FORMER switchboard operators at the manual Gunnedah Telephone Exchange gathered for a luncheon last week, renewing old friendships and enjoying a trip down memory lane.
Although the ranks are thinning, the ex-telephonists get together every October to keep their memories alive.
The role of telephonist is a lost occupation today with the advent of automatic dialling and mobile phones but these women performed a valuable role in the community, especially in times of emergency.
The loss of jobs when the exchange cut over to automatic on April 6, 1974, was a blow to the community, with many having to move to Tamworth or take a redundancy.
The telephonists worked in close quarters with each other, operating switchboards side-by-side for hours on end. They formed lasting relationships, rejoicing in birthdays and weddings and the birth of children, sharing hopes and dreams and supporting each other through long hours of shift work.
When the exchange breathed its last on that day 45 years ago, telephonists agreed it was like "losing an old friend". The farewell celebration was a bitter-sweet affair as the workmates prepared to go their separate ways - but the bonds have remained strong.
The first telephone exchange opened in Gunnedah in 1906 with 39 subscribers. More than 70 years later, that personal service was lost as the welcoming voice on the end of the line asking 'number please?' faded into the annals of history.