The Australian government's proposed public-private broadband partnership is the latest dramatisation of the constantly shifting roles of the private and public sectors in communications. Over the last century and a half, the sector has been a steady source of new institutional models around the world. This article examines the experience of Australia's main wireless company, AWA, as a private-public partnership for nearly 30 years. Reconstructed as a joint enterprise in 1922 to establish direct wireless telegraph services between Australia and Britain and North America, AWA remained co-owned by the Commonwealth and private shareholders until 1951. Several features of this experience seem relevant to the proposed national broadband partnership: the level of political support for the structure; the implications of changes in the use of wireless technology over the life of the investment; the management of market power; financial performance; and the duration of the arrangement.