The last exchange


The switchboard of the last telephone exchange service to be turned off on the south coast, Jarrah Glen, which now belongs to WNDHS.

1982 marked the end of an era in Walpole & Districts when the last two manual telelphone exchanges were connected to the subscriber trunk dialling (STD) network.

Nornalup was the first to go in April 1982; Jarrah Glen in June 1982.

Mrs Kirree Shaw manned the Nornalup exchange for 21 years from 1961 as part of her postmistress duties. Following the telephone exchange’s closure, the Nornalup Post Office continued as a community mail bag service.

The telephone service had been operating in Nornalup since 1925 but had a chequered early career as far as managers and situations of operation were concerned. Stability improved when it was moved to the home of Jim Shaw’s mother who took on the job for 20 years.

Kirree arrived in Nornalup with her mother in 1927. She married Jim Shaw in 1942. When Kirree began behind the switchboard, Jim was her back-up in the manning of the exchange, which was moved to the couple’s home.

When it closed in 1982 there were 16 subscribers (there were six when Kirree took on the job in 1961).

Jarrah Glen’s exchange, the last on the south coast to be connected to STD, was manned by Charlie Underhill whose mother, Mrs Doris Underhill, was the first provider after requests from local farmers. Charlie recalled that the farmers themselves cut and erected the necessary poles for the service, which started in 1942.

In the beginning, subscribers had to go to the Underhill home to make a connection with Walpole and from there to the outside world, but in time Jarrah Glen became a proper exchange and absorbed subscribers from North Walpole when that exchange was closed.

Charlie took on the exchange in 1970 due to his mother’s retirement. His sister, Betty Palmer, assisted when necessary.

It seems that the exchange switchboard became so much a part of Charlie’s life that he didn’t like the thought of being without it. He made a formal request that it be left with him, which Telecom granted; they let him keep the switchboard.

His sister, Betty, donated the switchboard to the Walpole, Nornalup & Districts Historical Society.

This post was adapted from an article by Molly Smith that first appeared in the April 2, 2014 edition of the Walpole Weekly. Molly Smith is a regular contributor to the Weekly with her “Looking Back with Molly” column.

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