He started working in directory services in 1973, when telcos were shifting from alphanumeric phone numbers to an eight-digit numbering system, including the state area code. “For example, your number might start with AE and then a four-digit number and then it was changed to all numbers,” he said. “And then, in 1994, we started to change to eight-digit numbers, ten if you include the area code. “I still remember my mother’s number in Sydney was 536 952, where she lived, we added 91 to the beginning, in different places around Sydney there would have been different numbers.” In contrast, the first phone numbers in Brisbane were simple: 1-36. It was the exact number of telephones.
But it might be surprising to have one of these new numbers pop up on a phone screen, with the geographical information insisting it’s coming from inside Brisbane. That’s what happened to Josh, who thought “it was a scam”. “So, I didn’t answer the phone, did a bit of a Google search of the number and it was actually a clothing store that I had ordered clothes from,” he said. A historic black and white formal photo of 14 women in Victorian era clothing.
The first female telephonists in Brisbane commenced work in June 1899. Communications Alliance Numbering Working Group chair Alexander Osborne says the trick of adding new numbers, and letters, to accommodate more customers is an old one.
The Brisbane Courier explained the modern marvel of the telephone exchange in an article from October 1880 — the year it launched. “Into this room all the telephone wires from east, west, north, and south are conducted and placed in connection with a beautifully ingenious apparatus technically known as a ‘switch board’,” the journalist enthused. That was more than 140 years ago, and Mr Stanton said landline use is down by about 50 per cent since 2015 and about 60 per cent of Australians only use mobiles for voice calls.
“The actual number of landlines is dropping much more slowly, by about 1 per cent a year,” Mr Stanton said. “And I think what you’re seeing is, for example, there are many people who’ve got an NBN connection that has a landline associated with it, but they never use it because they’re mobile only. “But nonetheless, the number is still caught up with that because of services sitting there basically doing nothing.