Queensland - Colonial period: 1861-1900
Telegraph lines in the Central West section.

The Central West region of Queensland is defined here as being the region:

The lines in this region were all extensions of lines constructed in the south west or in the eastern region south of Mackay down to Brisbane.

This map extends north to the Burketown - Cloncurry - Mackay region.  



This map extends east to the Brisbane - Roma - Mackay region.

This map extends south to the South west region.  

Lines from Charleville.

Two lines were constructed from Charleville into the Central West region:

The first was the important Charleville-Tambo link. In his Report for 1873, Mr. Cracknell proposed a line to be constructed linking Tambo with Charleville. In his Report for 1874, Mr. Cracknell noted a contract for constructing the (119 mile) line had been entered into on 1 October 1874. As at April 1975, 77 miles had been completed and, depending on the weather, he anticipated that the line should be completed in early July. When that link was made, another independent route via the western lines through Nebo to Rockhampton would be available.

The second was a short line to Adavale. In March 1888, the Government accepted the tender of H. Hart for the erection of the telegraph line from Charleville to Adavale at a total cost of £29 2s. per mile.

Lines to and from Tambo.

As noted elsewhere, lines had been constructed to link:

By the end of the 1860s, it was clear that a line was needed to be constructed to Tambo. (Un)fortunately it was time for elections. There were three candidates for Barcoo. One candidate was Mr. Handy and he expressed his political views, in part as being "his views are all that Northerners could desire and, although he is resident in Brisbane, he professes to be not of Brisbane. He has pledged himself to support resolutions in favor of Separation at Dawes' Range, and also the extension of the railway from Westwood to the Dawson. He has also promised us a telegraph line to Tambo and no end of luxuries but, whether he will follow tho example of the majority of Queensland M.P.'s and think no more of the promises he has made immediately his own end is gained, remains to be seen. We will in the meantime hope that he may get for us only half what he has promised and that will be more than I expect of him" (Northern Argus 11 July 1870).

On 27 May 1874, the extension of the line from Clermont and Springsure reached Tambo. Actually the lines constructed further west into the Central West region can be regarded as beginning at Tambo - the major centre in the north and west region.


Line from Tambo via Blackall south-west to Jundah.

Many lines were constructed after a petition was lodged by citizens in a particular area. A typical petition was attached to the Report by the Superintendent for 1874 (tabled in 1875) calling for a line from Tambo to Blackall:


In January 1876, tenders were called in the Gazette and in newspapers for a new line to be constructed 62 miles to the north-west from Tambo to Blackall. That line opened on 9 April 1877. The possibility of a place called "Longreach" also had not been even thought of at that time. The line from Emerald to Longreach had to wait until the railway was completed in 1891. The line was extended further north from Aramac to Muttaburra (30 October 1881).

The first line from Tambo ran north-west to Blackall (8 April 1877). It then branched:


Suggestions, made in about August 1879, proposed extensions of the telegraph line to Isisford and Winton as follows:

In terms of a line of telegraph to Cork, some think that from Aramac via Muttaburra and thence west to the Diamantina is the most direct line. Others consider from Blackall via Isisford and thence west to Cork would be the best. Cork is on the junction of several rivers and creeks and there was once a gypsum mine there. No clear reason can be stated here why people would want a telegraph station there.

There was however sufficient reason to select Jundah as a place for a telegraph station. As the Brisbane Courier of 26 March 1881 noted: "It is to be hoped Government will extend the telegraph line from Isisford to Jundah. Judging from the number (five) and extent of mails that pass through our post office, a telegraph office would not only prove highly remunerative to Government but would, I know, be of incalculable convenience to the neighbouring - and more particularly for distant western station-holders, all of whom receive and dispatch their mails through this post-office".

Jundah was proposed as a relevant location for a telegraph office on the basis that "Five different mails arrive (in Jundah) fortnightly namely: from Isisford via Barcoo (weekly): and via Thompson (fortnightly); and from Eulo via Beechal and Gooya; and from Main River via Connemarra and from Macara (Diamantina) via Morney respectively. As this seems the most suitable part of the south-west to which the telegraph line can be extended from Isisford, Government will no doubt see the advisability of converting the present native police quarters into a police station and place of petty sessions".

The Brisbane Courier of 21 May 1885 related the developments in this general area in the following way:

"Directly the long drought came to an end, no time was lost by Mr, P. V. Duffy, constructing overseer, in making a survey from Welford Lagoon to here (Jundah), the distance being forty-three miles, or considerably under the estimated length, and with but three slight angles. From my knowledge of the country between the two places, a better route could not possibly be chosen. Mr. Davies, the well-known contractor, followed quickly with the wires. This extraordinary speed may be partly attributed to the enforced spell which that gentleman and party had been suffering during the drought. The line continues across the Thompson, opposite the township here, and thence as the "crow flies" excepting one slight angle to Windorah, which place is reached within fifty miles from here. Electric communication to those two far Western townships will be productive of vast public benefit. I learn that Mr. Bates is the successful contractor for the Telegraph Office here".

The final extension of the line from Jundah to Windorah started becoming a reality when, in April 1883, tenders were invited for the extension of the line to Windorah by way of Jundah "so as to give greater facilities for communication with that part of the colony". It is unclear as to what happened to that call for tenders because in February 1883, the Gazette again called for tenders "for the supply of material and workmanship for the erection of a telegraph line from Lagoon to Windorah vis Jundah".

After about five of six years of hope, deputations and discussion amongst the people of Adavale, the Western Star of 14 January 1888 announced that "the Postmaster-General had called in the Government Gazette for tenders for the construction of a line of telegraph from Charleville to Adavale. The whole contract is to be completed and handed over to the Government within four months of acceptance of tender". The tender was awarded to H. Hart at a total cost of £29 2s per mile.

The Telegraph of 26 July 1888 reported the latest news that "the telegraph line now, being constructed from Charleville to Adavale — 108 miles 30 chains in length — is nearly completed and the contractor hopes to be able to hand it over to the Government next week. Inspector Bradford will leave Brisbane on Saturday to examine the work and, if the line is found to be satisfactory, to take it over. It is therefore probable that communication between Brisbane and Adavale will be opened in about 10 days". The Office opened to the public on 10 September 1888 "greatly to the satisfaction of the residents of Adavale and the surrounding districts".

The Capricornian of 25 August 1888 published an Letter to the Editor which was proposing an extension of the telegraph lines to Birdsville:

"The Progress Association at Canterbury, states that at its first meeting it was pointed out that the best route for the extension of the telegraph line to Birdsville was from Windorah via Canterbury. The wish, no doubt, is father to the thought in this instance, but as the remark may mislead such as have but a slight knowledge of the country through which the line would have to pass, I wish, with your permission, to draw public attention to the difficulty and expense of construction as well as the subsequent disadvantages if the extension were made from Windorah. The country, which is low lying to Birdsville, is intersected by numerous creeks and rivers, which, in wet seasons, overflow their banks to such an extent as to render traffic of any kind impossible. This is particularly the case in the neighbourhood of Farrar's Creek and the Diamantina River, which, after floods, resemble vast seas, the inundation not long ago being so extensive in certain parts of that vicinity as to sweep away houses erected on ridges, which, until then, had been deemed perfectly secure against the flooding of low-lying land, so common in wet weather. Under these circumstances, presuming that the extension was made by the route indicated, it must be apparent the maintenance thereof afterwards must be a matter attended with insurmountable difficulties, and, in the case of a break, which would be likely to happen at any moment, especially amongst the network of Farrar's Creek tributaries, or beyond there to Birdsville, there could be no hopes of getting it repaired until such time as the waters had subsided, which means that communication would be interrupted, and the line to all intents and purposes practically useless during that time. In contrast to this, the extension from Boulia will be made through comparatively dry country, inasmuch between Herbert Downs and Marion Downs Stations, there is but one other small creek through which it would have to pass until it reached Birdsville. Looking at the two routes from official maps it will be easily seen that the advantages preponderate in favour of that from Boulia — that from Windorah, as I have already pointed out, being confronted with a systematic network of watercourses".

Floods have always been a problem in Australia. The Morning Bulletin of 7 May 1891 reported on the latest flood as follows:

"The country is drying up nicely again and the mails will shortly be running up to time once more. An Isisford correspondent reports that not much damage was done by the late floods but one unfortunate Chinese gardener got washed out three times in three months. No vegetables are procurable.

Great inconvenience is experienced caused by the submerging of the telegraph line with every wet season. During high floods, the telegraph line is under water in dozens of places and therefore unworkable. The line is in the bed of the river and along the billabongs nearly the whole of the way. Upon the waters subsiding last week, the Isisford line repairer found thirty-three breaks between the town and Welford Lagoon, a distance of some sixty miles.

Isisford reports having had forty inches of rain this year so far - being nearly three times the annual average of the past ten years".


Line from Blackall north-west to Winton.

Almost immediately after the line reached Blackall from Tambo, it was extended 103 miles further north to Aramac. It was completed in November 1877 although the Telegraph Office was not constructed for a further two years. The Blackall-Aramac line passed through the area where Balcaldine would be founded after the railway line from Emerald was constructed in 1885. The telegraph line later continued north via Aramac to Muttaburra (30 October 1881) and then to the north-west through Ayrshire Downs to Winton (12 February 1883). The final link was to Cloncurry (15 August 1883). This line took six years to construct and covered 528 miles.

As a mathematician, I cannot resist the description of the railway line from Emerald to Balcaldine published in The Queenslander on 10 January 1885: "A further extension of the Central Railway from Alpha (272 miles) to Beta (290 miles) will probably be opened for traffic next week" - see map above. Enhancing this statement further is the knowledge that Delta is further to the north and south west of Bowen.

The development potential of these extensions to the telegraph lines was widely recognised. The Northern Miner (Charters Towers) carried the following note in 1877:

"The extension of the telegraph line from Blackall to Aramac gives Clermont and Rockhampton another grip of the trade of the Western River country. The next thing will be a branch railway and, when that is accomplished, Townsville and Charters Towers may say goodbye to the Western River trade. Obviously our policy is to push the telegraph westward— say from Dalrymple to Charters Towers — as the crow flies to Conn's Waterhole. That will be the future track of the railway. Townsville and Charters Towers could work together in that direction".

The people of Isisford also wanted "the telegraph line extended from Blackall to here (Isisford) and hence to Westland, Muttaburra, Pelican, Cork, Herbert Downs, Bulera and thence to the Cloncurrry copper mines. It would open all the West country" (The Queenslander 1 March 1879).

The Brisbane Courier of 31 August 1878 reported that "The telegraph line from Blackall to Aramac will be completed in less than two months. The poles are all put up and the wire laid along the line. When the line is open it will be of immense service to the pioneers of the far west".

Alas - not all things go according to plan:

"I stated some months ago that telegraphic communication would soon be opened with Aramac, but it seems I was mistaken, as there is about sixty miles of the lines yet to be wired between here and Blackall and the material is on some carriers' drays between Aramac and Rockhampton. There is a telegraph operator here who has rented place for an office in Aramac and has made the necessary arrangements so that the only delay in opening communication is caused by the want of wire. The delay causes much loss and inconvenience to the outside settlers who have come from five to eight hundred miles to transact business by telegraph only to find a bitter disappointment by being obliged to ride an additional one hundred and twenty miles to Blackall." (Western Star 18 January 1879).

The complaints about the telegraph office are included elsewhere.

The 76 mile line from Blackall to Isisford was completed in 1880 as was the 52 mile line from Aramac to Muttaburra.

The Western Champion of 22 July 1882 announced that the last telegraph pole on the line from Aramac was being put up at Winton on that day and it expressed the hope that the town might expect the line to open within a week or so..

On 15 September 1879, the Brisbane Courier commented that "a new mail service had just commenced between Boulia (a station on the Cork-Glenormiston line) and the Cloncurry mines. Provision has also been made on the Estimates for carrying the telegraph line to the Diamentina".

The Brisbane Courier of 5 August 1881 reported:

"Another matter of some local interest is the route to be taken by the telegraph line beyond Winton. Rumour says that Cork has been settled as the present terminus and presumably thence to Boulia. Now Boulia will draw its main supplies from Normanton or Port Parker but Cloncurry mining news will be of immense importance in Brisbane and the South. If the line was taken from here (Winton) to Cloncurry and a line from Boulia via Cloncurry was taken to the Gulf, the greatest good would be done to the greatest number at but little extra cost. For the Cloncurry is bound to be one of the richest districts in Australia now that English capital has been attracted towards it".

On 7 September 1881, the Treasurer laid the Loan Estimates on the Table of the Legislative Assembly. One item was for "telegraph extension to Winton and thence towards Boulia £10.000".

In June 1882, tenders were called "For the supply of all material except wire, insulators and iron poles and for all workmanship necessary for the erection of a line of telegraph from Cloncurry to Boulia".

The local Member for the region in the early 1880s was Hon. T. MacDonald-Paterson. He had been elected to the Legislative Assembly from 17 November 1878 to 17 August 1883 (for Rockhampton), then for Moreton to 21 April 1885 and then for Brisbane North 21 April 1886 to 31 July 1901. He then transferred to Federal Politics 1901-1903. From 22 April 1885 to 17 August 1887 he was also the Post-Master General for Queensland. At an election rally in Barcaldine in May 1887, he made several relevant comments:

" I was in the district in '62 or '63, and the only persons whom I recognised since I arrived in the district were an old lady who is teaching school at Dingo and a venerable cockatoo I knew in Gayndah in '59 (laughter) and here, in your town, I found another old friend in an old racehorse, whom I have bred and who bore my brand. It is pleasant to meet old faces- even when they are old ladies teaching school or venerable cockatoos; but I hope that in the future I will be better known to you ....

My wish, and it is the wish of the other members of the Cabinet, that when the time for their departure comes, the Ministry will leave behind a record of truth, honesty and honor. (Applause.) I am glad to know that Mr. Moreton desires to see an intermedial between the farmer and the squatter. My sympathies have always been with the farmer but not always with the squatter. Many squatters know in their heart that they do not deserve the sympathy of any right-thinking man. I came upon one of those men recently and, I must say that he was not worthy of the sympathy of a jackass much less of a man. He would have no roads through his run, railways he condemned as humbug, and a white man was ignored whenever a black one was obtainable. He was opposed to progress of any kind and that is my reason for repeating that man - and men such as he - were not deserving of sympathy ...

When we come out west, we must endeavor to teach our western friends that they have a stake in the country, that they must have progress, that they are not to leave the matter in the hands of others. If you want progress, the responsibility of making that progress rests upon yourselves. We wish to settle people upon the land, of which we have plenty. We shall then progress, we shall have sheep and cattle, roads, railways, schools, families and happy villages not a hundred miles apart....

Taking over the charge of the Post and Telegraph Department, I found that I would have to make certain reforms. I first tackled the Southern District, I have now come to the Central Section and, if I remain long enough in office, I hope to also tackle the Northern Section. I took it upon myself to represent to the Government that Barcaldine should be the grand centre where all the traffic should be concentrated; objections were made from Tambo and elsewhere. This is how it is an advantage for Ministers of the Crown to inquire themselves into the wants of the people. I now know that I have done a good thing in concentrating the traffic at Barcaldine especially on the principle of economy. The Government have thrown this line out rapidly. We have thrown out our telegraph lines to Blackall, Tambo, Aramac, Muttaburra and elsewhere. We are therefore enabled to send telegrams rapidly to remote places. We are aware of the admirable position of Barcaldine from a meteorological point of view and I can tell you, gentlemen that this is going to be a great exchanging station and we will probably have ten or twelve operators here in a short time. (Loud applause) I myself picked upon this station and I now see that my choice has been an admirable one. (Cheers) I intend making a proposal that the telegraph shall be stretched from here to the Thompson River. At present there is no money voted for the work, but I am sure that, if the Cabinet think that it is a work that is necessary, they will approve of it. We also intend to run our coaches down to Windorah and to Winton direct by way of Evesham".


Where to now from Boulia?

An announcement is very hard to find - but the 1880 Report (published in 1882) contains two line items under "Lines in Progress":

"Aramac to Cloncurry, via Diamantina, estimated distance 350 miles".
"second 170 mile line from Cloncurry to Boulia"

Presumably the reference to Diamantina implies Boulia and not any place further south.

On 9 September 1882, fresh tenders were called for the construction of the line from Cloncurry to Boulia.

On 6 December 1882, the Brisbane Courier reported on the calls by some station owners along the border with South Australia for the Surveyor-General to survey the line for the border before they spend large sums fencing their properties. During one deputation with the Minister "it was suggested by one member of the deputation that if the Governments would agree upon a boundary line, no very accurate survey would for the present be needed. If a line were run from the nearest telegraph station to a given point on the boundary, the line might be run at small cost with sufficient accuracy for pastoral purposes. In reply to Mr. Perkins, Mr. Sheaffe said the survey might cost £10,000 or even more. Mr. Perkins said he thought there was a difference of about nineteen miles between the surveys made. He believed no great trouble or confusion had yet been occasioned, nor any great obstacles to people carrying out their industry. He was informed by the Surveyor-General that there were not in the colony at present the instruments needed to carry out an accurate survey of the line. When the telegraph line to Boulia is completed, in eighteen months or two years from the present, the boundary line might be fixed with some degree of accuracy with the aid of the telegraph".

The Courier followed up that discussion on 22 December:

"Boulia is a township in embryo on the extreme west of Queensland settlement but a considerable distance from the border in question. To pastoral occupants who are in a state of doubt as to which colony they owe allegiance, this vague promise that in a couple of years probably some steps would be taken must be especially gratifying. But the idea that the extension of the telegraph line to Boulia would materially assist the settlement of the question must have arisen from very hazy notions on the part of the Hon. Minister. As although this extension might assist in determining the longitude of Boulia, there being still a long distance to traverse west to the border, it is not likely that the position of affairs would be improved, as Burketown on the gulf shores - the longitude of which is now pretty well determined - is as close to the boundary as Boulia.

The boundary is an imaginary line following the 138° east longitude and the general opinion amongst practical and scientific men is that the best way to determine its position would be by means of a couple of survey schooners finding the point on the coast from which a true line could be run south. That this has not yet been done argues a certain amount of slackness on the part of both the colonies considering the interests now involved. That it is likely to be sooner accomplished by the probable existence of a telegraph line to Boulia in two years time is, to say the least, doubtful".

South Australia was keen to be involved in fixing the boundary and plans began to be made - including manufacturing the instruments in England by mid-1883.

The Darling Downs Gazette of 24 January 1883, updated its readers on the line:

"We are informed that Mr. B. McGlynn, an old and respected resident of Toowoomba, is the successful tenderer for the construction of the telegraph line from Cloncurry to Boulia. This gentleman has already carried out several important works of the kind in a manner that gave satisfaction to the Government and the public. Amongst these were the telegraph line from the Barcoo to the Warrego and the one from Cunnamulla to the border of New South Wales. We treat that Mr. McGlynn will be successful in the present undertaking where he has a most difficult country to traverse".

The Brisbane Courier (17 April 1883) reported progress:

"One of the most important of the lines now in progress is the extension from Winton to Cloncurry and thence to Boulia. The Cloncurry section of the line is in the hands of Mr. Donner (within the McGlynn contract) and it is expected to be completed in about two months.

The extension to Boulia, a distance of 170 miles southward, is a heavier job. The contract has recently been let to Mr. McGlynn and he is at present shipping material to Normanton which is about 200 miles north of Cloncurry while, for the more southerly portion of the line, large numbers of teams are being despatched from Emerald for Boulia.

The completion of the line to Boulia is awaited with no small degree of interest by residents on the north-western boundary as it is hoped that, by its means, the boundary line between this colony and the Northern Territory of South Australia may be fixed with sufficient accuracy for all practical purposes. It cannot, however, be anticipated that this line will be finished within eighteen months at earliest".

The Brisbane Courier of 11 January 1884 reported "The line from Cloncurry to Boulia, in length 170 miles, is making good progress, the contractor having got 150 miles marked and cleared and the post-holes sunk by the 7th instant. This is much better time than was expected - the contractor having managed to get his plant and men out in good time and the drought not having been sufficient to counterbalance the advantages arising from the absence of floods".

By February however, the weather was making problems. The following also from the Courier, is reported to give an indication of how harsh conditions were:

"The season looks dreadfully ominous of a drought from here (Cloncurry) in the direction of Boulia and Hughenden. Thunderstorms have been general to the north of the Cloncurry but not to my knowledge in any other direction. Teams from Normanton here have to make thirty and forty mile stages if they want to push on without water. Those proceeding to Boulia with wire and telegraph poles have the prospect of two 35 and one 16 mile stages. Bullock and horse teams cannot be worked here and the stationholders around are puzzled where to run their stock. The advent of seasonable thunderstorms is earnestly desired. Sandy, the Hughenden mailman, has a 60 dry stage to make every trip and he declares he will not make another unless rain falls - in which case it is difficult to determine when this communication will reach your office".

By May 1884, reports suggested that the Cloncurry-Boulia telegraph line was nearing completion. The Morning Bulletin of 21 August 1884 reported:

"The electric telegraph was opened today (11 August) to Boulia. The line had been completed about four months ago but it has been lying idle in consequence of the non-arrival of the instruments. These were despatched from Normanton by team and were delayed on the road. Indeed they would not be at Boulia now had not the operator, Mr. Parish, late of Isisford, ridden down and met the team near Cloncurry and brought them on on horseback. We congratulate our Boulia friends on being placed in telegraphic communication with the rest of the world".

The boundary issues were not forgotten. On 11 May 1885, the Brisbane Courier reported:

"MR. C. TWISDEN-BEDFORD, staff surveyor, left for Townsville on Saturday and will go thence overland to Boulia for the purpose of accurately fixing, in conjunction with the South Australian surveyors, the western boundary of the colony. He will measure the distance from Boulia to the boundary and, as soon as possible, an officer of the Trígonometrical Department will ascertain the exact longitude of that township. The reason why the longitude is to be fixed at Boulia and not at the border itself is that the telegraph system of the colony extends to Boulia and no further west. Longitude can only be determined by an exact measurement of time, and this can be effected by a system of clock telegraphy between Brisbane and Boulia. The only other method is by the transport of chronometers to the locality of which the longitude is to be determined and it would be impossible to rely on the accuracy of chronometers which had been transported overland to the border. Mr. Twisden-Bedford's measurement from Boulia will give the point where the 138th parallel of longitude - which is the boundary - crosses the country, as soon as the exact position of the township has been ascertained. Every precaution will be taken to insure absolute accuracy of the measurement. The distance will be chained twice, once with a 60ft and again with a 100ft chain and thermometrical readings will be taken with each chain laid down to check errors arising from variations of temperature. It is believed that Mr. Peebles, who is in charge of the South Australian survey party, which began working from the point where the 138th parallel of longitude begins to form the boundary between the two colonies, is now abreast of Boulia".

On the topic of determining boundaries, see also Todd's Report for the SA-NSW boundary.

The entire area is full of difficulties for people, flora and fauna in all seasons. There are many stories about conquering hardship and well as about those who fail to do so. The Capricornian of 28 March 1898 tells of mail deliveries - generally viewed as being routine (especially by city folk):

"The mails from Cloncurry and Urandangie arrived (at Boulia) on the 5th instant, fairly up to time, but delayed on account of the prevailing state of the country. We also were glad to welcome the Winton mailman with a big load of mails on the following day. He had been obliged to go right on into Winton to meet the outcoming mails and had to spend ten days in negotiating the journey this way.

He relates, amongst other narrow escapes, an amusing, although rather gruesome, way in which the mails are sometimes carried out west. The Diamantina River being in flood and he, with his usual energy, wishing to bring on his mail without delay, hit upon the idea of constructing a boat from four empty oil cans tied to a coffin which at some previous time had been manufactured rather prematurely at Elderslie, and not then or since been required for its natural use. With this primitive craft, the whole of a fortnight's or three weeks' mails and parcels were safely landed on this side and we had our mails perhaps a week sooner than we would otherwise have done. We hardly know who to thank the most - the man who saved the undertaker his job or the mail driver for his ingenuity".


Lines to Longreach.

About the beginning of 1891, a number of local people began petitioning for a telegraph line to connect Arrilalah (to the south-west) with Longreach. At that time, the telegraph had not yet reached Longreach and there were only a few residents in Arrilalah. The town was also starting to decline because the railway was to bypass it. Probably in an attempt to stall the requests, the Postmaster-General said he would only consider the application if the local residents paid a guarantee - which was exorbitant:

"I am desired by the Postmaster-General to inform you that a cash guarantee of all the working expenses of the line in question, amounting to about £350 p.a, will be required for a period of three years - that is a sum of say £1000 will need to be lodged with this Office. This amount to be placed as a fixed deposit in the bank to the credit of the Postmaster-General. The telegraph receipts at the Arrilalah office, from all sources except cable business, will be credited to the guarantors. But if at the end of three years, the said receipts do not show at least 50% earnings against working expenses, the guarantee must be continued or the office be closed. (Signed, John McDonnell, Under Secretary)". No telegraph line was constructed.

The Postmaster-General also refused to construct a telegraph line to Longreach until the railway had reached Longreach (for reasons unknown). This conjunction irritated some residents: "We seem doomed to wait for a telegraph line until the railway reaches us which is a pity, as the absence of a line causes much inconvenience and loss. The wire must come with the railway and I do not see that a few months would make such a difference and there need be no fear of the lines not paying. However, we live in hopes of seeing it here some day" (Western Champion 14 July 1891). In October 1891, the Postmaster-General decided to substitute a temporary post office for the receiving office until the telegraph line was opened when other arrangements would be made.

In September 1891, tenders were also called for a 54 mile line from Saltern Creek (just north-west of Barcaldine) to Longreach. Saltern Creek was the place where a massive bore had been sunk to unleash a very significant flow of fresh water. The line was constructed very quickly but it was not extended further: "true a wire had been carried for the convenience of the railway contractors as far as the 21 mile but it had been allowed to fall into disrepair; the iron poles were bent at all angles and the wire twisted into all kinds of fantastic positions. As one of our company remarked: "looked as if the telegraph line had been on a big drunk and afterwards encountered an earthquake".

About the end of October 1891, telegraph poles for the extension of the telegraph line from Ilfracombe to Longreach had arrived at Ilfracombe together with material for the working of the telegraph.

On 21 November, 1891 "The contractor laid the last telegraph pole into our town (Ilfracombe) and commenced wiring from this end towards Saltern, and will complete that work in about a week" (Western Champion 24 November). On 9 December 1891, the Morning Bulletin reported "A notice posted at the Telegraph Office yesterday stated that a telegraph office had been opened at Ilfracombe, on the Central Railway, for the transaction of business".

A line to Longreach was constructed from Balcaldine in 1891 in conjunction with the railway.

The issues related to a Telegraph Station at Birdsville.

The issues about to the possibility of the construction of a Telegraph Station at Birdsville are many. Even in the 1880s, issues of not being able to communicate about matters of trade were critical especially in support of the Overland Telegraph line. For example, the availability of goods required at Hergott Springs from Birdsville could not be ascertained.

One reason for the line not being advanced was that there was so much of a difference between residents as to whether the line should come from Windorah or from Boulia.

The Worker on 2 June 1900 published the following suggestion:

"We haven't any telegraph station here at Birdsville and it's a thing badly wanted and would pay. Mr. Coyne is getting a petition largely signed to get the next best thing to it - that is a telephone service. It could be done cheaply as the rabbit proof fence runs nearly all the way from Windorah (the nearest telegraph station) to here and the wires could be attached to the top of the fence {Mr. Coyne's idea) and the boundary rider could look after it with a little extra pay".

On 11 October, 1902, the Capricornian correspondent in Birdsville summarised the situation at that point as follows:

"The stationmaster and others in this part of the state are very loud in their complaint about the way the mails are running between Birdsville and Hergott at present. They give satisfaction to nobody. I understand, however, that Mr. D. C. Wright is bringing the matter under the notice of the Postmaster-General (the Hon. J. G. Drake). Birdsville is without a telegraph office and yet it is 400 odd miles from Longreach and 300 miles from Hergott. If ever any part of Australia wanted a telegraph office it is Birdsville".

A week later, the same newspaper printed: "A movement is on foot to get a telegraph office at Birdsville and we hope it will meet with success. This town is situated on the main stock routes to South Australia and New South Wales and at present the nearest telegraph station is 200 miles away. It takes from five to six weeks to get an answer to a letter that may be sent to Rockhampton".

On 10 August 1928, the Townsville Daily reported on the first positive action taken on the matter: "Messrs. S. A. I. Hunter, M.H.R., and J. A. Lyons, M.P. for South Australia, wrote on the matter of telegraphic or telephonic communication from Birdsville to the outside world. The clerk was instructed to thank Messrs. Hunter and Lyons for their kind assistance".

In 1935, the battle for a telegraph station was lost when a magnificent addition to Australia's outback life evolved. The Charleville Times on 1 November 1935 described the exciting development as follows:

Wireless Transmission Sets.

Six women within a radius of 100 miles near Birdsville, chat together every night using wireless transmitter sets. The foot pedal transmitter is gradually conquering isolation in outposts in the heart of Australia. In lonely habitations far from the telegraph line, men and women of the outback now converse by wireless telephony.

Already there are 36 of these wireless outposts in Central Australia and North Queensland but the time is not far distant, the Australian Inland Mission hopes, when from 300 to 500 transmitter sets will finally banish the silence of the outback. The Australian Inland mission is now merged in a movement whose objective is probably the most romantic of any organisation in the world.

Australian aerial medical services seeks to bring the services of the Flying Doctor to every settler in this continent".

The Melbourne Herald of 27 February 1930 gives an insight into the remoteness of Birdsville and the advantage of wireless telegraphy in such settings:


Sister A. O. Pearson is the loneliest nurse in Australia. Except for an occasional patient, she has a whole hospital to herself in Birdsville on the border of Queensland, 400 miles from Cloncurry which has often been described as the place where the sun sets.

In November Sister J. M. Gilbert, Sister Pearson's companion, died. Since then, through inability to find a nurse to take her place, Sister Pearson has carried on alone. In a little, lonely spot 200 miles from the nearest telegraph and 300 miles from the nearest railway. Her only companion was a dog.

Now news has come that Sister Mary Sinclair of Swan Hill has volunteered to go to the hospital. Soon she will be setting out to take Sister Gilbert's place. telegraph line.

It would have cost £60,000 to build even a bush telegraph line. Today, the hospital keeps in touch with the world by wireless installed at the cost of a few pounds. When a sick person is brought in, Sister Pearson ticks off a message to Dr. Spalding, the Flying Doctor, at Cloncurry. He arrives at the hospital in half a day.


The hospital was, in the old days when Birdsville was a Customs township between New South Wales and Queensland, a thriving bush hotel. Federation and other things, particularly long, dry spells, wilted Birdsville's prosperity and the people left.

The Australian Inland Mission took over the building as a bush hospital and today it is equipped with all modern needs to treat the sick.

It means a great sacrifice to live in that out-of-the-way spot where the hardest of facts take the place of romance. This, no doubt, is the reason why trained nurses hesitate before the task that awaits them. Perhaps if they were more frequently remembered by the public, the task would not seem so hard. Sister Sinclair has had previous experience of hospital work inland. She was a nurse in the Oodnadatta Hospital".


Lines from the East.

The establishment of Charters Towers created an important hub for the telegraph network in the northern region. It facilitated the construction of lines:

The Charters Towers route to Bowen, giving alternative routes to the south, was shorter and easier as it ran down the Great Dividing Range rather than across it. One consequence was that the Cardwell Junction Creek line, constructed through difficult country, could then be abandoned and dismantled.

The telegraph served in part to facilitate communication about the very lucrative mining operations. For example, the Brisbane Courier of 18 August 1882 reported (in a small note) that "a rich reef has been struck seven miles from Charters Towers, on the Cape telegraph line. A piece of surface stone, studded with gold, is now on view in Mr. Lissner's window".


After the wires had been erected, communication between any two nominated places had to be networked. Often two adjacent wires ran for miles before diverging to their respective destinations to form the actual transmission lines. Preferably more than two wires would serve a single place so that messages could still be transmitted even in the event of an interruption to one line.

A summary of the lines which served the Central West region before Federation - divided into Southern District and Northern District regions which they may have crossed - together with their line numbers, is presented in the following table.

Line # From To Note
17 Tambo Normanton via Balcaldine, Muttaburra, Winton and Cloncurry
S25 Barcaldine Windoora Via Blackall and Isisford
S27 Boulia Urandangie via Cloncurry and Camooweal
S45 Clermont Longreach via Emerald and Barcaldine
S54 Emerald Longreach  

Legend: S = Southern district lines; N = Northern District lines.