Western Australia: 1869-1900.
Telegraph lines in the southern region.


The southern region is defined for the purpose of describing telegraph line construction as being the area south of the Perth-Beverly line and west of the Kattaning-Albany line.

Lines were constructed in three directions in this region:

Southern First line to Albany.

Soon after the line to Northam and York was completed, work commenced on constructing a new line from Perth direct to Albany. As noted, Albany had the only deep-water port in Western Australia and was the first port of call for ships with mail. The route selected was via Kojonup and Mount Barker - which was down the Albany Road.

Kojonup was at the centre of a large wool producing area and was a staging place on the road to Albany. It had an established Police Station and hotel. Being about 250 kms from Perth, Kojonup was in a good position to serve, in the first few years, as a repeater station. It opened as a Post & Telegraph Office in 1875.

Mount Barker also had a Police Station and a Coach house as well as a special chapel. The Police Station was also used as the Telegraph Office from 1871 to 1873.

In the early 1880s, intermediate Telegraph Offices were opened along the line (as shown in blue). Others were added subsequently. As an example of costs, the Mandurah to Pinjarra branch line was tendered at £17 15s per mile.

In the early 1880s, intermediate Telegraph Offices were opened along the line (as shown in blue). Others were added subsequently. As an example of costs, the Mandurah to Pinjarra branch line was tendered at £17 15s per mile.

Stations were added because they served a special eed in a district. For example, Arthur River was an important wool growing district located 24 miles from Williams and 35 miles from Kojunup. It was also important for its supply of sandlewood. The Telegraph Offices at both places were difficult to access so, in November 1881, a petition was raised seeking a telegraph office on the Jarrahdale-Kojunup line. It was noted that "in cases of sickness or accident, the line would be invaluable. From a financial point of view also, a telegraph station would be more remunerative than country stations usually are from the fact that the settlers only receive one mail a fortnight".

A correspondent of the West Australian also suggested on 27 January 1882 "that, if possible, a person should be placed in charge of the telegraph office (at Arthur River) - supposing it to be granted - who should have the power to issue cart, carriage, dog and sandalwood licenses. At the present time, when any such licenses are required, a journey either to Kojonup or to the Williams is found necessary, taking the better part of two days to accomplish. No doubt this might be satisfactorily arranged, as I have suggested, greatly to the advantage of the neighbouring settlers".

Tenders were called at the end of 1885 for the construction of a duplicate Perth-Albury line.

Lines directly south.

The first lines opened communication in 1872 from Perth to Vasse (Busselton) via Pinjarra and Bunbury. The area was relatively quiet in those days although Bunbury received a major boost from the shipments of materials for the telegraph lines along the south-west coast. Nevertheless, even the March 1909 Bunbury Herald suggested that "the whole population in those days seemed to fish all day and play euchre all night, except Sunday, which was religiously spent under the purview of the Rev. David Buchanan, the respected Congregational parson of those free and easy times".

On 7 September 1882, it was noted in the Legislative Council that "the working of the telegraph between Bunbury and Perth was in bad condition - scarcely a day elapsed when there was not great difficulty in getting a message forwarded. The Superintendent had been asked as to the reason for this problem and had been informed that a junior telegraph operator at one of the stations was so deaf that he could not hear; he was otherwise a good boy, and could perhaps be transferred to some other employment".

In June 1886, the line from Pinjarrah to Murchison was constructed.

The major extension from this line was that further to the south to Karridale, in 1893, and then to Cape Leeuwin in 1898. Karridale was the centre of major timber operations cutting down the large Karri trees. The township of Karridale, which existed at that stage, was however destroyed by bushfires in 1961 and a new township was built a little to the north-east. Cape Leeuwin is the most south-westerly mainland point of Australia and a lighthouse was constructed there in 1896 - making it essential to have telegraphic communication with Perth.

Along the coast, many intermediate Telegraph Offices were opened during the 1890s at places including Donnybrook (Preston), Dardanup and Capel (Coolingup) (see Table).

In 1886, the line was also extended from Bunbury to Bridgetown which had been gazetted as a town in 1868. It was at the centre of a major agricultural area and a number of important buildings had been constructed in the town including a school, a Post Office and two hotels. Later, in 1892, it too was to be subjected to a gold rush for a short period. The cost of this line between Bunbury and Bridgetown was tendered at £18 10s per mile with re-wiring as required at £1 10s per mile.

In 1896, the line was extended to Balbarrup to the homestead of John Giblett and his three daughters who had been responsible for the postal services to the entire district since the early 1860 (as summarised in a wonderful account by John Stewart for the ABC). This extension was questioned by some. For example, the Bunbury Herald of 16 November 1895 carried the comment:

"The telegraph line to Balbarrup is drawing near to a completion, and will be finished in about three weeks time. The Government do some strange things. They construct a line to Balbarrup where there are only a few settlers, but the Upper Blackwood, where there are nearly double the number of people, they ignore. But it is easily to be seen which way the cat jumps. There is splendid land around Jayes and the Upper Blackwood and if we had a line there, it would become too public". (p.3)

A line to Collie was also constructed from Bunbury in 1898 (a year after the town was gazetted). It is not known whether this line was just to link to the coal fields there or whether it also served to link with the first line at about Mount Arthur. One account at least seems to indicate the telegraph line to Collie was almost an after-thought following the construction of the railway to Collie in February 1898. Certainly any link was independent of the Collie-Narrogin rail link 20 years later.

 

Second line to Albany.

The line between Perth and Albany was duplicated starting in February 1886. The cost was tendered at £742 19s with new poles and/or new struts as required at 5s each.

An alternative telegraph route is however always considered as a desirable precaution in case of local disturbances which break lines or take down poles. This issue of interruptions was a much debated one in various parts. For example, in Albany:

At a meeting; of the Political and Progress Association, held last night (4 February 1891), the question of the proposed telegraph extension from Beverley to Broome Hill was discussed. It was unanimously decided that the Government be urged to extend the line to Albany. It was pointed out that the settlers and business people south of Broome Hill have to depend on the Land Company's telephone, that all trade from Katanning comes to Albany, and that a telegraphline is badly needed. It was also urged that the recent interruption on the line showed the necessity for duplicating the line, the existing one being in continual danger from bush fires and falling timber".

The opportunity arose for this option to Albany soon after. Construction of the railway line between Beverley and Albany began in October 1886. There was therefore a great opportunity to duplicate the Perth to Albany telegraph line by linking with the railway line.

In 1889, the Great Southern Railway created a railway station at Narrogin because it provided a safe, plentiful supply of water on the route from Perth to Albany. A town began to develop there and Telegraph Offices were opened in 1893 at Narrogin and at Wagin, just down the railway line. The two towns were not however to be gazetted for another four years.

A Telegraph Office was also opened in 1898 on the telegraph line at Katanning which was the centre of a major wheat belt.