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Trevor Alfred Housley (1910–1968)

by George F. Maltby

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Trevor Alfred Housley (1910-1968), public servant, was born on 31 October 1910 at Gympie, Queensland, fifth child of native-born parents William Frank Frederick Housley, painter, and his wife Eva Alice, née Carroll. Educated at Gympie High School and the University of Queensland (B.Sc., 1941), Trevor joined the Brisbane office of the Postmaster-General's Department on 15 October 1926 as a junior mechanic (in training). He later worked as a clerk in the personnel and accounts branches.  

At St Joseph's Catholic Church, Kangaroo Point, on 16 February 1935 Housley married Susan Maureen Reilly. In the following year he was promoted engineer. During World War II he established telecommunications systems in Papua and New Guinea for the armed services; after returning to Australia he installed radar equipment in warships. In 1946 he transferred to the Department of Civil Aviation as supervising engineer; he rose to chief airways engineer and took a prominent part in the Professional Officers' Association.

Appointed assistant to the general manager of the Overseas Telecommunications Commission (Australia) in February 1951, Housley directed the development of the commission's radio facilities, including the building of major transmitting and receiving stations on the outskirts of Sydney, at Doonside and Bringelly respectively. He was also responsible for preparing O.T.C.'s services to handle the large volume of international communications associated with the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne.

As O.T.C.'s general manager (from 1956), Housley led an Australian delegation to London in 1958 for the Commonwealth Telecommunications Conference which recommended the construction of a 'round-the-world' telephone cable system. Following the 1959 Pacific Cable Conference in Sydney—at which he again headed the Australian delegation—he became convener of the Commonwealth Pacific cable management committee, comprising representatives from Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand. The committee supervised the building of a high-capacity telephone cable between Australia and North America; the COMPAC service opened on 3 December 1963 and was probably the most important milestone in Australian international telecommunications since the landing of the first telegraph cable at Port Darwin in 1871.

Housley's leadership transformed O.T.C. into a rapidly growing and highly profitable business, gave Australia ample facilities for telephone and data communication with the rest of the world, and made him an international figure in telecommunications. In 1961 he was appointed C.B.E. Next year he was chosen as Australia's representative on the management-committee for the South East Asia cable project which was to link Australia to the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, and to Guam, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia, with connections from Guam to Japan and the United States of America.

In 1958-64 Housley helped to renegotiate financial and operating arrangements between Australia and British Commonwealth countries, and between Australia and other countries with which it conducted substantial telephone business. From 1964 he represented Australia and O.T.C. on the interim communications satellite committee of what was to be called the International Telecommunications Satellite Consortium.

Housley was a gifted telecommunications engineer, an outstanding executive and a brilliant negotiator, particularly at the international level. Six ft 4 ins (193 cm) tall and large framed, with a shock of prematurely white hair, he had a genial personality and a down-to-earth manner. His speech was laconic and drew on a stock of Australian expressions, such as 'up a dry gully' and 'chasing a rabbit while it will run'. He dressed untidily, rarely wore a coat in his Sydney office and had the habit of placing his pipe, often still warm, in the top pocket of his nylon shirts which led to burn marks and holes through which the stem protruded.

Members of his staff called him Trevor. He knew them all by name, and recalled details of their families and interests without effort. Despite incessant overseas travel, he spent much time visiting O.T.C. stations and branches throughout Australia, talking to, socializing with and enthusing his colleagues. Housley built up corporate morale and encouraged his employees to respond to challenges. He drove people hard, but no harder than he pushed himself, and he remained calm and thoughtful when under pressure.

On 9 December 1965 Housley was appointed director-general, posts and telegraphs, based in Melbourne. A body vastly different in size and culture from O.T.C., the Post Office had considerable industrial and organizational problems with which he had to contend. He died of an intracranial haemorrhage on 10 October 1968 at Kew and was buried in Boroondara cemetery; his wife, son and three of his four daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Harcourt, Taming the Tyrant (Syd, 1987)
  • OTC, Transit, 4, no 1, Feb-Mar 1951, 17, nos 3 and 4, Sept-Dec 1965
  • Australian, 12 Nov 1965, 24 June 1967
  • OTC and Australia Post archives (Telstra Corp Library, Paddington, Sydney).

Citation details

George F. Maltby, 'Housley, Trevor Alfred (1910–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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