Image of analog clock face with hands approaching the stroke of 12.

At the third stroke of midnight on September 29, Australia’s talking clock ceased to tell the time. Telstra has deactivated the Talking Clock service, which had been in continual operation for 66 years. 

The Talking Clock service allowed phone users to dial a number (1194) wherever they were and listen to a pre-recorded message announcing the time in that location, in precise, and reliable ten-second intervals. This is an essential community service for many sectors of society but specifically or people with disability, for example, people who have low or no vision, older people and people with intellectual disabilities, acquired brain injuries and other cognitive and/or memory-related disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Colloquially known as George, the talking clock still receives about 2 million calls every year, despite having been largely forgotten by the wider community with the advent and successful social integration of mobile and smartphone technologies which automatically sync with their networks to tell the time.

There have been instances in recent years though, where the network has failed to switch people’s phones to or from daylight savings time, causing pandemonium with people missing alarms and not waking up in time for work across both city and regional centres.

Veteran broadcaster, Richard Peach, who passed away in 2008, voiced the Talking Clock from 1990 until its cessation at midnight on September 30 2019. However, the service predates this by many decades and had been provided continuously by Telstra and historically the Post Office, since 1953.

Watch Speaking Clock Documentary, Part 1:

The Speaking Clock service was originally provided manually by call operators and was consequently imprecise. In November 1954, two speaking clocks were imported from the British Postal Service for both Sydney and Melbourne. These speaking clocks were cutting edge technology and the pre-recorded message, voiced by Gordon Gow, was played via these machines from 1954 until 1990 when the service joined the digital age.

Watch Speaking Clock Documentary, Part 2: 

In the age of WiFi, this service can seem fairly irrelevant. However, it is worth remembering that not everyone has access to the internet or is technologically literate. The shutdown of the service comes just 5 days before its peak use time, i.e. the switch to daylight savings time (DST) across NSW, ACT, SA, Victoria and Tasmania.

Informatel is in discussions with Telstra and ACMA to get this service back up and running and are considering arrangements with other network providers who may be able to get George back on the line. Dennis Benjamin, chairman of Informatel spoke to Chris Bath on ABC Radio last night, proposing the hashtag #bringbackgeorge needs to trend on social media to get the network to take action. You can listen to the Evening program in full here. The interview takes place at around the 2:17:00 mark.

#bringbackgeorge