'Pneu tube' all the rage

Media release: Monday, 8 September 2008

While communicators today share their news through You Tube, in 1925 the 'pneu tube' was all the rage.

As its September Find of the Month, the National Archives of Australia has selected documents and diagrams about the installation of underground pneumatic tubes between Parliament House and Canberra's early government buildings.

'Pneumatic tubes used pressurised air to transport messages and other items through special pipelines,' said researcher Jane Ellis from the National Archives. 'They became popular in the late 19th century and were used in shops, hotels and offices. They were also used to send telegrams through to telegraph stations for transmission elsewhere.'

The heritage-listed site which now houses the National Archives was the first government office building in Canberra. Known as East Block, it initially contained Canberra's Post and Telegraph Office.

'When it was built in 1925, East Block was designed to include a pneumatic tube line linking it with several rooms in Old Parliament House, including two press rooms. The tube line was also extended to the Government Printing Office some suburbs away so that Hansard records could be sent through promptly,' explained Jane Ellis.

The tube was fast, the equivalent of modern fax and electronic communications. It was also secure and able to transmit messages at all hours, meaning no rest for public servants close to the source of political power and action.

One letter on display is from Percy Owen, the Commonwealth Director of Works in Melbourne, to the architect of Old Parliament House and East Block, John Smith Murdoch, discussing where the pneumatic tube's 'home station' should be located. The other letter is to Owen from the Lamson Store Service Company Limited, a well-known supplier of pneumatic tubes.

'Today, Canberra's underground pneumatic tube system, which was installed in 1925 at a cost of £3,600 ($7,200), is just a memory,' says Jane Ellis. 'However the technology is still used in hospitals, hospitality and commerce.'

Contact information

  • Elizabeth Masters (Media Officer)
    t (02) 6212 3957 m 0427 853 664 e elizabeth.masters@naa.gov.au
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