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.
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.
AWA MicroElectronics Pty Ltd was formed to design and manufacture integrated circuits and a fully operational wafer foundry was established in addition to an integrated circuit fabrication facility and a design centre. This was a joint venture between AWA Ltd (64%), British Aerospace (25%) and the NSW Government (11%). This business was sold off to Quality Semiconductor Australia Pty Limited (now Silanna) in 1996.
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.
During World War II, the Marconi School trained a large number of military personnel in signals and communications. Additionally, the Department of Defence appropriated and operated the AWA Ballan facility for military radio operations, eventually returning it to civilian operations with the Overseas Telecommunications Commission (OTC).
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 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.
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 Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Australian Department of Civil Aviation.
The Television Years
AWA engineers started working with Marconi in England on television systems in 1948.
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.
AWA provides the first (experimental) TV broadcast in Australia during Queen Elizabeth II’s Australian Royal Tour.
With the increased competition in the marketplace, AWA joined forces with Thorn Electrical Industries UK 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 is formed. 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.
AWA-Rediffusion moves into the television sales and rental market setting up a chain of retail shops under their Redihire name.
Colour Television finally arrives in Australia around ten years after the UK. Redihire had been preparing for the event for over a year with 6 shops opening in and around the Sydney area with the company’s HQ in Roseville NSW.
Television rental accounted for around 20% initially and so Redihire adopted a ‘rent or buy’ marketing approach from the onset focusing on selling 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 and AKG Acoustics.
Later in 1975 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).
AWA moved into TV broadcasting again when it purchased QTQ-9 in Brisbane, which it then sold to Alan Bond in 1985 as part of his Nine Network.
Mitsubishi Electric purchases AWA-Thorn renaming it Mitsubishi Electric AWA Pty Ltd and marketing their VCRs, stereos and TVs in Australia while retaining ‘AWA’ in the brand name.
AWA brought the first Pick minicomputer system to Australia, and set up a computer services operation.
AWA acquires Electrical Equipment Ltd, a major manufacturer of power transmission equipment and this increases the total employees within the AWA Group to over 10,000 people.
Through the research done in 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, 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 $49 million in foreign exchange losses due to unauthorised trading in 1986 and 1987. Over the next ten years this became a landmark legal case in Australia. There were legal proceedings against the 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.
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.
AWA was renamed AWA Limited and in August 1988 the telephone manufacturing and related businesses were sold to Exicom Ltd.
Computer Technology Services
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 Serco went on to purchase AWA’s share and formed Serco Australia.
AWA Computer Support Services became 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 information technology services.
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.
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 Corporation and became Plessey Asia Pacific Communications Division; this was then sold and renamed Longreach Wireless.
AWA was acquired by Jupiters Limited, who were then acquired by Tabcorp.
ICT Solutions and Services
AWA was spun off, and once again become an independent company, AWA Limited.
AWA acquired Telefix Sales Pty Ltd, a successful service business for home entertainment products.
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.