Extract from ABC News
Photo: John Riddett first learned morse code as a trainee postal clerk in 1953. (ABC Radio Melbourne: Simon Leo Brown)
As a teenage postal clerk in the 1950s, John Riddett would speak in morse code with his workmates.They would use the code, which translates the alphabet into a series of "dits" and "dahs", to hold private conversations in public places.
"We'd be on a train and see an attractive lady, we'd go 'da da dit, da da...'."Mr Riddett learned morse code in 1953 at a training school run by the postmaster-general's department (PMG).
But with most Australian homes by then having a telephone, morse code was on the way out and the school held its last classes in the code the following year.
Mr Riddett estimates there are only around 20 PMG-trained telegraphers still alive.
"We are actually running out of telegraphers and postal clerks," he said.
Bringing morse to a new generationThese days Mr Riddett uses his spare time to demonstrate morse code telegraphy at the Telstra Museum in Hawthorn, Melbourne.
He said children watching the demonstrations couldn't accept that he was sending a message using the simple code, instead believing he's sending hand signals or written messages to the receiver.
"They look behind the screens, they look under the table, they're looking around to find out how we're signalling it," he said.
Photo: This year's meeting of telegraphers in Alice Springs may be one of the last, John Riddett says. (Supplied)
In April Mr Riddett travelled to Alice Springs for a "10-day get together", where former PMG workers from around Australia demonstrated morse to tourists visiting the Old Post Office and Telegraph Station.
"We've been going there now for 24 years and it's a regular annual thing," he said.
However, this year only Mr Riddett and two other morsecodians, as they are known, made the event.
"As I say we're getting a little bit short, we're getting a bit thin on the ground these days, and we feel that this one I've just finished might be one of the last," he said."Which is a bit of a shame, but I guess that's how it is."
Armed forces still using morse in case of warSending a telegram in the early 1950s took at least four people.
Mr Riddett would receive the message from a customer at the Moorabbin Post Office, then take it to the telegraphy room where he used Morse code to send it to a telegrapher at the Melbourne GPO.
That telegrapher would then retransmit the message to staff at the nearest post office to the recipient which would then give it to a telegraph messenger to deliver it by bicycle.
While morse hasn't been used to send telegrams over for more than 50 years, communications personnel in the Defence Force are still trained in the code to this day.
"They've come to the conclusion that if there was another war the first thing that would be knocked out would be the satellites," Mr Riddett said.
"As a consequence they'd have to resort back to some other means, and we'll go back to morse code."