1950’s Electric Memories

1950: High Voltage Transmission Line

The growing popularity of power for industrial, commercial and domestic use meant that upgrading the distribution and transmission lines was a major issue throughout Queensland and particularly for the more densely populated South East corner of the State. Development of a network of 110kV transmission lines and substations was underway and during 1950, CEL was able to bring into service the 110kV line to Postman’s Ridge, which was the first transmission line in Queensland at that time of such a high voltage.

1950: Electrical Appliance Sales

In June 1950, the first small Brisbane showroom was opened at the main location of City Electric Light Company (CEL) in Boundary Street. Plans were made for showrooms to open in the rural areas covered by CEL and the first of these was at Boonah. When the Trading Department’s move to its new head office in Cochran House, Adelaide Street, was completed in August 1951, a large showroom was opened on the ground floor. Another two showrooms started operating in Brisbane at Wickham Street in the Valley and at West End. Soon other showrooms were established in the rural areas of Boonah, Ipswich, Redcliffe, Nambour, Gympie, Laidley, Gatton, Beaudesert, Cleveland, Southport, Coolangatta and one in Murwillimbah in Northern New South Wales.

1951: Howard Power Station

In September 1951, Howard Power Station became the first post-war Central Generating Station to be completed. Soon to follow were the Rockhampton and Townsville Power Stations. The commissioning of Howard Power Station meant that Queensland’s southern coast was the first to enjoy ample power supply after the severe restrictions and shortages of the war years. The advent of the Howard station was the beginning of the end for the small power houses, although ‘their contribution was extremely valuable’. It was also the beginning of an era where powerful transmission lines would become major vehicles for the interconnection of the electricity supply system in Queensland.

The Annual Report of the Wide Bay-Burnett Regional Electricity Board (WBBREB), 30th June, 1954, mentioned that an 11kV line had been completed between Yarraman and Benarkin and supply was being given to Blackbutt and Benarkin with energy supplied from Mr. Budgen in Yarraman. Work was in progress to construct a tie-line from Kingaroy to Yarraman. When this line was completed, the Yarraman electricity undertaking would be taken over by the Board and supply would be made available from Howard Power Station. 

1952: Rockhampton Power Station

The second Central Generating Station to be completed post-war was at Rockhampton with the Townsville Power Station coming on line in 1953.

1951-53: Darling Downs Area 

Districts opened up by the beginning of 1951 included Rosalie Plains, Kulpi, Peranga, Quinalow, Maclagan and Haden.  Later in 1951, principal extensions from Oakey took supply to the township and district of Jondaryan; from Oakey South to Biddeston and Crosshill; from Allora to Mt Marshall; and from Tannymorel to Elbow Valley. By 1953, extensions of the 11kV system had been pushed further and lines were erected from Stanthorpe to Glen Aplin, the Toowoomba-Warwick Road near Glengallen Creek, south from Southbrook, and on the Warwick-Stanthorpe Road to Risdon.

In parallel with the increase in electricity usage, there was an increase in the sale of electrical equipment and appliances from the electricity Showrooms. Particularly popular following the shortage during the war years were stoves, hot water systems and refrigerators. In turn, the increase in sales led to more installation work. Problems were encountered finding enough skilled people to fulfil the amount of work in spite of the growing number of electrical contractors in the area. Sales efforts by Toowoomba Electric Light Company (TELCo) staff were directed to encourage consumers to use electrical appliances. There were attractive displays of new electrical goods and public cooking demonstrations in the Toowoomba, Warwick and Stanthorpe Showroom.

1952: The Scheme to bring power to small towns in Western Queensland

The State Electricity Commission (SEC) had been investigating the possibility of supplying electricity to small western Queensland townships with 250 to 1,000 residents for many years before the scheme came to fruition in 1952. The main difficulties were the high capital cost of materials and labour, which included ongoing maintenance and operation of power plant. 

The initial barrier of high capital outlay was removed when the State Government introduced subsidies of up to 65 per cent towards the cost of establishing small Powerhouses to provide electricity for towns joining the scheme. Prefabricated Powerhouse buildings, which were standardised to the same design controlled costs further. Due to the weather variations experienced in western Queensland, anything from hot and dry, windy and dusty, to thunderstorms and rain, and the nature of the soil, certain precautions were taken. The steel-framed buildings had solid concrete floors, steel-tiled roofing, glass-louvered windows to allow natural light and ventilation, which was further assisted by roof-top ventilators. The Powerhouse buildings consisted of an engine room, store, tool room and office.

Specially-designed, limited-capacity plant with inbuilt measures including protective devices, which would stop the plant in emergencies, were manufactured. The alarm system operated two automated bells, one to sound in the Powerhouse and one for the Superintendent’s house. Standard specifications were also put into place for the switchboards. The adapted features allowed one person to operate the plant and the design had the approval of the Electrical Trades Union and the Firemen’s Association.

The Powerhouse Superintendent was required to hold the qualification of electrical fitter and/or mechanic and also have sufficient experience operating and maintaining diesel engines. A house was provided with the position at a reduced rent and the Superintendent was allowed ‘the right of private practice’. Given that it was difficult to find and retain skilled people to live and work in isolated townships, the ‘right of private practice’ was introduced to attract qualified personnel and to ensure that residents had access to electrical services, including maintenance, which would not otherwise be readily available in small, outback towns.

The whole scheme was designed to be economic and self-sufficient from the beginning. With a one-person operation, costs could be kept to a minimum. It was expected that there would be at least 100 consumers in each town initially, with more following as the scheme became more popular. Tariffs would be higher than those allocated for domestic town and city use, as would commercial lighting and power tariffs. It was necessary for the revenue collected in the small towns to meet operating costs into the future.

With the main obstacles to progress removed, SEC could go ahead with the scheme in local authority areas in outback Queensland where a supply of electricity was required and requested. The SEC would be responsible for the construction of the Powerhouse buildings and installation of the plant. Local authorities would own and operate the Powerhouses with assistance and general supervision given by the SEC. There were ten planned installations for the first stage of the scheme, in Quilpie, Isisford, Richmond, Taroom, Tara, Aramac, Julia Creek, Muttaburra, Jericho and Alpha.

Keen to ensure interest for the scheme from local authorities and potential consumers, the SEC commented

The successful future of these small undertakings will depend on the continued enthusiasm of the Local Authorities, upon the ability and initiative of the Superintendents appointed to operate them, and upon the support of the consumers by a continuing and increasing use of electricity for all purposes.

The limitation on the generating capacity of the plant in the West Queensland electricity scheme led to an initial restriction on electrical appliance usage for customers. It was advised that each household would not be able to use electric stoves, wash boilers, radiators or electric motors over 2.4 kilowatts or 3-h.p. As a result, small appliances such as electric irons, jugs and toasters were popular in homes, although there was scope to use refrigerators to meet essential requirements. To ensure that the SEC had the control to enforce limitations on the use of power in areas where it was impossible to provide an unlimited supply of electricity, a Bill was introduced into Parliament in April, 1954. The outcome authorised the SEC to prohibit, by order, and with approval from the Minister ‘the class and/or capacity of appliances, which may be installed or connected to the supply mains of an electric authority’. The Minister said that the provision of the order would help to protect consumers from the ‘selfish attitude of a few…’ 

1952: Quilpie

Quilpie in south-west Queensland was the first town to have a powerhouse as a result of a government scheme to provide electricity to small towns in rural and outback Queensland. 

Quilpie Shire Council was granted an Order-in-Council, which authorised the council to supply electricity within the shire. A programme of overhead reticulation and house-wiring was put into place in readiness. On the day of the official opening of the Powerhouse, 13 March 1952, many people turned out to celebrate the event and the town took on a festive appearance with bright, coloured lights and dancing.

Quilpie was followed by Richmond and Isisford in June, Tara in September and Julia Creek in October 1952. Between March 1952 and December 1956, twenty-three schemes were initiated with more to follow.

1958: Toowoomba Power Station

The final changeover from DC to AC was not complete in the Toowoomba district until the rotary converters were used for the last time on 9 August 1958. 

1958 Instruction for the Apprentices

The apprentices’ training school was first started in Merrivale Street, Brisbane, on 20 January 1958, with 15 boys straight from school. 

Over a twelve-week period, classroom lectures, demonstrations, hands-on experiences and visits to various departments in the electricity supply industry provided the groundwork for selected careers. On a day trip to the South Coast the boys visited ‘butter factories, saw mills, poultry and small crop farms’ and other rural industries that used electrical power.

The instructors told some amusing stories. On a visit to a butter factory, the boys drank two buckets of milk, when trying to extract another bucketful, ‘something went wrong and they spilt enough to eat up the profits for 12 months!’ Jimmy was seen quietly walking ‘on the heels of a sedate old gentleman’ with a large umbrella, to avoid getting wet in the rain; and Vince made even more of a mess trying to hide the oil he had spilled during a lecture, much to the amusement of the teacher.

1958: Fashion for the electricity supply industry women

The women employed as secretaries, typists and clerical assistants in 1958 at Head Office in Brisbane had chosen ‘attractive, imperial blue, bubble-nylon frocks’ as uniforms and put on a ‘parade of feminine charm’. 

1958: More Showrooms 

By 1958 there were Trading Showrooms in Adelaide Street, Brisbane and at Beaudesert, Boonah, Gatton, Gympie, Ipswich, Laidley, Murwillumbah, Nambour, Redcliffe, Southport, Stanthorpe, Toowoomba and Warwick.

1958: A First for Queensland

The first automatic irrigation plant used in Queensland was installed at the Ballyhahill Friesian Stud, near Warwick in early 1958. It had a spray distribution line, which was a 300 ft (91.44 m) length of galvanised pipe mounted on wheels. Operating on a pivot point and equipped with a 5-hp electric motor, it was capable of pumping out a fine spray of water over almost 8 acres of land in 36 hours by moving ‘slowly around like the hands of a clock’.

1959: Switch-on for Cecil Plains

The official Switch-on Ceremony for the Cecil Plains area took place on 21 February, 1959. The event was arranged by SEA, the Millmerran Shire Council and an active committee of residents from Cecil Plains. People came from the surrounding area for the day. Stalls displaying a variety of goods lined the streets and entertainers kept the visitors happy. Officials travelling from Brisbane to attend the ceremony included the Hon. G.W.W. Chalk, Minister for Transport, Mr. N. Smith, Commissioner of Electricity, Mr. P.A. Anthony, the General Manager of SEA, Mr. A. McCulloch, SEA’s Chief Engineer, Mr. F.B. Charlton and Mr. G. L’Estrange, also from SEA. The Chairman of Millmerran Shire Council, Councillor J.H. Anderson expressed the thanks of the people to SEA ‘for bringing the most valuable amenity of electricity supply to the area’. 

When the time came for the switch-on in the evening, all lights were extinguished except for one kerosene hurricane lantern. It was handed to the Minister, who symbolically blew out its flame and pressed the switch for the electricity to bring to life the brightly-coloured festive lights in the streets. Following the official ceremony a Ball was held for everyone in aid of the Bush Nursing Association.

1959: Developments at Bulimba ‘B’ Power Station

Commissioning of the fourth turbo-generator of 30,000 kilowatts was imminent. The up-coming event gave the SEA’s Power Design Engineer, Mr. McCorkell the opportunity to record the historical progress towards the latest advance in power technology.

Mr. McCorkell explained that the first steam turbo-generator to produce power for an electricity supply authority was rated at 7.5 kW capacity. It was designed by Sir Charles Parsons, built in 1884 and used 129 pounds of steam per unit of electricity. In 1959, Mr. McCorkell claimed that the Parsons company had received an order for a 550,000 kW turbo-generator, which would use less than 9 pounds of steam per kilowatt hour. The SEA’s new one was small in comparison.

He continued, 

This spectacular increase in size, and improvement in efficiency, have only been made possible by constant research, more suitable materials, new techniques, refinements in design, improvements in production methods and, most of all, courage.

1959: A Fierce Cyclone in Central Queensland

A cyclone, which caused havoc in Central Queensland, also brought chaos and flooding to the Laidley and Lockyer districts in South Queensland on the night of Tuesday 17 February. The SEA News published an account of the flood damage, some of the experiences faced by residents and the task of restoring services, including power supplies. Sub titles such as ‘Grim Experiences’, ‘There was a Funny Side’ and ‘Consumers were Helpful’ provide pointers to the type of stories surrounding the event.

1959: Switching on the Lights for Tin Can Bay 

In 1959, residents, local councillors and representatives of Queensland’s electricity supply industry gathered together to welcome the coming of a reticulated supply of electricity to the small coastal area of Tin Can Bay.  The Switching-On Ceremony was typical of many throughout Queensland. These events celebrate the symbolic dawn of a new era of technological advance and are a significant part of Queensland’s cultural heritage.

At these ceremonies, the oldest member of the community was given the honour of carrying the kerosene lantern for the last time. When the electric lights were switched on using the symbolic ‘switch’, the lantern was usually buried to signify the end of the old ways. Sometimes the lantern would be smashed instead of buried. The celebrations were meant to encourage everyone to embrace the new technology and look forward to the future.

1959: Kogan

It was on 26 September, 1959 that Kogan officially received its electricity supply. The State Electricity Commissioner, Mr. N. Smith performed the Switch-on Ceremony and congratulated Dalby Town Council for the constant pursuance of rural electrification. Official guests included representatives from Dalby Town Council, Chinchilla Shire Council, and the Chairman of the Kogan Hall Committee. Visitors came from Warra, Tara, Chinchilla, Dalby and Brisbane to attend the ceremony and the evening Ball.

During the celebration Ball, the judging of the ‘prettiest ballerina’ took place. The winner was Miss Kay Dwyer of Warra. She was given the title of ‘Ballerina of the Ball’ and presented with a crystal trophy. Miss Dwyer’s dress was described as being made of ‘pale blue nylon tuile, which was swathed with satin on the bodice and had a fully gathered skirt’ and white accessories. It was an occasion for the women from Kogan and visiting women to dress up in their best finery and dance the night away to the sounds of the band.

Gogango: 12 September 1959

The Switch-on Ceremony in Gogango was typical of many celebrations to mark the coming of electricity. Cr. R.E. Pierce, Chairman of the Fitzroy Shire Council, pressed the switch for Gogango to receive power from CREB. 

Before the switch-on the dais in front of the community hall was lit by a tallow and wick bowl, a candle and two lanterns. The 50 townspeople, district graziers and farmers saw floodlights and strings of festoon lighting flash on with the flick of a switch.

The daughter of one of the pioneer families who had settled in Gogango in 1879 was 82-year-old Miss L. Thomas. She was given the honour of blowing out the hurricane lamp after the official Switch-on Ceremony. Mrs. Thomas was described as being a ‘tiny spry’ woman. She was one of four surviving children of the family, with one brother, 88, a sister 87 and ‘the baby of the family’, another sister resident in the district, 75-year-old Mrs. Stone. 

Hughenden Powerhouse taken over: October 1959

The responsibility for Hughenden Powerhouse was taken over by Townsville Regional Electricity Board on 1 October, 1959. Hughenden’s supply was initiated by the Hughenden Town Council in March, 1928.

Jundah: October 1959

The Switch-on Ceremony for the first reticulated electricity supply in Jundah was planned to coincide with the town’s Centenary celebrations. Preparations for the weekend festivities included organising a special flight to Jundah from Brisbane. Trans-Australia Airlines (TAA) operated the DC 3 flights between Brisbane and Jundah for the important occasion, leaving Brisbane on Friday morning and returning on Sunday. The TAA flights were expected to stop at Charleville and Quilpie on each journey to pick up and drop off passengers. Queensland’s Minister for Development, the Hon. Mr. E. Evans and the Electricity Commissioner, Mr. N. Smith were two of the official guests. A large number of visitors to the town were expected from outlying properties and small outback towns in addition to the official invited guests. To accommodate the influx of people into the tiny town, any families with spare rooms opened their doors in a gesture of outback hospitality.

The weekend programme of events included a cricket match between Jundah and Longreach, a ball, concert, boxing tournament, barbecue, race meeting, clay-pigeon shoot and a procession led by the Longreach Pipe Band. 

The Barcoo Shire Council, in co-operation with the local citizens, is going all out to make the weekend one that will be remembered in the district for a very long time.

To begin the weekend, the inaugural meeting of the Jundah Diggers’ Race Club was held on Friday, 16 October, 1959 and it was decided that an annual event would take place to commemorate the Club’s establishment. The concert, boxing tournament and barbecue was set to take place in the local park to end the first day of the celebrations. The morning of Saturday, 17 October, was to begin with a grand procession in the morning. At least 20 floats were expected to enter into the spirit of the occasion. It was the first time that a procession had been held in the town and excitement was building. 

Some interactive entertainment was planned with a challenge to a tug-o-war contest between Jundah residents and the surrounding towns of Windorah, Stonehenge and Yaraka. An ice-cream eating contest was also in the programme for children. The prize for this competition had not been decided. However, it was heard said that ‘a large dose of bicarbonate of soda might be the kindest thought’. The Jundah Amateur Turf Club continued the racing events with a second day of races and the prize for the main race was the Centenary Trophy. 

The formal Switching-on Ceremony was scheduled to start at 8.30pm on Saturday evening and it was expected that around 45 consumers would be ready to take the supply when the power was switched on by the Hon. E. Evans. Some wiring still had to be completed for the connections. However, the Shire Clerk, Mr. W. MacNamara was convinced that everything would be ready for the day. 

A Centenary Ball would follow the ceremony and residents and visitors were expected to fill the Jundah Hall. The decorations for the Ball were kept secret until the opening of the doors on the Saturday night. No functions were held in the Hall on Friday evening, so that the organisers could work without any disturbances.   

Following a highly active two days, the final day of the weekend celebrations on the Sunday was expected to be quieter. Nevertheless, the day held exciting events for the community and visitors with a clay-pigeon shoot in the morning and a one-day cricket match between the Longreach XI and a combined team from Jundah and district.

The work of the organising committee was recognised by the local people and the whole community was praised by the Longreach Leader

Tribute must be paid to the amount of work done by the people of Jundah, who put on such a magnificent display for their Centenary celebrations and their switch-on. The townspeople, under the guiding hand of the shire clerk and his wife, Gloria, worked to make the weekend a really rip-roaring success, and they came through with flying colours.

For a town with a population of 138 people including men, women and children, to be able to cater for three times that number of visitors, was a mighty job.

As the town settles back into its quiet routine again, they can all feel very proud of their fine achievement. 

Dingo: 14 November 1959

A new type of cable was used to take electricity to the Dauringa Shire town of Dingo in 1959. The line from Duaringa to Dingo was 37 kilometres long and carried 22kV. For the first time in Central Queensland, CREB used aluminium and steel conductors, which helped to reduce costs over the distance to the small town. The construction of the line was pushed through in six weeks by the Parker Organisation and CREB claimed that it was completed in record time. 

The Switch-on Ceremony including ‘Back to Dingo’ celebrations took place in Dingo on 14 November, 1959. A huge day of events beginning with a procession was planned for months before by an organising committee. 

Rejoicing multitudes from miles around flocked to Dingo to celebrate the arrival of electricity and celebration organisers received several congratulations from as far away as Brisbane.

The day’s activities began with a procession through the streets, which was led by the local police patrol car driven by Constable T. Caffy. Members of the Rockhampton Highland Lassies’ Pipe Band preceded the floats in the procession. It was the first appearance of the Highland Lassies’ Band wearing their new jackets. Over McPherson tartan, the pipers wore blue jackets and the drummers wore red.

There were many exciting and colourfully-decorated vehicles and bicycles. Part of the procession representing ‘We blazed the trail’ included Mrs. D. Chardon, dressed in an old-style riding habit, riding her grey horse side-saddle.  A buck-board with a pair of horses came next and perched on a horse-drawn sulky was the oldest woman in the town, Mrs. C. Lynch, the grand-daughter of one of the first pioneering families to settle in the district. The passengers in the sulky, including Mrs. Lynch, were dressed in early settler clothing. A hurricane lantern and billy-can were tied to the sulky and a dog plodded along behind to represent the period. Former drovers, K. Fernie and J. Cochrane joined in with pack horses to complete the historic theme. 

Mrs. Lynch had helped to decorate one of the floats, the Goowarra ‘Spring Time’ float and had made many of the paper flowers with her friends, Mrs. Hoare, Mrs. Smith and Mrs Craig. Young girls and women posed on the ‘pretty float’ dressed in springtime fashions. Others in the procession included the ‘Old and New Tennis Players’ Float’ and floats from the Dingo State School, the local Junior Red Cross, the CWA, Stock Transport, Fire Brigade and electrical equipment trucks. 

Children on decorated bicycles and local residents on their bicycles, dressed up in comical outfits and a hawkers’ cart completed the procession and caused plenty of laughter. A barbecue was held after the day-time procession and as evening approached, eight children from Dingo formed ‘a cavalcade of lights’ depicting the progress of light from Dingo’s Aborigine people to the switching on of electricity in the town. Pressing the switch, the Chairman of Duaringa Shire Council, Cr. W. Graham turned on the lights in the town. The night-time Ball in the brightly-lit Dingo Hall was attended by many of the residents and visitors. The highlight of the Ball was the crowning of the ‘Queen of Light’, Miss Pam Becker, which was performed by the Chairman of CREB, Mr. J. O’Malley.


The SEA supplied electricity in bulk to Dalby Town Council from 1959 for reticulation throughout Dalby and surrounding areas