New South Wales - Colonial period: 1858-1900.
Lines in the North Central region.

The North Central region of New South Wales is defined in this site as being the region:

  This map extends to the South West region of Queensland.  
This map extends to the Far West region of NSW.

  This map extends to the North East region of NSW.
  This map extends to the Central West region of NSW. This map extends to the main
Northern line to Queensland


1. Tamworth to Pillaga and Bourke.

1.1 Tamworth to Gunnedah.

1.2 Gunnedah to Narrabri.

1.3 Narrabri to Fort Bourke.

2: Coonabarabran to Cassilis.

3: Pilliga to Coonamble and Dubbo.

4. Bourke to Louth, Cobar and Nyngan.

4.1: Bourke to Louth.

4.2: Louth to Cobar.

4.3 Cobar via Nymagee to Nyngan.

5: Glen Innes to the Inverell-Moree-Narrabri region.

5.1: The Bendemeer - Barraba - Inverell region.

5.2: The line to Moree.

6: Lines north to the Queensland Boundary.

6.1 Bourke to Enngonia and Barringun/Rutherfords.

6.2: Brewarrina to Goodooga and Currwillinghi (Hebel).

6.3: Walgett to Mungindi to Goondiwindi and Warialda.

6.4 Warialda to Goondiwindi.



1. Tamworth to Pilliga and Bourke.

On 23 July 1861, the Sydney Morning Herald reprinted the following:

"I have been impressed with the idea that the Governor ought to initiate some steps next session for extending telegraph communication from the Willow Tree or Tamworth to Port Bourke. By this means, provided that Queensland and South Australia join in the enterprise, the principal colonies and New South Wales would be brought in direct communication, besides conferring inestimable advantages to the community generally. The cost of a line of telegraph connection between the places just indicated could not, in my opinion, exceed £7,000 and the probable revenue would be adequately remunerative. If our Ministers were fully alive to the interests of the colony, they ought not to allow much time to elapse before a sufficient sum be placed upon the Estimates to meet so desirable an object".

Preliminary planning was commenced in the communities by 1866 led by Mr. Dangar the M.L.A. for the region. Some of his correspondence can be accessed elsewhere. Not all people were happy with the choice of Tamworth being the starting point for the line to Fort Bourke. "Some indignation is expressed in the Western districts for the proposed extension of the telegraphic line from Tamworth to Bourke ; a line via Orange being considered nearer and more direct" (Sydney Morning Herald 17 December 1866).

The Pastoral Times of 5 January 1867 ran an article from the Despatch as follows: "We are in receipt of a private letter from one of the Western members, which states that Mr. Dangar's motion for a line of Telegraph to Bourke, via Tamworth, has been withdrawn and that the Premier viewed it with disfavour. It is a general opinion, in Sydney, that next session a sum will be voted by Parliament to extend the telegraph to Bourke, by the way of Dubbo". On 30 May 1867, the Maitland Mercury provided its readers with much information for the Tamworth to Gunnedah and Gunnedah to Bourke lines regarding staffing, distances, costs and of the Guarantees required.

In August 1867, the Government placed £25,000 on the Estimates for constructing the line.


The Maitland Mercury of 24 October 1867 reported on

"an influential meeting held at the Old Fort Hotel on the 11th for the purpose of obtaining the names of gentlemen willing to join in the bond guaranteeing the Government 5% on the cost and working expenses of the extension of the telegraph from Tamworth to Bourke ... some correspondence relative to the proposed telegraphic extension had passed between T. G. Dangar Esq , M.P. and J. E. Kelly, Esq. On the 10th September, Mr. Dangar wrote that £25,000 had been placed on the Estimates for the extension of telegraph from Tamworth to Bourke on the guarantee principle and that Gunnedah, Narrabri, Walgett and Brewarrina had either sent in guarantees or were preparing to do so.

On the 18th September, Mr. Dangar again communicated with Mr. Kelly and said: "I want you to send me, addressed to Sydney without delay, the names of eight or ten responsible persons at Bourke, who will join in the Bourke guarantee or rather a letter from them stating their willingness to act. The guarantees are required to set the line in motion.

The Chairman concluded by impressing on the meeting the benefits which would be conferred on the district by the extension of the telegraph to Bourke".

On the 28th September, he further wrote "I quite forgot to tell you when writing the other day, that the rough estimate of the cost of construction of the line from Walgett to Bourke would be £9,000. I think this is over-estimated - the distance being 140 miles. At £40 per mile, the cost would be £5,000. Perhaps as posts will be difficult to be got on the Darling, unless brought up by steamers, this line would cost over £40 per mile. Therefore the guarantee would be from £400 to £500. The cost of a station would not be much. Government would give the land and we could erect a station under Government instructions. Eventually they would pay us for it."

The Maitland Mercury of 7 May 1868 provided a copy of a letter from the Secretary of the General Post Office (V. H. Lambton) to the local Member for Wee Waa (T. G. Dangar):

"Sir - I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 10th instant, relative to the extension of the electric telegraph line to Bourke. In reply I am directed to inform you the sum of £25,000, which has been placed on the estimates for 1868 for telegraphic extension, has not yet been voted. Application will, however, be made to anticipate the vote so soon as the necessary bonds for the service in question are signed and completed. I have, etc". 


1.1: Tamworth to Gunnedah.

The first telegraph line to leave the Northern line to Queensland was constructed from Tamworth through Gunnedah to Narrabri and Wee Waa (the administrative centre of this major cotton-growing area) and on to Pilliga which had a major timber harvesting industry at that time. In July 1868, "bonds have been completed for an extension of a telegraph line from Tamworth to Gunnedah and of another from Gunnedah to Narrabri and tenders for the work in each case will be invited in the course of a week or two". Tenders were invited for the Tamworth-Narrabri line (the first stage of the extension to Fort Bourke) in November 1868. The Gazette of 10 December announced that the tender submitted by Mr. Thomas Smith had been accepted.

In advance of the line from Port Macquarie to Armidale being completed in July 1869, the extension from Tamworth to Narrabri via Gunnedah was started and very rapid progress was made. On 25 March 1869, the Sydney Morning Herald reported "the extension to Narrabri is as far as Gunnedah and a station will be opened there shortly". The Telegraph Office was opened at Gunnedah on 7 June 1869 by Mr. P. B. Walker. The announcement of the opening of the Gunnedah Office simply mentioned the date (7 June 1869) and that "the charges (to Sydney) will be the same as from Tamworth — namely, 6s. for ten words and 4d. for each additional word".

The charge for a telegram sent between Tamworth and Gunnedah for ten words was 2s.

Probably in an attempt to create a back-up circuit, a line requiring 40 miles of additional wire was constructed between Gunnedah and Werris Creek in 1891.


1.2: Gunnedah to Narrabri

The Maitland Mercury of 28 January 1868 reported that, in answer to a number of questions asked by Mr. Dangar M.L.A., the Department of Public Works had, shortly before - on 22 October 1867 - commented (inter alia) that "With reference to the telegraph line from Gunnedah to Narrabri, which forms number four of your memoranda, I have to state that the names of several gentlemen willing to give the necessary guarantee have been approved and the Crown Solicitor has been instructed to prepare the bond". In the same month, Mr. T. W. Parrot was appointed as the overseer of repairs to the telegraph line from Tamworth to Narrabri.

On 6 May 1869, the Tamworth Examiner indicated that "The telegraph from Tamworth to Narrabri is rapidly approaching completion, being already within ten miles of the latter place. In one portion of the line, for a distance of sixteen miles, the posts are in a perfectly straight line, on level ground free from timber, presenting a very peculiar aspect to the observer".

The Maitland Mercury of 20 May 1869 announced the opening of the 120 mile line as of the 8 May and applauded the contractor Mr. Smith on finishing the line in four months rather than the alloted time of six months.

"Good news! Where at? Narrabri. What about? Why, the telegraph. And is it finished? Yes. When? Why, on Saturday, the 8th instant.

I am given to understand that the specified time allowed by Government was six months. It adds great credit to Mr. Smith, the contractor, to say that he has completed it in four months. It shows that he must have had a great many men at work to complete the contract in so short a time. Mr. Smith has employed between forty and fifty men from the first commencement and such men for work, Mr. Smith says, cannot be beaten. He owns himself that, had he not such agreeable, willing, obliging and hard-working men, that quite probably it would not have been finished before the time allotted. Several of the men are old servants of Mr. Smith and they say they will stick to him like grim death. The men speak very highly of Mr. Parrott, the surveyor, who has accompanied them from Tamworth all through - I believe from the first post erected in Tamworth to the last erected in Narrabri. It is just 100 miles by the telegraph line.

Any one coming along the road from Gunnedah to Narrabri could scarcely believe it to be the same road as the fallen timber lying round the telegraph posts, and the telegraph line too, makes such an alteration. On nearing town, the sight becomes grand as you can see for nearly two miles straight telegraph posts. The town itself has a different aspect altogether to what it had before.

To commemorate the finishing of the telegraph to Narrabri, Mr. Smith sent a challenge to the Narrabri Club for a friendly game at cricket which was accepted. The match, which was for a dinner, was played on Tuesday, 11th instant, which resulted in favor of the Narrabri team.

It is not yet decided where the telegraph station will be held".

A Telegraph Office at Narrabri was opened (presumably in a temporary location in a place not now identifiable) by Mr. P. B. Walker on 8 June 1869. The charge from Tamworth to Narrabri for ten words was 2/6.

A telegraph line along the railway line was constructed in 1882.


1.3: Narrabri to Fort Bourke.

To the Pilliga.

In the mid-1860's the area from Narrabri and Wee Waa to Pilliga and Walgett was very dangerous because of the bushrangers. Very often they would attack the coaches and the mailmen. A typical description of two such circumstances is provided elsewhere from the Sydney Mail.

The Gazette of 2 June 1871 called tenders for "materials and workmanship for the erection of a line of telegraph from Narrabri to Fort Bourke, via Wee Waa, Pilliga and Brewarrina, an estimated distance of 270 miles, to be commenced at both ends simultaneously and completed within seven months". Problems: Walgett was left out (see below for the reaction). The advertisement was repeated in July 1871 with a closing date of 18 July.

A Telegraph Station was opened on the line at Wee Waa on 28 August 1872.

A Telegraph Station was opened on the line at Pilliga on 3 September 1872. It was always dubious if the link from Narrabri to Pilliga was going to be commercially viable. In February 1873, "the bondsmen for the extension of the telegraph from Narrabri to Pilliga, were applied to for the reimbursement of the Department, the line not having returned the required sum for the time it had been opened".

In August 1871, tenders were called for a line of telegraphs to be erected between Pilliga and Bullerawa (about 16 miles SE of Pilliga) - to be completed in two months. Nothing more is known of this random report.


Walgett and Brewarrina

The first major construction activity from mid-1872 was the push from Pilliga to (the unidentified) Walgett and Brewarrina and thence to Bourke. The distance covered by that line was considerable and there were many difficulties with its construction. It did, however, open up a considerable area of New South Wales for later development. The construction to Bourke took place in 1872/1873

The Wagga Wagga Express reported on 26 October 1872 that "We learn from the Forbes Times that, owing to the necessary bond not being forthcoming, there is to be no telegraph station erected at Walgett. This will leave a stretch of wire — 160 miles — from Pilliga to Brewarrina, without a station".

Criticism was soon made of the above Gazette statement of 2 June 1871 on the basis that it excluded Walgett:

"Everyone knows that the member for the Gwydir originated the telegraphic scheme along the Namoi and Darling from Tamworth to Bourke, and the consummation of his project may be said to be accomplished, so far as probabilities go, but to establish telegraphic stations along this line, the Government require that a certain amount shall be guaranteed, for fear that the business done at such stations may not cover the station expenses, such as rent, operators salary and other attendant contingencies.

The department has proposed to establish a station at Walgett, if it is guaranteed that the telegraphic receipts will amount to £200 per year, merely requiring guarantors to make up any deficiency in this sum, and this agreement is to be secured by bond in the usual form and be in force five years. It is cheap terms and yet it does not seem to occupy the attention it should do.

Suppose ten bondsmen signed and the deficiency was one-half of two hundred pounds, this would be ten pounds that each guarantor would be liable for in a whole year - and it is absurd to suppose that one hundred pounds will represent the telegraph receipts from a station at this place. For instance:

  • it will command the overland traffic;
  • it will be the key to the navigation of the Darling; and
  • the police business will also form a large item in the takings.

In addition to this comes the custom of ourselves. And having adduced this much, which cannot be controverted, let us see what the one hundred a year will do in the shape of telegraphing. It will not despatch three telegrams per day of the two shilling class. Having said this much, I shall not insult average intelligence by asking it to suppose that the business that must and would be done here could be effected by three telegrams per day; and if it would take six such telegrams, which it assuredly would do - then what becomes of the deficiency? Presto! It is a surplus. The liability is actually nothing and it only requires just a little consideration to be convinced of this; and here it may be observed that these terms are specially favorable, having been granted to overcome the scruples which have been so long offered to the bond in question".
(Maitland Mercury, 11 July 1871).

Additional insight into a possible problem was published in the Maitland Mercury of 1 February 1873. It appears that the bond for the guarantee required the guarantors to indemnify the Government Forever!! Tough call. After a long period, a new agreement was drawn up with the usual five year period reinstated but the guarantee was £200 per annum less expenses in place of the usual balance. Clearly the guarantors wanted the usual terms and conditions. The second document disappeared and there was a two year wait until Mr. Cracknell wrote to Mr. Dangar to indicate that he was ready to advertise for tenders as soon as the bond was signed. Finally the usual document was prepared and signed. By July 1873 "Though the telegraph line from Murrurundi to Bourke passes through the town, there is as yet no office in Walgett; but, as the bond is signed, an operator and instruments will doubtless soon arrive there. A bridge, telegraph office and school will soon make a wonderful alteration in the size of Walgett".

Not only did the bond guarantee delay construction but massive floods hit the broader Walgett area in June-July 1873. A report published in the Maitland Mercury gives an excellent overview of the community's battle against the water. At one stage, the report notes "It may also be added that the telegraph wire is known to be covered in some low swampy country below Ulah ... The water continued to spread alarmingly over the land, and the next thoughts were of some carriers encamped above the township. Mr. Dobson, who has been laying the telegraph wire between here and Bourke, was first found to be safe, with his horses placed out of danger".

The link between Pilliga and Walgett appears to have been completed on 31 July 1876 when "Mr. Phelan, the Pilliga telegraph operator arrived and established telegraphic communication through the relay by sound".



In the Australian Town and Country Journal of 24 September 1877:

"I have not noticed any further steps taken in reference to the proposed new telegraph office here (Brewarrina), a sum of money for which was voted on the supplementary estimates last year. As there is the greatest difficulty in obtaining workmen and building material here, I would suggest that the work be commenced in good time, so as to secure the services of the builders now working here, who may not be obtainable if left too late, and which would considerably lessen the amount required by contractors for the erection of the buildings".


Walgett to Bourke.

A postal line was commenced between Fort Bourke and Walgett on 1 January 1860.

The Sydney Morning Herald of 8 June 1868 commented upon the significant changes which would be conferred to Bourke (and other outlying settlements) after the telegraph had been extended to them. In part:

"Something will be done to bring this remote corner of our dominion within reach of the metropolis by the construction of a line of electric telegraph to Bourke. This undertaking has already been sanctioned, the required local guarantee having been furnished. The route will be by a westerly branch from the Northern line down the valley of the Namoi. The more distant squatters are from the capital, the greater is the proportionate advantage of the telegraph. It is true that there is not only a mail to Bourke but there is now also a mail coach. But mails after all travel slowly, and to send a letter to Sydney, and wait for an answer, involves a delay of a fortnight. At such long distances the disproportion between the delay of a mail message and that of a telegraphic message attains its maximum. Time is money, and the cost of using the wire is in all urgent matters more than repaid by the delay it saves.

But though the telegraph will be a great benefit, it will not materially affect the cost of production of pastoral produce. The wire will carry messages, but it will not carry wool and stores ...".

The Central Australian of 10 January 1872 printed the following details:

"The Extension of the Telegraph.

The works are being rapidly pushed forward under the personal supervision of the contractors, Messrs Wright and Wallace, to whose courtesy I am indebted for many items of information. There were, on Christmas Day, 34 miles erected and about another six laid ready for clearing and erecting, on the portion of the line on the Bourke side of Walgett.

On the Narrabri side, the line is erected to within about thirty miles of Walgett and the contractor expected to have that portion finished in about five weeks when that working party will join the other when it is anticipated the work will proceed at the rate of ten miles a week.

Messrs. Wright and Wallace told me they did not expect to have the line in working order for six months, as there are neither insulators nor wire in the colony. The instructions given are also of such a nature as to leave great cause for finding fault after the work is done, as there is no definite route laid out, only the contractors are told to take the line as straight as possible and at the same time keep near the road and out of flood reach - a thing that anyone who had the luck to travel from Bourke to Walgett during the late floods will know is well nigh impossible.

The work has not progressed so well as the contractors could have wished, for two reasons:

  • the line has, up to the present time, passed through thick scrubby oak country; and,
  • in consequence of the intense heat, many of their men had fallen sick.

I must say I made the remark that riding was by no means pleasant in that weather, and felling timber and digging post holes must be several degrees worse. I heard more than one person remark, that they thought the Government were not acting very wisely in putting up pine posts for, although they may last a little longer in the ground, from their inflammable nature, when the grass grows round them, and the "roley poleys" get well heaped up at their bases, the first fire that passed either along or across the line, will be very likely to destroy many of the poles and render the line for some time useless. The poles being only seventy yards apart, a mile (of line) may soon be destroyed. This, I think, is a matter worth taking into consideration. Each post is cleared for twenty feet all round it so that, for some time at least, there is no danger of the line being destroyed by fire".

The Maitland Mercury of 30 January 1872 announced that:

"The telegraph works must also remain in abeyance for some time, as the line has hugged the river in its course down to Brewarrina - a somewhat imprudent plan because, had it have taken a back line, the road would have been shorter and cheaper; the line would have passed closer to the poles, or rather the scrubs from which they were cut, and in flooded weather, the line could have been repaired with facility. However, I have no desire to criticise existing arrangements or condemn any course which may have been adopted with the best intentions, but I still maintain that to hug the flooded country with this line is a great and very fatal mistake for it is only on flooded occasions that the value of this line of telegraph will appear and to erect it where a breakage in the line could not be repaired at all times is practically diminishing its value, and neutralising the grand object sought to be attained - immunity from flood danger. Dauntless competent officers have been appointed to survey the course; but how often in New South Wales have town allotments been surveyed in swamps and suburban land on the best sites. But I am silent, unless my remarks evoke comment".

On 13 July 1872, the Central Australian reported that "the Government of Sydney need not be under the pleasing illusion that the telegraph wire has reached Bourke. If correctly informed, it understands that the posts have not yet reached Brewarrina, nor within miles of it".

In the Legislative Assembly on 23 July 1872, there was discussion on the Narrabri to Fort Bourke telegraph line:

"Mr. Dangar asked the Secretary for Public Works:

  1. How many miles are completed of the telegraph line from Narrabri to Fort Bourke; how many poles erected not yet wired; and how many miles are required to be completed to finish the contract?
  2. When did the contract time cease for the erection of this work; has a renewal of time been granted; and, if so, for how long and on what grounds?
  3. Has a second application for extension of time been made by the contractor; has the same been granted, or will it be; and, if so, on what grounds?
  4. Have the Government any objection to lay upon the table of this House all the papers connected with the above contract?

Mr Parkes said:

  1. The total distance from Narrabri to Fort Bourke is estimated at 270 miles, of which 81½ miles have been completed and, of the remaining distance, 132 miles of poles have been erected, but not yet wired, thus showing that 188½ miles are yet to be completed to finish the contract.
  2. The contract time for this work ceased on the 6th April, 1872, but an extension was applied for on the 11th April last and granted for three months.
  3. A second application was made the 16th June last, and a further extension of time granted for two months as the contractor stated his inability to procure insulators.
  4. the Government gave no objection to lay the papers on the table if requested to do so.

Progress was reported in the Maitland Mercury on 6 August 1872 (relevant to 20 July):

"The Telegraph Posts are within three miles of Beemery. But for the delay in the Department of Works in Sydney, the line from Bourke to Narrabri, or vice versa, would have been an established fact. But I am glad to be able to say that Mr Wright, the contractor, left town for Sydney this morning and will make some definite arrangements before his return".

The Wagga Wagga Express (with date line 6 September 1872) reported "The telegraph line from Narrabri to Bourke, a distance of 300 miles, is not completed, but the contractor promises it shall be in November, which will make one year New South Wales has occupied in constructing this distance. In the same period South Australia constructs 1,800 miles across an uninhabited continent — Vivat Cracknell".

In the Legislative Assembly on 7 February 1873:

"Mr. Lord asked the Secretary for Public Works:
1. What progress has been made with the telegraph line from Narrabri to Bourke?
2. At what date is it probable that the line will be completed to Bourke?

Mr. Sutherland said:

1. 119½ miles were completed except wiring.
2. The contract would be completed in six weeks".

The Wagga Wagga Express of 8 February 1873 printed a report from their Walgett Correspondent dated 27 January 1873 which in part noted:

"I can only write you to say that this district is in a state of flood. The Barwon is falling about 70 miles above this place, but not here as yet. Something like 20 teams are blockaded here with the water through the want of a bridge. Amongst them the telegraph wire (16 tons) for the line from here to Bourke. I don't expect any of these teams will cross this side of a month".

In a follow-up to that report, the Maitland Mercury added "The posse of teams, etc, collected at the Barwon are still in status quo. White's teams have been blockaded since unloading here - perfect chaos. Sanders' party "chanced it" and succeeded in getting over, but a valuable horse was drowned in the effort. Carrier Dobson has reached this place laden with nearly fifteen tons of telegraph wire for the line between Walgett and Bourke. He has unloaded in the police paddock and gone back to Murrurundi, intending to be back with another load before the Barwon road is travelable. He deserves to be successful for his energy".

On 30 April 1873, the Wagga Wagga Express noted "The telegraph wire to Bourke has been retarded in the stretching, but things have been adjusted, and operations will shortly be resumed in the meantime. It seems likely that the Bourkites will have Walgett as an office to meet existing requirements".

The Maitland Mercury of 26 June 1873 was at last able to publish positive news about the line to Bourke:

"We have been informed by Mr Wright, the contractor for the Telegraph, that the wire will be finished to Bourke by the end of next week.

Mr Cracknell, Superintendent of the Telegraph Department in New South Wales, is expected to arrive in Bourke in about a fortnight with the necessary instruments. He will make arrangements as to an office and formally open the line.

The occasion is of such importance to Bourke and Central Australia generally that we would invite the consideration of the inhabitants as to the desirability of celebrating it in some way. We have recently referred to the subject at length and trust that some of our leading townsmen will take steps to have telegraphic communication to Bourke inaugurated in a suitable manner".

Nature again intervened. The Walgett Correspondent for the Maitland Mercury of 27 June 1873 reported on the significant floods:

"The Barwon River is now in high flood, and the present height of the water is but eighteen inches only below the highest point attained in the disastrous flood of 1864, chronicled in the Mercury just nine years ago. What the effect of the present flood will be is rare conjecture, as the mail along the Barwon cannot travel and communication is thus cut off.

The latest news between Mungindi and Walgett, which may be termed the Upper Barwon, and embracing a course of the river for one hundred miles, was brought in by Mr. William Thompson, the mail contractor of that line, who came in to Walgett on the 20th instant. He reported that he had been unable to deliver the Walgett mail at Mungindi through the swollen state of the Weir River, a tributary of the Barwon which intersects the mail route ... (as of the 19th instant) the telegraph wire is known to be covered in some low swampy country below Ulah ...

The storekeeper (Mr. Buber) elected to guard his post, and he retains his unenviable position with the pluck of a hippopotamus. The water continued to spread alarmingly over the land and the next thoughts were of some carriers encamped above the township:

  • Mr. Dobson, who has been laying the telegraph wire between here and Bourke, was first found to be safe, with his horses placed out of danger;
  • the relief party then pulled in the direction of Mr. B. Haniss and of Mr. John Campbell, who were encamped together. The good old maxim that "Heaven helps those who help themselves" was capitally illustrated on discovering them. These "jolly waggoners" had gradually raised a circular dam around themselves - four feet high - and broad enough to admit one to walk with ease on it. The water was within six inches of the top while, inside the dam, they possessed a dry and quite snug camp. Their waggon-horses were on the north side of the Namoi and their chance is quite as good as their neighbours".

On 7 July 1873, the Empire carried the one line: "The telegraph line has been extended to Bourke". Keep it simple some would say. A more complete announcement and description appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald of 29 September 1873:

"The great event in the history of Bourke has been the opening of the telegraph, placing us in immediate connection with the whole civilised world.

On Monday, the 8th instant, Mr. Cracknell arrived in the steamerCracknell came to Bourke along the Darling River. Albury and, a few hours after his arrival, had the instruments fixed in a temporary office But electricity was silent. The messages looked for would not come. It was soon ascertained from a traveller that the line was down between Bourke and Brewarrina and Mr. J. D. Stewart, the surveyor, started to examine the line. Every hour after his departure anxious glances were cast at the instrument but it was not till Thursday night at half-past 9, when Mr. Cracknell was about to close the office, that the index showed that all was right.

Immediately a rush of citizens who had not retired to their domiciles for the night was made to the office and, in two hour,s sixty messages were dispatched to all parts of this and the neighbouring colonies, amid the congratulations of the assembly and the popping of champagne corks. The first reply was received from the manager of the Commercial Bank, Orange, soon after 9 the following morning, and all day long messages were received and sent to the number of 166, up to the hour of closing the office. Since then, business has not pressed so heavily, but a considerable amount of business is daily transacted.

The opening of the line will be a vast convenience to the town and district, more particularly as our course of post is so long, and often very irregular, both to Sydney and to Melbourne and Adelaide.

The officer in charge is Mr. Thomas Trader, formerly stationed at Wagga Wagga, where he was held in much esteem.

The event of opening the line was made much of by the inhabitants: First, by an excursion in the steamer Albury, kindly placed at their disposal by the owner Captain George Johnston on Saturday. This opportunity was largely availed of and husbands, wives, children, bachelors - and of course a fair proportion of maids - turned out in good style to the enjoyment of a very pleasant picnic. In the evening, a large company assembled at Harris's Royal Hotel to a sumptuous banquet. Mr. Cracknell and Mr. Trader were the guests of the evening. The chair was occupied by Mr. Joseph Booker, and the vice-chair by Mr. R. M. Hughes. The toasts were heartily proposed, drunk and responded to. The climax to the festivities was reached by a public ball and supper, which took place on Tuesday night, at Tattersall's Hotel. A company of seventy assembled. Dancing was kept up with great spirit till 12 o'clock, when the company sat down to supper. After supper, dancing was resumed".


On 28 February 1874, the Wagga Wagga Express reported "Of late the telegraph business on the Bourke, Walgett and Tamworth branch line has been overcrowded, and in excess of the working capabilities of the present lines. This has been attended to by the department determining to erect a third line from Tamworth to Burundian".

The Mainland Mercury of 14 May 1874 raised two issues of importance related to the Walgett - Brewarrina telegraph line - with a date-line of 4 May 1874:

"The telegraph wire between Walgett and Brewarrina has broken down this week and interrupted communication for three days. The break was mid-way between the above offices and the operators of each office, Messrs. Cullan and Bramble, in accordance with the regulations of the department, met at the place of the accident and patched up the damaged posts. But new ones will have to be substituted as soon as arrangements can be made.

It is hardly fair to the guarantors to shut off the business for three days between Walgett and Sydney, owing to breakages Brewarrina way. It is not fair to the general public. And as these breakages may be fairly anticipated as time wears on, some more convenient arrangement might be come to.

Has the money been passed for a line repairer's salary on this line? If so, no time ought to be lost in obviating a recurrence of last week's inconvenience by applying it in a practical way".

After the construction, the telegraph line - as was common in the rest of the Colony - continued to experience major problems with floods and fires. For example, the Mainland Daily Mercury of 19 March 1908 reported "The flood waters from Gunnedah are just beginning to come down. Wee Waa is now practically an island, and for three days no communication has been possible with outlying places except by wire. The need for the duplication of the telegraph lines is imperative, as in some instances two days elapsed from the lodging to the receipt of wires, thus adding considerably to the disabilities of the country".


2: Coonabarabran to Cassilis.

As discussed elsewhere, a line was constructed in 1871 in the Central West region from Muswellbrook to Denman and then north-west through Merriwa to Cassilis and Coolah and then on to Coonabarrabran:

Finally the Coolah Telegraph Office opened on 17 April 1872. The Annual Report for 1872 lists funding for a 22½ mile line from Cassilis to Coolah at a cost of £787 1s.

In the Legislative Assembly on 18 March 1874, £3,000 was placed on the Estimates for the construction of a telegraph line from Coolah north-west to Coonabarabran. Tenders were called for this extension in May and June 1874 stating "from Coolah to Coonabarabran, an estimated distance of 48 miles to be completed in 10 weeks at the rate of not less than 5 miles per week". The Gazette of 30 May 1874 called for tenders "from persons desirous of contracting for the erection of a line of electric telegraph from Coolah to Coonabarrabran, an estimated distance of 48 miles, to be completed in 10 weeks at the rate of not less than 5 miles per week". On 22 August 1874, the tender submitted by W. K. Dixon was accepted for the construction of the line to Coonabarrabran.

In July 1875, £4,200 was placed on the Estimates for a line linking Coonabarrabran to Coonamble. By February 1876, the contractor had 10 miles of line constructed "north from Coonabarrabran". Perhaps this direction was really northwest and the line was that approved in the previous year to Coonamble. This line was therefore intended to provide an important back-up to the main Sydney-Brisbane line for use in emergency situations.


3: Pilliga to Coonamble and Dubbo.

In the same session of the Legislative Assembly in March 1874, £1,500 was placed on the Estimates for the construction of a telegraph line to connect Coonamble with the telegraph line to Fort Bourke. The Gazette of 22 May 1874 called for tenders "from persons desirous of contracting for the erection of a line of electric telegraph from Pilliga to Coonamble, an estimated distance of 50 miles, to be completed in ten weeks at the rate of not less than 5 miles per week".

The Maitland Mercury of 13 February 1875 reprinted the following article from the Dubbo Dispatch of 5 February:

"The telegraph line from here (Coonamble) to Pilliga is nearly completed, but of what use will it be? There is no suitable place available for an office.

The contractor for the line from Coonabarrabran to this place had ten miles erected nearly a fortnight ago. It is the general opinion that a line direct from Dubbo to Coonamble would have been of much more service than the two lines now in course of erection, as nearly the whole of our business is with Dubbo, Mudgee, Orange, Bathurst and Sydney".

The line linking Pilliga to Coonamble was completed in March 1875. The other (not insignificant) problem for those living at Coonamble was that "The residents of the Coonamble district complain that the line cannot be used owing to the authorities not having placed instruments and operator on the spot in anticipation of the finishing of the line" (Sydney Morning Herald 29 April 1875).


Dubbo via Gilgandra to Coonamble.

The Sydney Morning Herald of 21 October 1881 reported that "a large and influential meeting had been convened by the Mayor for the purpose of protesting against the decision of the Postmaster-General to construct a line of telegraph to connect Coonamble and Dubbo, via Warren instead of Gulargambone and Gilgandra as applied for ... is (was) an injustice to the people of these towns and will not meet the requirements of the public. Several speakers addressed the meeting forcibly pointing out the great injustice that was likely to result to the people of the Castlereagh districts generally if the proposed line be adopted".

In November, the local community again expressed its opinions when " Mr David McCullough, Mayor of Coonamble, accompanied by the Member for the Bogan, Sir P. A. Jennings and Mr G. E. Cass, waited on Mr Cracknell, the Superintendent of Telegraphs, urging the advisability of erecting the direct telegraph line from Dubbo to Coonamble via Gilgandra. The Superintendent promised to recommend the matter to the Postmaster-General".

The decision reported in the Sydney Daily Telegraph on 25 November 1881 that "the Postmaster-General to call tenders for a direct line of telegraph to Dubbo, via Gilgandra, has given universal satisfaction".

In 1882, the line from Dubbo to Coonamble via Gundagai was constructed. Few details are recorded. On 3 June 1882, an advertisement appeared in the Australian Town and Country Journal for:
"12 MEN for Telegraph Work, new line from Gilgandra to Coonamble; wages 8s for nine hours work. None but good axe men need apply. M. O'KEEFE, Telegraph Contractor, Telegraph Camp, Dubbo to Coonamble".

Other construction activities included adding telegraph stations along existing lines or adding branch lines to extend the existing lines to service special areas.


4: Bourke to Louth - Cobar and Nyngan.

4.1: The Bourke - Louth link.

The Darling River passed to the south through Bourke and Louth on the way to Wilcannia and thence on to the Menindie Lakes and finally to the Murray River near Wentworth. From that perspective, the Darling was a critical supply line for those who lived in the western region of New South Wales. Goods could be transported on the great river to the inland settlements of downstream to the Murray River ports.


4.2: Louth to Cobar.

The 90 miles line of electric telegraphs from Louth to Cobar section had been included in the 1879 Supplementary Estimates at a cost of £5,000. The line was to service the major copper deposits around both places. Tenders were called for the construction of the Louth-Cobar telegraph line in July 1879 - closing 12 August. The work was to be completed in four months. A delay must have occurred because the Legislative Assembly of 18 February 1880 heard that "it was elicited from Sir Henry Parkes by Mr. Beyers, in the Assembly yesterday afternoon, that a tender had been accepted for the construction of a line of telegraph from Louth to Cobar, and that the work would be completed in about three months time".

On 13 March 1880, the Australian Town and Country Journal reported:

"Our correspondent at Louth wires us as follows:
Owing to the Government refusing a weekly mail from Louth to Cobar direct, in consequence of its being likely to cost the insignificant sum of £3,100 per annum, a private weekly mail was inaugurated on the 6th. This will prove of incalculable benefit and convenience to both townships.

To show how this rising place, which is the port of discharge for steamers of thousands of tons annually of merchandise for the interior, has been treated, it will not be out of place to mention that the Post Office, for which over £1,000 was granted about three years ago, and which is so badly needed, is not yet commenced, although the contract was signed in due course.

The telegraph line from here to Cobar, the money for which was voted over two years ago, cannot boast of a single post or coil of wire up to the present. Both Telegraph and Post Office business are carried on in wooden buildings the size of dog kennels, a disgrace to Louth.

The residents are becoming indignant at the apparent indifference of the Government and, unless action is taken soon, they intend again memorialising.

Business is quiet and the river is about 12 feet and falling. Three hundred fat cattle passed on the 8th from Winbar en route to Melbourne".

The same source but of 1 May 1880 followed up that article with:

"It is now some three months since tenders were called for the erection of the telegraph line from Louth to Cobar.

A gentleman coming from Louth the other day states that there is no wire and not a post ready as yet. This is too bad. A number of insignificant places enjoy telegraphic facilities but, we of Cobar, cannot even know what is being done for us. The surveyor has, I believe, ere this sent in his opinion as to the eligibility of the site for the new Post and Telegraph office and it is to be sincerely hoped our member for the Robinson county (Mr. Simpson) will stir the matter up.

The proprietors of a new local paper are on the ground, but they do not feel justified in starting operations till something definite is known of the wire".

On 1 January 1881, the Freeman's Journal explained part of the reason for the delay in construction: "The extension of the telegraph line to Cobar, we understand, is suspended for the present, owing to the want of water".

In June 1883, another tender with John Baker was accepted for the construction of the telegraph line from Nyngan to Nymagee and for an additional wire from Dubbo to Nyngan.

The Australian Town and Country Journal of 19 February 1881 reported:

"The telegraph line from Louth to Cobar will, according to the statement of the contractor, be completed in about five weeks from date.

When the necessary battery will arrive is a matter on which no one seems able to furnish information. Unless speedy steps are taken, the line when completed will find us minus the working apparatus. Cobar, with its great natural resources and population of 3,000 souls, certainly deserves more consideration from the Government than it has hitherto obtained ".

Patience is always espoused as being a virtue and so indeed proves the folks in Cobar are amongst the most virtuous citizens in New South Wales. The Sydney Mail of 21 May 1881 reported:

"Cobar is at last connected with the 'outer world' by that greatest of all late discoveries, electric telegraph. The wonder is now how they could have done without communication of this sort for so long a time. The business which has been transacted in the office there since its opening has been, I am reliably informed, very large indeed - in fact too large for the conveniences to hand. This, however, may prove to be only a temporary rush consequent on the opening of a branch of this important office there.

Be that as it may, no inland town in the colony required the convenience more than Cobar did, and the pity is that the line was not completed long before it has been, and considering that the distance between Louth, from which town the line branches off, to Cobar is only about 80 miles, it might have been, and the revenue from 'this quarter would have been considerably increased.

However, the line is completed, so let the Cobar people rejoice thereat and be happy in the knowledge that they are richer by so many shillings than they would have been otherwise".

Details of arrangements within Cobar are included in the Cobar Telegraph Office entry.


4.3: Cobar via Nymagee to Nyngan.

The line from Louth to Cobar was completed in late 1881.The Great Cobar Copper Mining Company Limited had been established in 1878 and many other companies began operations subsequently - including the extensive development of light rail. For some years, Cobar also had its own Stock Exchange. Hence telegraphic communications were required for a wide range of activities.

The Sydney Morning Herald of 25 October 1881 reported "The telegraph line from Cobar to Nymagee has been completed, with the exception of wiring the new poles at the Cobar end". Communication was opened at the end of November.

Unfortunately, on 29 November 1881, a massive fire broke out in Cobar. In less than 10 minutes, the Metropolitan Hotel with its wooden structure and iron roof was totally alight. "The stable and outhouses, Machattie and Co.'s, Cobb and Co.'s offices, the temporary public school, the Wesleyan Church, Mathew's (butcher), outbuildings adjacent to the Metropolitan Hotel were also completely destroyed. All outhouses and buggies in Metropolitan stables were saved but nothing else of any consequence ... All the school furniture, books, etc, are destroyed. An inquest is to be held to-day. About 2000 people were present at the fire. The telegraph line to Nymagee narrowly escaped, as the poles near the Metropolitan Hotel caught fire". Telegraphic communication was re-opened with Nymagee the following day.

In May 1883, tenders were called (closing 6 June) for the next stage of the telegraph line to the east and then south - from Nyngan to Nymagee.

In November 1889, the Parliamentary Works Committee recommended the construction of a light railway line from Nyngan to Broken Hill rather than a previously considered smaller project linking Nyngan to Cobar. Generally, thoughts of railways are intertwined with thoughts of telegraph lines.

The line from Cobar via Nyngan to Dubbo had a number of stages in its development. In March 1875, the inhabitants of Warren requested that the line to Dubbo be extended by 80 miles to their town. Warren is off the direct line from Nyngan and Trangie on the way south to Narromine and Dubbo. They pointed out that, after the bridge at Warren was completed, large numbers of overland stock would be crossing there. They were also prepared to sign the guarantee bond with the government. The Gazette of 12 January 1883 announced the award of a tender to John Baker for the erection of iron telegraph poles and two wires along the railway line from Nevertire (just above Trangie) north to Nyngan. The agreed costs were £5 10s per mile for the poles and 19s per mile for each wire.


5: Lines from Glen Innes to the Inverell-Moree-Warialda region.

A second line from the Northern line was constructed from Glen Innes to Inverell. Previously mail had been delivered to Inverell from Armidale on horseback but the discovery of tin in the area increased the need for more efficient and effective postal and telegraphic communications. "The intended Telegraph line between Glen Innes and Inverell will prove a great boon to the latter township, the more so as it will bring the West in closer communication with Sydney" (Armidale Express 7 September 1867).

Developments were:


5.1: The Bendemeer - Bingara - Inverell region.


On 3 April 1873, the Evening News described the possibility of a new telegraph line from Inverell to BingaraThe name of the township changed from Bingera to Bingara in 1890. The newer spelling is used here.: "The line, if made, would no doubt come from Inverell, which is forty-five miles from Bingara, but if deviated and taken to Warialda, thirty-five miles from Inverell from thence twenty-five miles to Bingara, would be but a few miles further, and give to others round and about the Warialda district an opportunity of deriving the benefits obtainable by having the use of telegraphic communication".

In the Legislative Assembly of 18 March 1874, £1,600 was placed on the estimates for the construction of a telegraph line from Inverell to Warialda and Bingara. Tenders were called for the construction of this 64 mile line in May 1874 - to be completed in three months at the rate of no less than five miles per week.

On 9 December 1879, £6,000 was placed on the Estimates for 1880 for the erection of a telegraph line between Baraba and Bingara. Tenders were called for the erection of the Baraba to Bingara telegraph line on 16 July 1879 - closing 12 August.

Bendeemer - Inverell.

On 16 April 1873, the Gazette called for tenders to construct the line from Bendeemer to Inverell via Bundarra - an estimated distance of 80 miles, to be completed in four months at the rate of not less than 5 miles per week. This advertisement was repeated in various outlets about 24 June 1873. In July the contract was awarded to a local in the area - Mr. W. Reid - but the Gazette of 4 December 1873 announced a tender had been agreed with Mr. John Elder for the erection of a telegraph line between Bendemeer and Inverell.

In January 1879, a tender was advertised in the Gazette to construct a telegraph line to connect Tingha with the main telegraph line - closing 29 January 1879.


5.2: Line to Moree.

On 4 December 1875, the Government proposed to appropriate £4,200 out of the Loan fund to construct a 65 mile line from Narrabri to Moree. On 23 June 1877 in the Legislative Assembly, Mr. Hoskins, in reply to Mr. T. G. Dangar, said "47 miles of the Narrabri and Moree telegraph was completed, and the line would be finished during the present month, when a telegraph office would be opened at Moree". A 15 mile extension of line between Moree and Warialda was also completed a short time later.



The Sydney Morning Herald of 25 March 1869 reported:

NOTE: This reference has numerous costings put on the Estimates.


6: Lines north to the Queensland Boundary.

6.1: Bourke to Enngonia and Barrigun.

In November 1875, the tender for the construction of the telegraph line from Bourke to Rutherfords was awarded to Messrs. Bourke and Jennings. On 24 June 1876, another announcement: Mr. John Smith accepted the tender to construct the telegraph line from Bourke to Rutherfords.

The Central Australian of 6 January 1877 reported that "The telegraph contractor's manager is here and intends proceeding as speedily as possible with the Queensland line. The scarcity of teams has been a great drawback, but we think the difficulty has been overcome. There are also several line-inspectors here, who are awaiting the commencement of the work. We wonder when this job will be commenced".

The Warrego River runs north--east from the Darling River near Louth then north through Enngonia and Belalie, to the west of Barringun then north-west through Cunnamulla and Charleville towards Toowoomba before reaching its beginning near Tambo.


6.2 Brewarrina to Goodooga and Curriwillinghi (Hebel).

On 29 August 1876, the Legislative Assembly voted, in the Appropriation Bill, the sum of £6,000 for the construction of a telegraph line from Brewarrina to the Queensland Border. On 9 December 1876, the Sydney Morning Herald summarised a large number of advertised tenders including "Construction of telegraph line from Brewarrina to Goodooga and the Queensland boundary, an estimated 135 miles to be completed in nine months". A tender was awarded to Mr. H. Crowther for this construction later that month. Brewarrina was connected through Goodooga during the last part of 1877. Goodooga was close to Angledool and Hebel was just across the border in Queensland. Hence Goodooga in NSW was linked to Hebel in Queensland - where the Curriwillinghi Post Office had been opened in 1864. From Hebel, the Queensland line went north through Dirranbandi to St. George.

. Hence this line might have formed an alternative line from Bourke and the stations from Wentworth and South Australia to Brisbane.


6.3: Walgett to Mungindi to Goondiwindi.

The lines in this region must, in some ways, be considered in terms of developments in Queensland as well as developments in New South Wales.

Queensland developments:

The Goondiwindi Correspondent of the Queenslander wrote on March 9 1870:

"A petition, which would take up too much of your space to print, is now going the rounds for signature. The extension of the telegraph is the object sought and the promoter - who expects the post of operator, at least, in reward for his public spirit — is the postmaster. Among the reasons adduced in support of the prayer is one which seems to the purpose.

It says that the Government of New South Wales is about to extend the line of telegraph from Walgett to Mungindi, a distance of about 100 miles. Now, Walgett, we are led to believe, is in communication with Adelaide via Fort BourkeThat connection would have been via Wentworth., and with Sydney, via Tamworth. The result, then, of the extension to Goondiwindi will be to leave unconnected the short stretch of 100 miles — the distance to Mungindi — in the whole line of telegraph from Brisbane to Sydney and, if the statement contained in the petition prove true, to Adelaide also".

The Darling Downs Gazette of 28 December 1870 reported that Goondiwindi was "soon to have the Telegraph" at last. It continued "there can be no doubt that the terminus will not long remain at this town, but be pushed on to meet the New South Wales line at Mungindi (a border crossing and Post Office 100 miles down the river) to which place the New South Wales Government contemplate the extension of their line from Walgett. A hundred reasons might safely be brought forward in support of this very necessary institution but I will content myself with the following:

In May 1872, a line of telegraphs was constructed in Queensland from a place just below Warwick to Goondiwindi. Discussions continued as to the appropriate link from that place to New South Wales - either at Narrabri or at Walgett.

In September 1890, the Gazette announced that the tender submitted by Mr. John Baker had been accepted to construct a line of telegraph from Mungindi to Goondiwindi via Kunopia and Boggabilla for £19 19s 8d per mile with additional wire £6 12 s per mile and struts 6s each. That line of 116 iles was under constructon in 1891.

In September 1874, the explorers Andrew Hume and Timothy O'Hea passed through Mungindi and rested for a few days on their way north to try to locate a member of Leichardt's 1848 expedition. An account of their stay is reported elsewhere as too is the memorial to Hume. There was only one survivor of those who had passed through Mungindi.


6.4: Warialda to Goondiwindi.

The link between Goondiwindi to Warialda was finally accepted. In July 1875, the sum of £4,000 was placed on the Estimates to construct a telegraph line from Warialda to Goondiwindi. This line would be a quicker route to Queensland than that through Walgett and hence a very useful alternative route in times of line interruption or heavy demand.

In November 1875, the Gazette that Mr. W. K. Dixon had been awarded the contract to construct the Warialda to Goondiwindi telegraph line..

NSW Developments.

On 6 January 1876, the Brisbane Courier reported that the construction of the line from Warialda to Goondiwindi had commenced. The Warialda Telegraph Office opened in 1877.

The Maitland Mercury of 30 October 1879 noted a letter from Mr. Lambton to Mr. Dangar:

"Advertíng to my communication dated the ? inst'., acknowledging receipt of yours of the 25th and, further urging the extension of the telegraph line from Walgett to Mungindi, to meet the line which it is understood the Queensland Government intend to construct to Mungindi: I am directed to inform you that the Postmaster-General has recommended that a sum of money be placed on the next Estimates for the construction of the line in question".

In the Gazette of 10 August 1880, the tender submitted by Mr. H. Dixon to construct the telegraph line from Walgett via Mogil Mogil to Mungindi was accepted. The Brisbane Courier of 7 May 1881 noted: "A telegraph office has been opened at Mungindi, and Mr. Sargent (who was relieving Mr. Dickens at this office while on leave) has started to inspect the line, which has been duly completed by Mr. R. Crothers, The line from Walgett to Mungindi will be completed shortly, and then we shall have direct communication with Sydney. Mr. Norris passed through some days since to take charge of the office".