Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dot dot dot

ABI Brother and myself were given electronic morse code machines for christmas I suppose, when we were kids. Before wireless and bluetooth, our morse code machines had to connect with wires.  We had a lot of fun with them before they failed to proceed, as many electronic toys did back then. Our walkie talkies did not work for long either. The tin cans with string were more reliable.

I learnt morse code, but now I only recall SOS. It is not like riding a bike but more like piano playing. Use it or lose it.

Morse code became terribly important as a method of direct communication that did not rely on a slow ship or land transport. In 1871 a submarine cable appeared in Darwin. In 1872 the cable from Adelaide joined to the cable from London at Darwin and there was now a direct electronic connection. Through repeater stations and the competence of morse code operators, a message could go to or from London in seven hours.

This year, 2012 is the 140th anniversary of the cable connection. It was truly a remarkable achievement. Our indigenous were suspicious of this cable running through their lands, and insulators could be shaped to make very good spear heads. Once they realised the cable meant them no harm, the thieving stopped.

I wish I could turn back the clock and remember the economy of morse code as against the lengthiness of emails. Perhaps the simple brevity of phone text messages is like the morse code of old.

If I wasn't so lazy and time poor though, I could travel to Beechworth and send a morse code message. I could even send a telegram from what is surely one of the last remaining telegraph stations, built in 1858. Would the message convert to a phone text, an email or a Face Book post?


  1. My brothers were also given walkie talkies and morse code sets for birthdays. And they also set up tin cans with wires between their bedrooms.

    It must have been a boy thing.

  2. Ah, but Hels. Who dominates the telephone when boys and girls grow up?

  3. Nice idea re converting them to SMS or FB posts, Andrew - get the youngsters interested.

    Then again, the renewed interest in all things Titanic means that morse code (and how the message was supposedly ignored for a while) might help too.

  4. Hello Andrew:
    There still remains a secret fascination about Morse Code with us. It belongs in our minds to days of the Cold War, the Iron Curtain and secret agents.

    We can remember having walkie talkies and feeling that we were in training for being spies....ah, the optimism of youth!

  5. I bags the carrier pigeon :P

  6. Morse code always looked like as much trouble to remember as semaphore. Better to read a good book - i.e. not one with codes in it.
    Must be a boy thing.

    But, now you've convinced me I'd better spend a few days exploring Beechworth.

  7. Jayne, pigeons were not entirely reliable, not like our Aus Post.

    FC, I knew what semaphore was, but never paid much attention to it. It was a girl thing. Beechworth is surely an area you are quite familiar with.

  8. JayLa, Morse Code possibly had a different focus to how we down under knew it. But yes, even here, war time usage. We were just too focused on getting the damn things to work to be concerned about the need to invent a scenario for their usage.

  9. We had walkie talkies for a while, loved using them. Never learned morse code but I do know how to SOS!

  10. Fen, useful for when a damsel in distress needs help.

  11. Ohhh, I want to get one for my Nicholas, he would love that!

  12. Cazzie, no he wouldn't. Morse code machines were fun before mobile phones and I things. I expect there is a Morse Code app to download to your phone.