South Australia: East-west line - 1877.
The line from Port Augusta to Eucla.

Western There was only one line constructed to the west of Port Augusta and it had a limited number of Telegraph Offices. The line was constructed from Port Augusta to Eucla in Western Australia where it met the line from Albany in 1878. The line passed near the area now known as Ceduna although no telegraph station was ever opened there.

Most of the area shown in the map at the left was uninhabited. In the 1900s, the areas away from the coast - and some close to the coast or just off the coast (e.g. Flinders Island) - were serviced through Radio Telegraph services which communicated wirelessly with control stations operated by the Flying Doctor Service or the OTC. A number of the Radio Telegraph Offices in the area to the west of Port Augusta used control stations at Port Lincoln and Ceduna.

The main sections describing the creation and the construction of the telegraph line are:

Planning for the WA-SA link.

One of the first major communications written about the South Australia - Western Australia telegraphic link was prepared in 1873 and is reproduced here. The Western Australian Colonial Secretary, Fred. Barlee, wrote to the Chief Secretary in South Australia seeking agreement for the two Colonies to bring wires to the boundary line at Eucla. Barlee noted the costs involved as well as the perceived benefits.

Charles Todd, in his reply, noted that both McGowan from Victoria and Todd have previously agreed the issue was important for many reasons. He listed a number of construction requirements - including his preference for light iron poles over sawn jarrah poles. He also raised the issue of whether the South Australian line should be constructed via Port Lincoln and proposed a telegram rate of 6/- for 10 words.

In December 1873, "The subject of extending the telegraph to Eucla was brought before the Legislative Council of South Australia by the Commissioner of Crown Lands, who went into the details of its construction, observing that Mr.Todd had estimated the cost at £65 per mile with iron poles. A long discussion ensued, in which a very general feeling prevailed that other colonies should join in the expense, and that telegraph extension to Port Eucla and to Cape Borda should have prior consideration".

A Petition was presented to the House on 30 April 1874 "for the construction of a line of telegraph between Ports Lincoln and Augusta".

In the South Australian Legislative Council, on 7 November 1876, debate on the Public Purposes Loan Bill approved the following sub-item:

Telegraph: Port Augusta and Eucla, via Streaky Bay, including branch to Port Lincoln, and additional wire from Adelaide to Port Augusta to connect with the Eucla line, £19,404.

The Hon. W. Morgan wished to know whether this sum would be sufficient to complete the work. The Chief Secretary (Sir H. Ayers) said it was expected that the amount would be sufficient.

The Legislative Council finally approved £54,000 for the line from Port Augusta through Port Lincoln to Streaky Bay and Eucla.

Possible routes.

A 1875 letter, written by Mr. Ebenezer Cooke to Mr. P.C. Dove of Port Lincoln (printed in the S. A. Register) gives the following extracts regarding the possible alternative telegraph routes for the line of telegraph to be constructed between Port Augusta and the Western Australian boundary. Both alternatives had the line going via Streaky Bay.

SA Eucla The comparative distances involved with the alternative routes are as follows:
  • Port Augusta to Streaky Bay direct, about 220 miles; branch from Streaky Bay to Port Lincoln, 180 miles; total 400 miles.
  • Port Augusta to Port Lincoln, about 200 miles, Port Lincoln to Streaky Bay, about 180 miles; total, 380 miles.

Cooke noted that "the savings in distance by taking Port Lincoln into the main line would therefore be about 5 per cent and it is probable that the cost of construction and repairs would also be less in proportion. But, on the other hand, there is the disadvantage of increasing the distance of the through line to Western Australia, and this disadvantage is greatly increased by the fact that the electric current is more subject to disturbance and loss of power on lines constructed along the Australian coast than those which go across country. These considerations are important, especially as there now appears to be very little probability of Queensland undertaking the alternative line to Europe. But when this line reaches the centre of the Western Australian coast, the way is open either via Java or Galle. The Act gives power to construct the line from Port Augusta to Eucla, via Streaky and Fowler's Bays, and with a branch line from Streaky Bay to Port Lincoln. But Mr. Todd does not consider that there is anything to prevent the main line being taken via Port Lincoln".
(23 Feb. 1875 The Mercury Hobart).

The Tenders

The following advertisements appeared in the Gazette and in newspapers:

General Post Office, Adelaide, Telegraph Branch, January 20, 1875.

SEALED TENDERS will be received at the office of the Postmaster-General and Superintendent of Telegraphs, until noon of Thursday, the 18th proximo, for the ERECTION of a LINE of TELEGRAPH from PORT AUGUSTA to EUCLA, on the Western Australian Boundary, via Streaky Bay and Fowler's Bay. The line will be divided into two sections viz:

  1. From Port Augusta to Fowler's Bay— a distance of 340 miles, more or less.
  2. From Fowler's Bay to Eucla — a distance of 250 miles, more or less.

Plans and Specifications and all particulars can be obtained at the office of the Postmaster-General and Superintendent of Telegraphs.

Tenders will be received for one or both sections, but must be accompanied with a Bank deposit in favour of the Postmaster-General and Superintendent of Telegraphs for the sum of £350 for each section tendered for. The deposit to be retained, should the tender be accepted, as security for the due fulfilment of the contract until the work is completed.

Each tenderer must also submit, for the approval of the Government, the names of two responsible persons willing to become answerable for the due performance of the contract, who, with the tenderer, will have to execute a bond to H.M. Government, within one month from the acceptance of the tender, for a sum equal to the full amount of the tender. The deposit will be forfeited if the bond is not executed within the time specified.

Neither the lowest nor any Tender will be necessarily accepted.

Postmaster-General and Superintendent of Telegraphs.


General Post Office, Adelaide, Telegraph Branch, February 6, 1875.

Referring to advertisement of the 20th ultimo inviting Tenders for the construction of the above Line of Telegraph, it is hereby further intimated that ALTERNATIVE TENDERS will also be received up to noon of Thursday, the 15th inst, for the Erection of the Line from Port Augusta via Port Lincoln and Streaky Bay and Fowler's Bay, as under:

The line by this route will be divided into three sections, namely:

  1. From Port Augusta to Port Lincoln.
  2. From Port Lincoln to Fowler's Bay.
  3. From Fowler's Bay to Eucla.

Twelve months will be allowed for completing the first section; eighteen months for the second section; and two years for the third section.

Tenders may include one or more sections; but if more than one section, the Tender must state the price per mile for each section tendered for.

Every Tender must be accompanied by a Bank deposit receipt in favour of the Postmaster-General and Superintendent of Telegraphs for the sum of £350 for each section tendered for, or £700 if the Tender includes all three sections.

In all other respects the Tenders are to be in accordance with the original call for Tenders and the plans and specifications are lying at the office of the Postmaster-General and Superintendent of Telegraphs.

Postmaster-General and Superintendent of Telegraphs.

The call for tenders was only partly successful. Mr. Walter Thomson, of O' Halloran Hill, was the contractor for the 630 mile Port Augusta to Fowler's Bay line. He performed his work exceedingly well.

As no contractor tendered for the 230 mile Fowler's Bay to Eucla line, the South Australian Government had to undertake that part of the construction. The conditions were very tough but, in 1876, there were even more difficulties due to the extreme dryness of the 1875/76 season. Mr. R. B. Knuckey, who had shown great ability and energy as one of the constructors of the Adelaide to Port Darwin line, was given total oversight of the whole work.



Stage 1: Planting the first telegraph pole - the speeches and the party.

On Tuesday, August 24, 1875 the first pole of the Western Australian Telegraph line was planted on the rising ground at the side of London's Road, Port Augusta West. Very short notice of the ceremony had been given, still a considerable number of people assembled on the occasion.

Mr. T. McTurk Gibson, who had been requested to perform the ceremony, addressing the spectators, said he felt honoured in being called upon to plant the first pole in the extension of our telegraphic system to Western Australia. South Australia had taken the lead in telegraphic matters, and shown more energy and pluck in carrying out these works than even the older and more populous colonies.

Most of those present remembered the commencement of that great work of carrying the northern line through arid, and to a great extent, an unknown country. This was successfully carried out and we were now in direct communication with England and Europe and also with America and many other parts of the world. But our Government were not content with this and we are about to form a line to the western border by which the people of Western Australia would be brought into telegraphic communication with the other colonies.

The Government deserved great credit for their enterprising spirit and, although there might be difference of opinion as to the route chosen, there could be none as to the advisability of the line being constructed. The Port Augusta people, living as they did at the central point where the lines met, should feel an especial interest in the work. Port Augusta was the heart whence all the main telegraph lines radiated like the arteries of the human body, and before long he hoped to see the place advancing in importance rapidly, as it should do from its important position.

He felt grateful to the contractor, Mr. Walter Thomson, for the compliment paid him in asking him to plant the first pole and hoped the work would be carried on successfully by him and would rebound to his honour and pay him well. He had no doubt from the similar work which had been done by Mr. Thomson that if any one could do it, he could. He (Mr. Gibson) knew the country very well, having travelled over it many years ago with sheep, and he should have been very glad if Mr. Thomson had been there before him to clear a road, as some of the scrub was anything but pleasant to get through.

This was many years ago and, since that time, the west side had become much more important and the town of Port Augusta had improved greatly too. When he came there first (and he had not been there so long as some of those present) they had to pay 12s. for a cask of water. Now they had the water laid on and facilities for watering stock even on the west side of the Gulf. The town was now beginnning to assume a respectable appearance and, what was of more importance, the public were beginning to recognise its position as the outlet for an immense extent of country and the depot for a large and daily increasing trade. Now that the railway was likely to be formed (even if the proposed route should be adopted to Yudanamutana which, to those who knew the country, must appear to be a great mistake) they might expect still greater and more rapid progress.

Mr. Gibson then planted the pole in the earth and declared the same to be truly placed, shovelled in the earth, and the whole was well rammed by an assistant. Three cheers were then given for the Queen, also for the contractor (Mr. Thomson) and for Mr. Knuckey, the engineer of the line.

Most of those present then adjourned by invitation of the contractor to Host Pitt's, where champagne flowed freely and sundry toasts were given; among others, the health of the contractor and engineer were cordially proposed and responded to. Mr. Thomson, in returning thanks, said he was quite pleased with Port Augusta and its people and he thought, in no part of the colony, could they find such a fine lot of manly-looking fellows gathered together at such short notice as those present in that room. There was only one thing wanting — many of them had not yet taken wives. They should all settle down and increase the population of the place. As for the country, they had a splendid and a pleasant climate; and as for soil, he had seen fine crops produced on what appeared at one time to be far worse than the soil round Port Augusta, while the range at the back was prettier than anything he had seen even in Scotland itself. (Laughter.) He proposed Success to the town and trade of Port Augusta, coupling with it the names of Mr. T. McGibson, the Mayor that was to be.

Mr. Gibson responded, and said it was not necessary that they should be a wheat-producing community. That could be done in other parts of the colony, while in the North they could produce the wool and minerals, which were equally necessary, and thus add to the wealth and prosperity of the people by creating articles of export, while at the same time creating a market for the wheat of the more southern parts. Mr. Knuckey, in responding, spoke of the kind of feeling he had experienced on a previous occasion from the people of Port Augusta and said, though the present undertaking was not so arduous as the former, he had no doubt there would be some hard work to do. For his part, he should do all he could to assist the contractor to carry out the work without trouble or delay. He hoped it would not be long before the railway operations would be commenced at Port Augusta.

Dr. Cotter proposed 'The Health of the Construction Party' and after referring to the gradual growth of the colony in spite of the many difficulties it had to contend with, said that having watched its progress from its infancy, he was proud of our colony, especially of its telegraph lines. In nearly every respect it would contrast favourably with the more populous and older colonies. He had no doubt that the contractor and his staff, if they had health, would surmount all difficulties, and he hoped to see them return as hale and vigorous as they were then at starting.

Mr. J. Thomson was called upon to respond but said he would prefer doing hard work to speaking. Mr. W. Thomson responded in a humorous speech, which elicited rounds of applause. The ' Health of the Superintendent of Telegraphs was then given and responded to. Some dissatisfaction was expressed at the manner in which Port Augusta had been treated in regard to mail matters, but it was decided that, on this occasion, they should disassociate the offices of Postmaster-General and Superintendent of Telegraphs. After a very pleasant hour's enjoyment the company separated. Had the ceremony taken place in the afternoon, a very much larger number would doubtless have attended.
South Australian Register 30 August 1875.

Another account of the planting of the first pole is included elsewhere.

The West Australian construction teams used jarrah for the telegraph poles while the South Australians opted for tubular metal telegraph poles.

The line to Eucla took one year and eleven months to complete - strangely enough the exact time for the construction of the Adelaide to Port Darwin line. The Western Australian construction was completed on 16 July 1877.

Stage 2: Port Augusta to Port Lincoln.

"This work, which was authorised in 1874, is now about to be carried out. On Saturday, the 7th August 1875, three men of the Government survey party started, with 12 horses and a waggonette, for Port Augusta. Mr. Knuckey, who is in charge, with Mr. Joseph Minn as sub-overseer and four men, will leave Adelaide on Tuesday, August 17 by the Royal Shepherd, for Port Augusta, where they will join the other members of the party. Mr. Walter Thomson, the contractor, with his employees, horses, and equipment started on Monday. A number of iron poles having been already sent out while others are now being unloaded from the Pakwan. The route of the telegraph will be from Port Augusta to Port Lincoln, thence to Streaky Bay, and from Streaky Bay to Eucla, where the line will meet the West Australian portion. The distance altogether is about 550 miles, and the work is expected to occupy about 18 months".
South Australian Register, 13 August 1875.
Port Lincoln
View over Port Lincoln about 1880.

The Port Augusta - Port Lincoln section was completed on 12th January 1876.

On 15 February 1876, it was reported that "The telegraph line to Western Australia passes through Port Lincoln and, as the section between this place and Port Augusta has been completed, the residents are now in direct communication with the capital. The poles used are of iron, similar to those placed on some portions of the Port Darwin line, and have a light and graceful appearance. The wire is also up for 20 miles westward from Port Lincoln and the work on this portion is being vigorously pushed forward by Mr. Knuckey".

Stage 3: Port Lincoln to Fowler's Bay.

This line from Port Lincoln was constructed via Mount Hope, Sheringa, Bramfield, Streaky Bay and Penong to Fowler's Bay. It therefore established the lines of communication for subsequent developments. As noted in one Report, "The contractors blazed a pathway which then became a bush track and later, in many places, became the main road".

A non-official Post Office had been opened at Fowler's Bay in May 1865. The first recorded Postmaster - appointed in January 1866 - was Mr. E.N.B. Catchlove, who rejoiced in the full name of Edward Napoleon Bonaparte Catchlove. He and both of his two successors -Thos Waugh and Thomas P Richard - were policemen. Although postal records date back to 1865, the date of construction of the Fowler's Bay Post Office cannot be determined. Extensions are known to have been made in 1877 - presumably under the supervision of Mr. Knuckey - to accommodate the telegraph facility on the East-West Line.

31 August 1876: ''Thompson's telegraph party is now within 50 miles of Fowler's Bay, and going on splendidly. Mr. Knucky is expected here daily with men for the work between here and Eucla and Mr. Frank Marchant is on the road via Port Lincoln with 60 horses for the same work. The line is surveyed some 70 miles from here, or within 30 miles of the Bight".

The Port Lincoln to Fowlers Bay section was completed on 26th September 1876.

Stage 4: Fowler's Bay to Eucla.

The Fowlers Bay to Eucla link was a long and torturous project which Richard Knuckey began in July 1876 with 38 men and 89 horses. Workers unloaded supplies at Fowlers Bay and began constructing their own telegraph station and a large supply base. They then began branching out. All poles and provisions had to be sent along the line from either this base or the base set up at Eucla.

The West Australian Telegraph 19 July 1877 reported the reaching of the SA party at Eucla as follows:

"The following messages were exchanged between Mr. Walter Thomson and Messrs. Knuckey and Baldock upon the occasion of the completion of the telegraphic line to Eucla:

From R. R. Kriuckey, Eucla, to Walter Thomson, O'Halloran Hill, July 16 : — I have much pleasure in informing you the Port Augusta and Eucla line, begun by your party one year and 11 months ago, was finished on the 14th inst. It has been throughout a difficult piece of work and I am very much pleased that it has been brought to a successful issue. We have beaten the West Australians. Hurrah for the Major.'

From W. Thomson, O'Halloran Hill, July 18, to Mr. R. R. Knuckey, Eucla : — I congratulate you on having finished the line to Eucla, and having beaten the West Australians. I always thought we would; now I am sure of it. We will wet it at Aldridge's for you. Hurrah for the Major. To Mr. A. Baldock, field-operator, Eucla:— I am glad you have got to Eucla through the terrible scrub. Will send the barrel. Lost Mr. Magill".

The Sydney Morning Herald (24 July 1877) noted that:

As the construction of the line has proceeded, telegraphic communication has of course been established with the parties, and operations have therefore been earned out under the instructions of the Postmaster-General and Superintendent of Telegraphs, under whose directions Mr. R Knuckey has performed his task with remarhable energy and efficiency. The chief difficulty with which he has had to contend has been the want of water. Until the rains in the early part of the year, which facilitated operations wonderfully, there was scarcely any surface water to be found. The whole of the materials for the further section had to be carted from Fowler's Bay, and before Eucla was reached the constructors had to pass over two absolutely waterless tracts of country respectively l30 and 150 miles in length, which of course were also almost destitute of food. Another great obstruction, especially on the first section, has been the great extent of scrub, through which a road thirty feet wide has been cut. With the exception of the construction of a duplicate telegraph between Adelaide and Port Augusta, the only work now remaining to be done is the provision of tanks. A vessel will shortly be despatched with four 400-gallon iron tanks, which will be placed at intervals of 35 miles between the Australian Bight and Eucla. They will be protected by sheds 21 foot by 20 feet from the roofs of which the water will be conveyed to the tanks beneath. The object of making this provision is to facilitate the inspection of the line. We have yet to erect the duplicate line to Port Augusta. When this is up there will be 970 miles of wire between Adelaide and Eucla. South Australia will then have no less than 5,500 miles of telegraph wires.

(With the completion of the South Australian construction) South Australia has therefore fulfilled her portion of the task of placing Western Australian in telegraph communication with the rest of the world. The cost to which we have gone to establish connection with Perth by wire may be set down at about £47,500, which is the net result of the loans raised for the purpose. This is rather a large sum to pay for a line 700 miles in length; but it must be remembered that in prosecuting the work, the Government have had peculiar difficulties to surmount, and that special pains have been taken to make the line thoroughly substantial. This object has been secured by erecting iron poles 19 feet long throughout, and it is believed that the work within the South Australian boundaries will form one of the strongest, if not absolutely the strongest, in the world.

The length of the line from Port Augusta to Eucla was 759 miles and 12,474 iron poles and 147 tons of wire were used. Because Eyre Peninsula had no suitable timber, galvanised iron poles were used and were spaced five chains apart.

A new telegraph line

In 1927, a new East-West telegraph line was constructed at a higher level and making a more direct connection. According to the Chronicle (27 January1927), "on 14 January, a gang of 100 men, employed by the Postal Department, were in Port Augusta awaiting the arrival of the necessary equipment to enable them to proceed with the work of installing a new telegraph circuit along the East West line. The work will be carried out from both ends, and the West Australian party are already making progress. It is expected that the two parties will meet near Cook".

Radio telegraph

Most of the area shown in the map above was uninhabited. In the 1900s, the areas away from the coast - and some close to the coast or just off the coast (eg Flinders Island) - were serviced through Radio Telegraph services which communicated wirelessly with control stations operated by the Flying Doctor Service or the OTC. A number of the Radio Telegraph Offices in the area to the west of Port Augusta used the central stations located at Port Lincoln and at Ceduna.