My blog is turning into a history book instead of a personal diary. Well, if I don't do anything much, I can't write about it.
I am not old enough to remember Melbourne's alpha numeric telephone numbers, such as this one in an old ad in my very old street directory, BJ4211. I certainly remember the letters being on the dials of telephones though. What was the purpose of these letters? They don't seem to correspond to an area or telephone exchange. Why not just use the numbers?
To use one of the old dial telephones was a joy. They had a beautiful smooth mechanism to dial with which made a lovely sound and then came along the el cheapo plastic telephones, with nasty cheap dials. They were still quite heavy though compared to modern phones. I pulled one apart one day to see how it worked. It looked complicated.
As a country lad, dial phones were a luxury. We had to turn a handle to call the local general store, come post office, come telephone exchange and be manually connected to the world. If we wanted to call our grandmother, turn the handle and ask for the number. We would be then connected to the Moe telephone exchange and then Melbourne and then my grandmother's. This was an improvement on the original when we first moved to the country and had to go through another exchange, almost next door to us. So, next door, then the general store, then Moe, then Melbourne, then the number. Earlier it went through Warragul instead of Moe. Making a telephone call was a big deal back then and not something to be taken lightly. I think it cost quite a lot to make a trunk call, later an STD (snigger) call.
My mother used to call my grandmother, her mother, every three or four days. At some point when the bank manager was in a bad mood and making a fuss, my father said economies must prevail and killed a fattened calf for meat and complained about the telephone bill. I have never been fond of veal since. He was ignored, as the telephone bill no doubt came under the heading of 'give my daughter whatever she wants', in return for my grandfather financing the farm.
Our phone back then was on a party line, with five others. Two big batteries, roughly the size of soft drink cans, sat in a box on the floor. I don't think they were ever changed. Perhaps they were for emergency or something. Our ring was a short ring, followed by two long rings. If you wanted to call someone on the party line, you had to know their ring. I remember short short short was one neighbour's. You could pick the phone up when others were engaged in a call and listen, but they would know someone was listening as there was a click as they picked up the receiver. The local operator with her smooth switches and quiet breathing listened in to all. The polite thing to do before making a call was to pick up the phone and say 'using', to check if anyone else was on the party line, without actually listening to a conversation.
Our telephone number was 41W, no doubt prefaced by a telephone exchange name.
My grandmother's phone number was 57 5612. South Oakleigh phone numbers are still similar 9579 xxxx.
When I first met R and he lived in St Kilda, his prefix was 34. ie 34xxxx, later a 5 was added, 534, then the ubiquitous 9, 9534. Somehow I think the need to keep adding more land line phone number prefixes has passed.
(I just checked with R to confirm some of this and he produced an address book from when he first left the UK. Who was that, I kept asking when I saw an unfamiliar name. Mostly he knew but sometimes the reply was, no idea)
So what inspired this post? I looked up Myer's website today and I saw the phone number,
9661 1111. When the rest of Melbourne had six digit phone numbers, some Melbourne city businesses had five digits, and I am sure Myer's was 6 1111 or 61 111, same I know but I can't recall how it was written.
One last thought. Some country telephones did not even have a handle to turn. You just picked up the handset and were connected to an operator. Old American movies where a caller would press the rest or buttons over and over again to try to get the operator made no difference here.