Tamworth, NSW was the first municipality in Australia to use electricity to light it’s streets in 1888 (15 years before Sydney).
Paris can lay claim to switching on the first electric street lighting in the world in 1877 when 16 Jablockoff electric candles (arc) lights illuminated the Avenue de l’Opera. Joseph Wilson Swan demonstrated the first successful incandescent lamp (carbon filament in an evacuated glass bulb) on 3rd February 1879. Thomas Alva Edison demonstrated a similar lamp in public on 31st December of the same year.
In Tamworth, a small town in the Colony of New South Wales on the other side of the world, George Hooke of ‘The Observer’ and Alderman William Smith, a tanner, proposed that the town should install an electric street lighting system in 1881.
Unfortunately for these progressive gentlemen, they were just too early with their enthusiasm for the very new, untried technology and in 1882 the borough Council decided to go ahead with a gas street lighting system consisting of 25 gas lanterns.
In the following years Alderman Smith gathered material and information from England and other overseas countries. This meant he was well prepared when the street lighting contract came up for consideration again in 1887. A Council sub-committee was formed and, influenced by Ald. Smith’s research, decided to take a fresh look at determining the best and most economical way to light the streets of Tamworth.
On 18th January in 1888, Mayor William Frederick Tribe signed a contract with George Harrison and Alfred Wiffen, representing the English firm R.E. Crompton and Company to light the streets of Tamworth with electric lighting; the plant to be operational within 10 months. On 9th November 1888, the new Mayoress Elizabeth Piper switched on a total of 13 1/2 miles (21 1/2 kms) of electric street lighting, the first municipal electric street lighting system to be commissioned anywhere in Australia.
As might be expected with any ground-breaking undertaking, the new lighting system experienced some teething problems. Supporters of the superseded gas lighting and the Tamworth Gas and Coke Company, with the support of the other Tamworth newspaper, ‘The News’, took great delight in criticising the new lighting system, referring to it as ‘Smith’s Folly’.