Brown brick on Lonsdale Street

From street level, Telstra’s Lonsdale Exchange building in the Melbourne CBD looks almost like a normal building.

Telstra's Lonsdale Exchange Building

The PMG coat of arms?

However, if you glance upwards you see all 14 brutal stories of brown brick.

14 stories of brown brick

The building was completed in 1969 as a telephone exchange by Postmaster-General’s Department (PMG) and remains in use by Telstra today, having earned it’s place as one of the uglier buildings in Melbourne.

The monolith on Lonsdale Street


Planning for the new exchange commenced in 1963.

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19 Responses to “Brown brick on Lonsdale Street”

  1. Rohan says:

    The completely blank brown brick side walls are the most shocking thing about this bldg, towering above the historic bldgs either side. But I’ve heard some say they like it.

  2. Alan says:

    The building was not built in 1963. It was built in 1969. I was involved with construction and commissioning of the electrical and mechanical aspects. At one point, an oil line ruptured in the boiler room on the 13th floor and bunker “c” oil escaped down through the building and externally down the north wall. I recall much about this building including the cafeteria which was managed well by Ruth Dixon. The building was fitted out over several years starting with the fifth floor. Jack Twomey was in charge of the installation team. The coat of arms set into the front wall was originally mounted on the Central Exchange on the same site before that building was demolished.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Thanks for the corrected completion date – on closer inspection 1963 was when proposals for the exchange were published.

    • patricia bradshaw says:

      Alan can you tell me if this was where the switchboards were, as it hold no memories for me, but it was 48 years ago. I worked there for about 5 months.
      Thanks, I’m trying to so some research for a book for my family

      • Alan says:

        Patricia, I am assuming you are referring to the telephone switchboards?
        This exchange was automatic crossbar and if I recall correctly the first stage of installation was located on the fifth and seventh floors.
        A call centre type switchboard may have been built at a later stage.
        The bulk of the floors were still empty when I was there. The row of windows Marcus refers to were on the cafeteria floor.

      • Tamara says:

        Hi Patricia

        I would like to ask you a question

        Did you work there when the tragic event if a suicide from the top of the building ?
        As I’m trying to gather some information regarding that

    • Stephen Dunn says:

      5th floor was the A ARM, 6th floor the B-ARM. Ron Langley was the Mainenance OIC. Alan, were you on the Insto team, surname starts with N?

  3. Alan says:

    Stephen, I was involved with the commissioning of electrical and mechanical services whilst the building was being constructed and up until 1972 as it was being fitted out. Regards Alan

  4. Vicki Camilleri says:

    I worked on the 11th floor as an international telephonist in 1975. There were two rooms, the first was where the afg boards were, and the 2nd was where the 10c boards were.

  5. RP says:

    (Facade 3 sections left to right:)
    Immediately behind the blank wall on the left is the front stairwell (and behind that is a lift foyer and 4 lifts), the middle 4 window sections are toilets (male on odd floors, female on even floors) and the right 4 window sections belong to a small office about 4 metres deep.
    On the ground floor, right side is a huge two story high MDF extending ~ 3/4 of the building depth with a 2 story basement cable well beneath it. I wish I had a camera when I was there.

    • Alan says:

      RP you are spot on, the MDF was certainly on the ground floor and the sub basement cable hall was empty when I was there. There were two V12 Paxman marine diesel generators there that run together were capable of 1 Megawatt of three phase power.
      Next to the generator room was the 50 volt batteries for the telephone system.
      There was also huge water and oil tanks under the sub basement floor.
      I would like to walk through the building now, 51 years later!

    • Paul says:

      2 lifts now, the other two lift shafts were turned into comms and cable risers as the lifts aren’t used as much as they used to be.

  6. Boneodle says:

    The building was specifically designed for use as a telephone exchange.
    The lack of windows for the equipment floors was a design characteristic – the floors were supposed to be climate controlled. Windows May have altered the ambient temperature. The climate control was for the equipment – not the staff.
    Ground floor was the MDF. Underneath the MDF were cable tunnel entries.
    Tunnels are underneath the streets all over the CBD. There was an overseer for the tunnels. Jack Bennett.

    2nd floor contained L.M.Ericsson ARF crossbar local exchange equipment.

    Levels 3 and 4 ATT 10C analogue computer controlled local exchange.

    Levels 5 and 6 L.M.Ericcson ARM20 crossbar trunk switching exchange.

    Level 7 Siemens transmission equipment.

    Level 10 L.M. Ericsson AFG manual switchboard exchange plus cordless switchboard room. International manual (operator assist) operation.

    Level 11 – cafeteria with windows.

  7. Alan says:

    Following the demolition of the old manual then step by step Central Exchange building, the Commonwealth Department of Works set up a Lonsdale Exchange site office in Printcraft House which faced Lt Bourke St. The Dept was responsible for the construction oversight of the new building.
    In those days, their head office was at the Commonwealth ‘Green Latrine’ buildings near Victoria Street.
    The PMG were represented by several engineers and two on site representatives, I was one of those two. We used a small maintenance workshop on the roof of the City West Exchange as our base. Interestingly, we watched the 1969 moon landing on a 17 inch tv in that workshop.
    All of the electrical and mechanical installation was of a very high standard which also carried a very high cost. I recall some very tense site meetings as building progressed.

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