Celebrating 100 Years
Untangling a tricky fibre optic challenge in Darwin
Nilsen was invited to partner with the Power and Water Authority in bringing new Single Mode Optical Fibre (SMOF) to the Northern Territory government. This was no small task, considering that it meant designing, surveying, and installing 43km of fibre optic cable.
The trenching and earth works began in January, but nobody had anticipated that it would be one of the wettest seasons ever recorded, which made the work more difficult. In addition, Nilsen were asked to hand over 70% of the network to Optus one month earlier than originally intended. Fortunately, with some careful re-planning, and workers rotating on 3 8-hour shifts (to splice a 24 hour day), Nilsen were able to make it happen.
Meanwhile in the Darwin CBD, 144 core fibres were laid within high voltage underground tunnels and ducts. To keep disruption to a minimum, all cable installation was done at night time – and of course, in the rain!
Nilsen’s founder ensured his staff always had a full social calendar
Life at Nilsen has always been more than just business, with social functions dating back to the earliest days of the company, when charismatic founder OJ Nilsen would enthusiastically organise events for his staff.
His Christmas parties were an annual highlight for the children of Nilsen employees, with each child receiving a gift from Santa. Sporting matches were also held throughout the year, from football and cricket competitions through to the more relaxed social days with fun events such as egg throwing and egg and spoon races.
These occasions often involved extensive preparation, with special guests and novelty decorations that played on the electricity theme, such as this comedic beer label for Nilsen’s Lightning Juice that includes the testimonial “It’s the Amp’s pants!”
A foray into consumer products saw Nilsen target the trendsetters
Nilsen Industries was a small but industrious company within the Nilsen Group, manufacturing products such as toasters, radiators and jugs for the retail market. Formed in 1945, the early years saw appliance production in full swing, with up to 40 workers employed in the company.
This foray into consumer products meant a new emphasis had to be placed on creating stylish packaging and advertisements that appealed to householders keen to keep up with the latest trends. With this in mind, marketing focused not only on the products’ high quality but also their desirability as fashion-forward items.
Making the most of their street frontage, this Nilsen office from the 1950s created a window display to appeal to passersby, featuring an array of Nilsen electronics that would be coveted by the chic modern bride.
In 1996 the first submarine with a Nilsen-built switchboard was delivered to the Australian Navy
One of the major successes for Nilsen’s Switchboard Division has been the construction of the switchboards used in the Australian Navy’s Collins Class submarines. A $5 billion contract between the Australian Government and the Australian Submarine Corporation was signed in 1987 for the construction of six submarines, with Nilsen contracted to manufacture the switchboards. It was the largest defence contract signed in Australia to that date.
The project was extensive and it wasn’t until 1996 that the first submarine was finished. With such a complex operation, great care was required from Nilsen’s team in following the design and specifications provided by the French switchgear supplier, Merlin Gerin. It was essential that the switchboards were manufactured to the highest possible standards and the ASC performed testing on every unit. In 2003 the project was completed with the delivery of the final submarine.
Nilsen helped launch the career of an Aussie film superstar
Nilsen Premiere was established in 1979 with the aim of introducing pay TV to Australia but fans of BMX Bandits can thank the company’s change of direction for this beloved film.
With pay TV slow to get off the ground, Nilsen Premiere ventured into movie production, choosing the action-packed kid’s adventure film for their first project. They oversaw production from start to finish, investing over $1,177,000 into filming as well as sourcing facilities and talent.
Among the talented young actors cast, was a fresh-faced, red-headed beauty named Nicole Kidman. Audiences and critics alike fell in love with the film, and with Nicole. The film’s success saw the 16 year old BMX Bandit rise to stardom, to become one of Hollywood’s leading ladies.
Nilsen produced the iconic Aussie Kookaburra Jugs
Electric kettles were invented by the English to speed up tea preparation but a fear of electrocution hindered their production in Britain and America. Australians however, were a braver lot and fancy ceramic electric jugs quickly became a status symbol during the Great Depression era. Anyone who could offer to boil you a cuppa from a beautiful Electric Kookaburra Jug was certainly doing well! Made by Nilsen Porcelain Australia in the 193Os, these kettles were unique for their charming art deco bird shape.
While metal and plastic have dominated production for the last 35 years, the original ceramic kettles are becoming popular again. Nilsen Electric Kookaburra Jugs are now regarded as a classic Aussie icon and hold prized positions in many vintage enthusiasts’ collections.
Nilsen’s founder was Melbourne’s 70th Lord Mayor
Company founder Oliver John Nilsen was never one to fade into the background. Through his active role in community organisations he became a well-recognised public figure. The pinnacle of his political career came in 1951, when he was elected Lord Mayor of Melbourne. During his mayoralty he was eager to promote Melbourne to the world as a modern, vibrant city and contributed enthusiastically to preparations for the upcoming royal visits and Olympic games.
Despite pressure to stand again, he insisted that one term was enough, resuming his role on the council in 1952. Four years later, his longstanding services to the community were officially recognised with a CBE.
A postal service error lead to Nilsen’s creation of Radio 3UZ
When a mysterious package of radio broadcasting parts was accidently delivered to the Nilsen offices in 1920, the staff enjoyed experimenting with the equipment too much to give it up. Inspired by his staff’s enthusiasm, company manager Oliver John Nilsen acquired Victoria’s first commercial broadcasting licence and the Voice of Victoria began broadcasting on March 25th, 1925.
For the next sixty years the station achieved consistent top ratings across the nation as "The Greater 3UZ." The station was always ahead of trends, adopting a highly successful Top 40’s format in the early 1960s and boasting a line-up of entertainment legends such as Bert Newton, Happy Hammond, Graham Kennedy and Don Lane.
Australia’s “King of Television” kick-started his career at Nilsen’s 3UZ
When Graham Kennedy started out in entertainment he was a far cry from the television personality we all know and love. The shy 15 year old working at the 3UZ Record Library seemed an unlikely candidate for a radio presenter but popular morning host Nicky Whitta saw his potential and brought Kennedy on air as his comedy foil.
Whitta took the young man under his wing and as Kennedy’s confidence grew, the quiet off-sider became a lively co-host. Very soon the pair were receiving fan mail addressed to them both and it was clear that Kennedy was a vital part of the show.
Throughout their six years on 3UZ together, there were ups and downs, with Whitta even trying to get Kennedy fired a couple of times, but fans declare their show as the greatest double act of all time in Australian Radio.
100 years and 4 generations
This year at Oliver J Nilsen we will be celebrating 100 years in business. Since starting in 1916, we have become one of Australia’s most respected electrical engineering companies. This is due in no small part to our loyal group of Customers, suppliers and of course our staff.
For four generations, the company has always had a Nilsen at the helm, whether it be as a managing director or as major shareholders the Nilsen Family have always been keenly interested in the development of the company.
To celebrate this milestone we will be releasing articles from the company archives about some of the interesting ventures that we have been involved in over the last 100 years. Some of you may be surprised to learn that Nilsen have been involved in everything from the manufacture of electric kettles to starting up Australia’s first commercial radio station, so watch this space and all will be revealed.
Four generations of Nilsen family managing directors from L to R
Oliver John Nilsen
Oliver Victor Alexander Nilsen
Oliver John Nilsen
Oliver Mark Nilsen