Getting to the bottom of Canberra’s little green boxes

James Coleman 1 October 2021 24
Green utility box alongside Johnson Drive

A green metal box mounted to the top of a pole along Johnson Drive in Tuggeranong. Photo: James Coleman.

We understand light poles, bus stops and park benches. And humankind was very nice to make electricity wires for birds to sit on. But there are other items dotted around the place that remain a mystery: roadside green boxes.

It turns out there are two main types of green boxes in the ACT.

The first is one that is perhaps the most easily overlooked. It consists of a locked metal cube mounted on a short pole about one metre tall standing beside the ACT’s older main roads. Canberra is home to more than 100 of these.

Nowadays, when someone at Roads ACT is struggling to sleep, they go out and count the number of vehicles using any particular stretch of road by laying small air-filled tubes across the surface. These are connected to a portable computer in a weather-proof case that tallies up everything that runs across the tubes.

However, back in the 1970s, the brick-like technology wasn’t quite so resilient as to be left outside in the elements tied to a street pole. So the now-defunct National Capital Development Commission (NCDC) placed little metal boxes in strategic places around the ACT.

The computer could be popped into one of these and information gathered on the speed and volume of vehicles going in and out of town centres.

Cable inside roadside green utility box

This particular green box has its door broken off, revealing the power cable inside (and a random rock). Photo: James Coleman.

They’re now empty and rusting away, with only a black power cable remaining inside. This cable runs down the pole, into the ground and connects to sensors built into the road surface.

Even in their heyday, the boxes stood empty most of the time. The computer was only ever stowed in one for a short time before being moved to the next box.

The other type of green box is very much still alive.

Ground-mounted transformers, or padmount substations, are green, grey or cream coloured steel or fibreglass enclosures measuring three to four metres long, one to two metres wide, and up to two metres high, with multiple access doors.

Their job is to step down the 11 kilovolts (kV) used in underground power lines to a more mild-mannered 415 or 230 volts for safe use in buildings and homes.

Related to these are switching stations, which work in much the same way as your fuse box at home, where sections of the power network can be shut off to isolate faults, thereby reducing the spread of power outages.

LV pillar and padmount substation in Chisholm

A LV pillar with a padmount substation in the background in Chisholm. Photo: James Coleman.

Where they service large areas, another type called an LV pillar can contain anything from one to six switches and caters to a smaller number of customers.

LV pillars are grey, green, or cream coloured fibreglass, plastic or steel cabinets about 0.5 square metres and one to 1.5 metres high that you might find on the nature strip outside your own home, as well as in other open spaces.

All of these various boxes are managed by Evoenergy who warn that it’s important to keep plants, walls, parked cars, and other obstructions 1.5 metres away from them.

If you see damaged network assets, stay at least eight meters away and report it to Evoenergy on 13 10 93. And although it is dishearteningly common to see them covered in graffiti, vandalising these boxes is both illegal and dangerous. Any vandalism should be reported to Transport Canberra and City Services.

Never presume any of them are safe, and remember that damaged electrical infrastructure may seep high voltage power into the surrounding area, or other conductive objects such as Colorbond fences.

Now you know.

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24 Responses to Getting to the bottom of Canberra’s little green boxes
billyates1955 billyates1955 2:46 am 28 Sep 21

Thanks for the explanation. I would also like to know about the other green boxes that the posties seem to have access to. Green boxes are a Canberra thing it seems. ?

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:56 am 28 Sep 21

    The Australia Post vans deliver mail to them early in the day so that the postie bike person can use them as a suburban pick up point rather than a return trip to the mail centre which is usually located in a town centre.

Kathy Laudenbach Kathy Laudenbach 7:58 am 26 Sep 21

Lony Traveller well there we go.

Paul Mathews Paul Mathews 8:39 am 25 Sep 21

and I thought all this time they deterred BARKING DOGS, eh Chris?

Lexie Donald Lexie Donald 7:01 pm 24 Sep 21

now you know


Greg Myat Greg Myat 5:32 pm 24 Sep 21

Their are other types, same size pole but has a round can like container on the top. I saw one with water coming out of it once. Something to do with mains water perhaps?

    Peter Hyde Peter Hyde 10:40 pm 24 Sep 21

    Greg Myat they are for sampling the potable water supply. The samples are the taken to a laboratory and checked for quality against the Australian standards. Keeps us safe

Dean Ager Dean Ager 4:59 pm 24 Sep 21

I was hoping for letters from the future.

Kalo Arepo Kalo Arepo 2:49 pm 24 Sep 21

It’s a wonder that hoons with stolen vehicles don’t ram raid these things but I suppose they realize they can be electrocuted if they do so!

Donna Scheerlinck Donna Scheerlinck 11:04 am 24 Sep 21

I didn’t realise that i needed to know this until i read it!

Phil Tarrant Phil Tarrant 11:02 am 24 Sep 21

I remember similar ones from when I was a kid in the seventies, they were sometimes out in paddocks and I saw one that was broken open and inside there was a drum with paper and a needle tracking around the paper, presumably something weather related? At the time I thought it was for earthquakes but probably not sophisticated enough for that! I guess temperature?

Laurie Berry Laurie Berry 10:54 am 24 Sep 21

The green box not discussed in this article is the one that you will find near every set of traffic lights....

Greyjo Nino Greyjo Nino 9:46 am 24 Sep 21

its cctv

Michele Gorman Michele Gorman 9:38 am 24 Sep 21

Well there you go, how clever

Tania Ezra Tania Ezra 8:49 am 24 Sep 21

Awesome article 🙂

brendan eyers brendan eyers 8:40 am 24 Sep 21

Cool to know what the cubes are, though I’ve never noticed one. Worth a mention that there are a hundred or so pluviometers around Canberra, used to measure rainfall. They are tipping bucket raingauges that tip over once 0.2mm of rain fills the bucket, as they do an electric pulse is sent to a data logger. They are also kept in small steel enclosures but sometimes in old concrete huts, with a telltale rain catch on top.

    bikhet bikhet 10:16 am 24 Sep 21

    This seems to be your thing. Never knew the pluviometers were there. Is their output available on the web somewhere? I’m a bit of a weather nerd.

James Overall James Overall 6:31 am 24 Sep 21

Not all of the little green boxes are defunct. Some still used for permanent monitoring. Not safe to keep a little box chained up to a pole long term.

Tom Worthington Tom Worthington 3:44 pm 23 Sep 21

Then there are the green Australia Post delivery boxes.

Spiral Spiral 2:51 pm 23 Sep 21

Can anyone explain what the round “milo tin” like contraptions are? Are they a variation of the traffic measuring cubes?
I know of two (in Duffy and Chifley) and there are probably more. They are round, not green, sit on a pole about a meter tall and have a padlock at the bottom.
To see one, enter 16 Eucumbene Drive Duffy. Turn on street view and look at the side of the road opposite to the houses.

    brendan eyers brendan eyers 8:30 am 24 Sep 21

    They are called standpipes. Connected to mains water and used to collect water samples for testing.

    Spiral Spiral 10:39 am 24 Sep 21

    Thank you

ChrisinTurner ChrisinTurner 1:07 pm 23 Sep 21

There are also boxes for the NBN nodes and boxes for traffic signal controllers.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 1:28 pm 23 Sep 21

    And field collection boxes for Australia Post mailpersons and some other boxes with water taps inside.

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