‘Someone Will Call You Back Immediately. Please Allow An Hour’: And Other Real But Hilarious Things Telstra Says To Its Customers


One of the benefits of owning your own online publication, is you get to go after the pricks you want to go after. And as pricks go, there’s no bigger than Telstra, a company that has been screwing me and Christ knows how many other Australians since before it was even known as Telstra.

This story actually starts a few years ago, when I had hair, and weighed under 100kg, and most people thought I was still cool. But more to the point, when Telstra told me there was no phone line to the unit I rent on a small island in Queensland called Minjerribah.

I would, I was told, need to stump up between $700 to $1,000 to get a phone line installed. Notwithstanding the fact that I’ve always been made of money, I wasn’t going to spend that much to run a phone line to a rental property, to achieve something that I consider a human right (in a first world country… for white people). So instead I just stayed on a very large mobile data plan.

It cost more money – $115 a month, in fact – but I figured that’s the price you have to pay to (a) live on an island, and (b) do business with Telstra.

So that’s what I’ve been doing for a few years. Surfing the net via my phone. And what a glorious and productive pursuit that’s been. Some of the things I’ve seen online will stay with me forever. It’s been the journey of a lifetime without having to leave the comfort of my couch, and I hope to one day tell all of my grandchild about it. Like that time I spent 12 straight hours looking at other people’s travel photos, while eating eight litres of ice cream and drinking a carton of red wine. But I digress.

Every few weeks or so (mostly on a Tuesday for some reason) mobile coverage crashes on my part of the island, so I just go about other things that don’t require connection. Generally speaking though, it’s worked okay. In fact, sometimes, when there’s not a lot of tourists about, you get very fast mobile speeds.

The problem with doing everything online via mobile is that a lot of devices – particularly anything created by Apple – don’t let you update or set up unless you’re connected to WiFi. Which explains why I had an Apple HomePod sitting in a box in my living room for 18 months.

Indeed, with mobile data, you can’t even download things you’ve purchased on some devices if the file size is too large… because, you know, computers know better than humans, and Apple knows better than everyone. So I would wait until I travelled to the mainland (to someone’s home) if I wanted to do any basic updates, or even download some iBooks or podcasts.

Eventually, this got tiring, in particular thanks to being locked away on the island during COVID-19 for months on end (that’s not a complaint by the way, at least not about Minjerribah… if you’re going to locked down somewhere, there frankly isn’t a better place to be). So I resolved to stump up the cash and get a landline installed.

And this is where Telstra’s competence – or rather lack thereof – really starts to come into focus. As it turns out, there’s always been a phone line to my unit. I didn’t have to get one installed at all. When the NBN technician arrived it took, literally, three minutes to switch on the phone line (and with it an internet connection) at my unit.

Thanks Telstra. You fucking pricks.

Anyhoo, even though that was quite infuriating, it also made me pretty happy. And there was even better news – the tech did a speed test on the line, and I was getting around 118 megabits per second. By global standards, that’s absolute shite. But if you’re stupid enough to rely on an internet system conceived by Malcolm Turnbull – and in Australia, that’s we’ve got to choose from – it’s lightning fast.

When I’d signed up for the NBN, I’d told them I wanted as much speed as I could get (and I laughed as I said that… and the operator completely missed the joke… probably because she’s never tried speed before). She put me on a 50 megabits per second plan, but told me it could be upgraded once they knew how much speed was available… teehee.

And so yesterday, I rang NBN to ask to get the plan upgraded, knowing, as I did, that I could get over 100mbps. This would make me about one-tenth as fast as someone in the tiny New Zealand city of Invercargill (the second most southerly city in the world), where they get one gigabit up and down (for the non tech heads, that means it would roughly three seconds to download a high def movie).

And as you might have guessed… they informed me I couldn’t have the faster connection. At least not straight away. For some unknown reason I must serve one month on a slow plan before I upgrade. Which of course makes no sense at all, unless you’ve forgotten that this was all Malcolm Turnbull’s idea… in which case, having suspended reason and accountability, it actually makes perfect sense.

Sure, it’s not what I was promised, but after three years of getting fucked and over and ripped off by Telstra, I was prepared to ‘cop up the choofer’ for another month in the interests of ‘moving our relationship forward’.

At the same time, I decided to start instantly reaping the financial benefits of my new found Telstra freedom by reducing my mobile data plan to the smallest available – $45 a month, a saving of $70 per month. Huzah for the Shopkeep!!! Not quite the cost of the NBN line ($90) but I no longer have limits on the amount I can download, and the service is theoretically faster and more stable.

So that’s what I did yesterday – I reduced my mobile data plan. And then this morning I get a ‘quote’ emailed to me from Telstra (which notes, aggressively, that ‘This is not a bill’). It informs me that I will soon be paying $172.87 per month… so, long story short, a lot more for a lot less.

In the retail space, this is what they call ‘fucking stupidity’, also known as ‘a gigantic fucking rip off’. So I contacted Telstra. Obviously, them being a phone company and all does not mean it’s worth risking trying to ring them, so I logged on online to get my issue resolved via a robot that doesn’t deliver profanity, but also does’t judge you for yours. Here’s what I wrote:

“I’ve put NBN on at home. I want to reduce my monthly mobile plan (it has a huge amount of data I don’t need). I inquired to change my plan – the quote that’s come back is more than I was originally paying. I want to know why, you stupid fucking pricks?”

And here’s the exchange between me and someone Telstra describes simply as ‘Expert’ (expert in precisely what remains unclear… although I’m going to suggest it’s either ‘irony’ or ‘comedy’):

Expert – 11:04: Please give me 2 minutes to search your account.
You – 11:05: Okay. FYI, the Telstra order number is 1-3084734598601
Expert – 11:06: Thank you for the information. May I confirm if the mobile number in question is 0407555328?
You – 11:06: I’ve already given you that. Yes
Expert – 11:09: Thanks for confirming it. Sorry for asking it again. Upon checking, you are already on a Small Plan. We regret to inform that the Small Plan is the less expensive plan that we’ve got.
You – 11:10: You’re not able to understand or fix my problem and I’m not explaining it again. Can you escalate me to your supervisor please.
Expert – 11:12: I’m sorry to hear this. Let me arrange a callback request for you as my supervisor is not available at the moment. May I know your preferred callback time, please?
You – 11:12: Right now.

Expert – 11:14: I will inform the team to call you immediately. However, please allow an hour as the callback might still engage on a call at the moment. We apologise for the inconvenience.
You – 11:15: Hahahahahahahaha. That’s genuinely brilliant. Thank you.
Expert – 11:35: By the way, here’s the case number for your reference 21261332. Again, we apologies for the inconvenience.

I didn’t believe for a second, obviously, that they would call me back within the hour. I don’t even think they’ll call me back. It’s now just going on midday. I haven’t had a callback yet. They have 14 minutes left. I’ll update readers when and if I do.

UPDATE: It’s 3pm. No call from Telstra. I’m going for a surf. If I don’t have a missed call when I get back, I’m driving up the road and vandalising the exchange building. Don’t pretend you weren’t warned, Telstra.

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. In more than three decades of journalism he's had his home and office raided by the Australian Federal Police; he's been arrested and briefly jailed in Israel; he's reported from a swag in Outback Australia on and off for years. Chris has worked across multiple mediums including print, radio and film. His proudest achievement is serving as an Associate producer on John Pilger's 2013 film Utopia. He's also won a few journalism awards along the way in both the US and Australia, including a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards. Since late 2021, Chris has been battling various serious heart and lung conditions. He's begun the process of quietly planning a "gentle exit" after "tying up a few loose ends" in 2024 and 2025. So watch this space.