History of the hill tower

Coastal landmark: The station was built to help provide a communications link to the wider British Empire. Photo: Esperance Museum.
Coastal landmark: The station was built to help provide a communications link to the wider British Empire. Photo: Esperance Museum.

In 1912, Geraldton, Wyndham, Broome and Esperance were declared prospective sites for the coastal wireless station network which would be integrated into the wider Australian Wireless Telegraphy scheme, thereby providing a communications link to the wider British Empire via Singapore and Colombo.

John Graeme Balsillie (1885-1924) an Australian engineer and inventor, wireless expert and the director of the Commonwealth Wireless Department arrived in WA to inspect the test station at Applecross. He then announced details of the government plan to complete the network of low and high power coastal stations to facilitate communications with shipping throughout the Commonwealth.

Engineer and project manager Walter Sweeney had designated Mr R.C. Cox, an assistant project engineer from the Post Master General Department, to oversee the Esperance project. In 1913 building materials for the construction of the Esperance Wireless Station arrived on the State Government steamer SS Eucla. The steamer regularly serviced the town with essential supplies, news and mail as well as providing passenger services.

The planning and construction of the mast supervised under Mr Mason of Melbourne had been completed. The transmitter system was installed by Mr R. Cox. The raising of the mast was entrusted to an expert, Mr J. Johnson of Melbourne. The mast, raised on the March 13, 1913 was erected in a record time of five and a half hours.

The Oregon-wood mast standing at 160 feet high (48.76 metres) and 21 square inches, and weighing approximately 25 tons, had been coach screwed using three thousand bolts to join it together.

A team of six carpenters and department day labour had carried out the work. The station site on the top of Dempster Head afforded an elevation of about 300 feet, (91.44 metres), offering an operational range of 450 miles much greater than first thought. The electrical components of the communications array were installed and connected by Mr M.L. Lloyd who was experienced in wireless telegraphy. The station buildings, one to house the engine the other the receiving station, were built by Mr G.Riley. The wireless radio telegraphy station was lit up by electric light generated on the station and became a landmark that could be seen for miles.

In early 1913, many hoped the first message received would be one informing the people that the Esperance Railway Bill had passed both houses. The station started operating on July 21, 1913. The station's first wireless radio telegraphist and officer in charge was Mr. Mason.

The station's call sign was (VIE) and its operating area extended over the Great Australian Bight.

The wireless radio station transmitted and received telegraphic messages to vessels in the course of marine and shipping incidents. The monitoring of signals assisted local shipping and vessels along the coastline, allowing warnings, alerts and potential shipping dangers to be sent and received. The station also transmitted meteorology reports. The wireless radio station diligently provided an alternative communication backup when the overland telegraph failed.

Wireless communication was indispensable for people living on stations in isolated southern areas. Large numbers of shipping vessels plied their trade with mail, cargo and passengers. As early as 1909 the company operating the England-Australia mail contract had made it a requirement that all vessels deployed in the mail service be equipped with wireless communications.

When World War I broke out, military authorities immediately despatched a squad from the 88th Perth Infantry Regiment to guard the wireless station as it was feared the enemy could reach Esperance to destroy the vital ship to shore communications array. The regiment arrived on the SS Eucla in September 1914 and set up camp below the station in Dempster's paddock. Town folk observed all the activity; also doing their best to make the new arrivals feel at home. Harry Bick from Kojonup was a sentry at the Esperance station for five months before leaving for Blackboy Camp and the front line. Deep regret was expressed at the news of the death of this young man at the Dardanelles campaign - a stark reminder of the terrible plight faced by their own loved ones who were amidst the unbridled horrors of the bloody trenches.

Wartime broadcasting and wireless telegraphy regulation was transferred to the Department of the Navy who were well advanced in the use of wireless technology. A broadcasting censorship was put into effect for the duration of the WWI. The Esperance Wireless Radio Station would play an important role during and far beyond the Great War.