Paris is a long way from Sydney, but there are plenty of Eiffel Towers in the Sydney suburbs. On the lower north shore there are three – the television transmission towers collectively known as the Artarmon Triangle. These tall, red and white pyramids at Gore Hill, Artarmon and Willoughby have been sending out tv signals since their construction in the 1950s and 60s.
The transmission tower on the Pacific Highway is one of the few remains of the ABCTV complex, most of which was demolished in 2007. The fences are draped in advertisements for Gore Hill business precinct, but for now the site is just mounds of earth, the ABC building debris long since swept away. Things are going on in there though, a surveyor peers through a theodolite and under the tower gardeners push lawnmowers over the grass.
It stands out from its surroundings now, so it must have been even more striking when it was built in the 1950s. This was long before the neighbouring dark brick colossus of Royal North Shore Hospital was constructed and the highway was still mostly lined with houses. Sydney’s first official television broadcast – which began with Bruce Gyngell in front of a map of the world saying “Good Evening and welcome to television” – aired in 1956. The towers were a symbol of this new era of technology.
Perhaps because of its highway position this tower is the smartest of the three, its paint bright and lawns neat. Its Artarmon counterpart’s paint is peeling, and it is packed in among water reservoir tanks, a substation and an apartment block, which must get either the best, or worst, television reception in Sydney.
It stretches high up above the tree-lined streets below and the brick apartment buildings on Hampden Road. Like all the towers it is best appreciated from a distance. From the shopping strip across from Artarmon station with its endless variety of sandwich bars, the tower lifts your gaze skywards.
The third tower is the tallest and at 233 metres is the sixth highest structure in Sydney (the Eiffel Tower, by comparison, is 324 metres). It’s tucked away at the corner of the Channel 9 studios in Willoughby but is most often seen from the expressway below. It’s at the end of a dead-end street, surrounded by cyclone fencing with a warning against electromagnetic radiation on the fence to deter explorers.
Apart from the roar of the traffic there’s little sound or movement. It’s hard to believe the tower is sending out signals across the city. Up close it’s a jigsaw puzzle of metal shapes, decorated with satellite dishes and flimsy stairwells for workers to ascend it. Beside it are cottages converted into offices for Channel 9, which have the odd character of homes where no one lives.
Across the street there are signs in every front yard, protesting the proposed development on the Channel 9 site. There are plans to relocate Channel 9 and convert the site into a residential development and current residents object to the density and height of the proposed buildings. Although the Channel 9 buildings would be demolished under the plans, the transmission tower would stay.
The towers once signified a new era of technology, but times have changed. Unwanted televisions lie discarded on footpaths across the city. Mobile phone transmission towers have appeared throughout the suburbs and the air is full of unseen signals. The analogue tv signals which have been broadcast for almost 60 years are to be switched off on December 3rd. Despite these changes the Artarmon Triangle towers remain, rising delicately into the sky from the suburbs below.