Queensland - Colonial period: 1861-1900
Telegraph lines in the Burketown - Cassowary Coast- Mackay - Cloncurry region.

This region of Queensland is defined here as being the region:

Details of the construction of the Gulf line are contained elsewhere but the Telegraph Offices on that line are included for convenience together with the Offices in this region.

There are six main routes to consider when lines were continued into this region:

  1. line north from Mackay along the coast to Cardwell;
  2. which way for the line to the Gulf?
  3. line west from the Burdekin to Charters Towers and north to Junction Creek;
  4. line from Winton to Hughenden and beyond;
  5. line from Boulia via Winton to Cloncurry then on to Camooweal and Normanton.
  6. a Mount Isa line?
This map extends north to the Gulf line and to Cape York.
This map extends south to
the Central west region.
This map extends south to the
Brisbane-Roma-Mackay region.

1. Line north from Mackay to Cardwell.

St Lawrence - Mackay - Bowen - Townsville.

The St Lawrence - Mackay - Bowen line had been commenced in August 1865. Mr Cracknell, in his 1866 Report asserted that, due to wet weather and other casualties, the line could not be completed for some months.

The Northern Argus of 2 September 1865 reported that "The work of clearing the road (at Bowen) and erecting posts for the telegraph is progressing rapidly. The holes for receiving the posts are already sunk in Herbert Street and today or Monday we may expect to see the erection of the "pioneer post". The clearing extends, we understand, about 10 miles ... We are in possession of information regarding the new town of Townsville and the road thither from the south from a traveller who has just returned from Cleveland Bay. He says the road from Bowen is at present in good order and the distance 150 miles via Salisbury Plains, Inkerman, Hamilton and Woodstock. The country is, for the most part, level and well grassed but in wet weather, travelling through would be heavy work". The line to Bowen (Port Denison until 1865) was finally completed on 24 October 1866.

The line of telegraphs was then extended north from Bowen to Townsville - 119 miles. On 12 December 1868, the Maryborough Chronicle reported "We are informed that the telegraph line, intended to connect Bowen with Townsville, is completed to near Woodstock and that the line will shortly be opened as far as Inkerman station. Thus nearly two-thirds of the worst part of the line have been traversed — the remainder, as far as Townsville, being of a comparatively easy character".

"We have incidentally received information of the line of telegraph between Bowen, Port Denison and Townsville, Cleveland Bay, has been completed (on 15 March). Stations have been opened at Inkerman and Townsville on that day. The charges from Maryborough are 7s. for ten words, and 4d. each additional word". (Maryborough Chronicle 18 March 1869).

During the early 1900s, a line from Bowen to Townsville along the coast via Ayr was also constructed.

There was a pause after reaching Townsville in 1869 before the 100 mile line was constructed from Townsville to Cardwell. That line was completed on 24 December 1869 and cost £34/6/1 per mile. The Cardwell office opened on 3 January 1870. The poles were mainly ironbark and bloodwood with some blue-gum. The insulators were Siemen's and Wardens with No. 8 wire.

By the beginning of 1870, Cardwell had been selected as being the starting station for the line to the west to the Gulf of Carpentaria.

On 6 August 1885, tenders were called for the clearing and renewal of poles on the Townsville to Cardwell line via Ingham.

For a number of reasons, Bowen became established as the main repeating station for the north in the early 1870s. Part of the reason was the discovery of gold at Ravenswood. The lines resulting from this development are discussed elsewhere. As Bowen - and so some extent Townsville - developed, the importance of Cardwell as a major station diminished.

There was always discussion about respective roles. For example, the Northern Miner of 20 February 1884, noted: "Mr. O'Kane said that the chief fault of the slow delivery of telegrams was in having Bowen only a repeating station; they ought to have a repeating station at Townsville".

The insulation on the telegraph lines was constantly impaired by undergrowth touching the wire at places especially on the line between Mackay and Cardwell but even on the line back down to Clermont. It was impossible for the line repairers, without neglecting their ordinary duties, to keep the extensive sections for which they had responsibility, in proper order without the occasional assistance of a maintenance party - especially in the coastal districts of tropical Queensland where the growth of vegetation is so luxuriant and rapid.

Townsville to Cardwell.

In January 1869, the Gazette called for "Tenders ... for the completion of an electric telegraph line between Townsville and Cardwell".

The line began about 1½ miles befote Townsville on the line from Bowen.

On 15 May 1869, the C. B. Express reported that "the contractor for the continuation of the telegraph line between Townsville and Cardwell had commenced operations during the week. A number of men had been employed cutting posts in the neighbourhood of Mount Louisa and it would appear that the work is about to be prosecuted in an energetic manner". By 24 June 1869: "the erection of the telegraph line between Townsville and Cardwell is, we hear, proceeding satisfactorily. We are informed that seventeen miles of the road are now cleared and that eight miles of posts are erected. A large quantity of wire and insulators arrived by the Havilah and wiring will commence almost immediately".

A note from Public Works reprinted in the Brisbane Courier of 5 October 1869 stated that:

"The extension of telegraphic communication is being carried on rapidly At present there is, and has for some time been, uninterrupted communication from Cleveland Bay (Townsville) to various points on the southern coast of the continent, and the contract for the continuation between Cleveland Bay and Cardwell is being diligently carried out. Tenders are called for the continuation of the line right on to the Gulf of Carpentaria, and it is probable that by December 1870, there will be one continuous wire from our northern coast right through Queensland and the southern colonies. By that date, it is reasonable to expense that the proposed cable through the Dutch possessions in the Indian Archipelago to our shores will be completed and meet us at Normantown. Australia will then be brought into direct communication with India and Europe. Numerous telegraph offices are being erected along the line in this colony".

On 21 September 1869, the Rockhampton Bulletin reported:

"We are sorry to learn that the blacks have been interfering with the operations of the contractor for erecting the telegraph line between Townsville and Cardwell. On Monday last, a cask of insulators (wardens) disappeared; also the iron of the wire barrow together with Mr. Strickland's pack saddle. On the following day the blacks burned three cases of insulators. As our informant states, this must be stopped or the extension of telegraphic communication to the Gulf will be delayed for an indefinite period. The services of the Native Police are required".

In a similar vein, the Brisbane Courier of 2 October 1869, reported that "The blacks are impeding the operations of the contractor laying the telegraph line between Cleveland Bay and Cardwell".

The Brisbane Courier of 28 December 1869 "is informed that the contractor for erecting the telegraph line between Townsville and Cardwell has nearly completed the work. The wire is now stretched to within eight miles of Cardwell and it is estimated that the remainder of the distance will be covered during the next three weeks.

The men employed on the line have been down with fever through having been camped in the unhealthy atmosphere which prevails at Dalrymple's Gap (Ed: Inland from the centre of Hinchinbrook Island). One of them died recently and six others were compelled to leave Cardwell by the Day Dawn for this place in order to recover their health.

We are not yet in possession of information with regard to the starting point chosen by the Government for the line to the Gulf of Carpentaria".

"The Townsville-Cardwell line of 110 miles cost £34 6s 1d per mile. The poles on this section were substantially built of ironbark, bloodwood and a few blue-gum poles oof the best quality, No. 8 wire has been used and Siemens amd Wradens insulators" (Cracknell Report for 1869).

To all aspects of the telegraph story, there was always a significant personal side. An example of the joy felt by both residents and the working parties is the following from the Queensland Times of 22 February 1870, in a reprinted article:

"The Cardwell correspondent of the Port Denison Times writes: I am very glad to inform you that the telegraph line was finished on the 28th December last. The measured distance from Townsville to Cardwell is 101½ miles and the most difficult portion of the line was from Dalrymple Gap where the sickness broke out among the men and nearly all of them were laid up with fever. Consequently the line took a day or so longer to complete.

I can assure you that the Cardwellites felt unbounded joy when they saw the clearing of the line by Mr. Peterson's party at the town. When the pole abreast of the temporary office at the commencement of the town was erected, the line was fixed on to the instrument and pronounced by Mr. Matveieff to be in satisfactory working order which no doubt Mr. Strickland, the contractor, who had rather an arduous task to complete, was glad to hear. Mr. Matveieff sent for the time of day from Cleveland Bay and in return we received the welcome news of the departure of the Day Dawn for this port one hour previously with our portion of the English mail.

As the poles and line continued on their route to the Government reserve, they were looked upon as a thorough boon by everyone. When abreast of the Royal Hotel, its worthy proprietor, Mr. Donald McPherson, came nobly forward and called all the party to christen it - which you may be certain met with immediate response. After sundry cheering and drinking the health of Mr. Daniel Campbell, they proceeded up the town and, at the last post, Mr. Jackes presented a red flag which was fixed on the pole and which he christened with champagne - all present joining. Afterwards they adjourned to his stores and had lunch with plenty of the "crater".


2. Which way for the line to the Gulf?

(ED: A bit of history: Charters Towers was not founded until 1872 and a Post Office opened in that year. The town was not proclaimed until 1877. The Railway arrived at the end of 1882).

On 7 April 1866: From the Cleveland Bay Herald, we (Rockhampton Bulletin) perceive that a public meeting was held at Townsville on Tuesday, the 13th instant (March?) to take into consideration the proposed vote for the electric telegraph line to the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The Chair was taken by the Police Magistrate, Mr. J. Gordon. A motion proposed by Mr. J. M. Black and seconded by Mr. Sutherland, affirmed the desirability of the line of telegraph to the Gulf being carried by way of Townsville, Dalrymple Township (Ed: NE of Charters Towers) and the Flinders River instead of via Cardwell and the Valley of Lagoons. The motion was passed, and a committee was appointed to draw up a memorial to his Excellency showing the great advantages of the line proposed over that by way of Cardwell. Robert Towns, Esq., who at the time was visiting Townsville, was requested to present the memorial to the Governor on his way to Sydney.

With reference to the respective routes, the Herald says there can be no doubt of the superiority of that by way of Dalrymple township; the character of the country offers no obstacles and the country is settled all along the line whilst, between Cardwell and Townsville along the coast, it is all waste country, very rough and the country is swarming with blacks. From the Valley of Lagoons to Burke Town the country is rugged and almost impassable. The Herald gives the following tables showing the distances by both routes :


From Townsville to Cardwell 90
Cardwell to Valley of Lagoons 110
Valley of Lagoons to Burke Town 400
Total 600


From Townsville to Dotswood 40
Dotswood to Dalrymple 21
Dalrymple to Reedy Lake 7
Reedy Lake to Southwick 23
Southwick to Nulla Nulla 30
Nulla Nulla to Cargoon 22
Cargoon to Reedy Springs 13
Reedy Springs to Mount Emu Plains 17
Mount Emu Plains to Fairlight 30
Fairlight to Albert Downs 40
Albert Downs to Marathon 10
Marathon to Richmond Downs 25
Richmond Downs to Dry Stage (Sheep Yard) 40
Dry Stage (Sheep Yard) to Blue Lagoons 30
Blue Lagoons to Henning's Lara 45
Lara to Port Bowen 15
Port Bowen to Palmer's Station 40
Palmer's Station to Clifton (Tooth's) 10
Clifton (Tooth's) to Taylor's Public House 30
Taylor's Public House to Alexandra River 30
Alexandra River to Floraville 47
Floraville to Landsborough River Company's Station
on Albert River
Landsborough River Company's Station
on Albert River to Burke Town
Total 634


The Queenslander of 19 May 1866 noted: "memorials for the extension of the telegraph line to the Gulf via the Flinders (Ed. say Hughenden) was duly presented by the Hon. Robert Towns to his Excellency the Governor on the 6th April. We are informed that his Excellency would place those important documents before his responsible advisers at the earliest opportunity". Mr. Walker (veteran explorer), Mr. Cracknell and party arrived in Townsville on 19 May 1866 and they were to take the Flinders Road to Burke Town - as requested in the memorial.

On 6 August 1866, the Northern Argus reported that "We understand that Mr. Walker and the rest of the Telegraph party left Dalrymple on Thursday week (26 July) and are making a marked tree line towards the Gulf sufficiently plain for anyone to follow their track. The party are well".

Towards the end of 1869, authority was given by the House to construct a line of electric telegraph from Rockingham Bay (Cardwell) to Normanton on the Gulf of Carpentaria. The Courier of 1 January 1870 reviewed a number of activities from the previous year - amongst them, of course, the telegraph extensions. They added:

"Under any circumstances, the telegraph to the Gulf of Carpentaria would be advisable but the necessity of constructing it has become urgent when we know that more than one English company is prepared to lay a submarine cable from Java to our northern coast and thus join us on to the system of telegraphic communication which connects nearly all the countries and colonies of the civilised world. It is probable that, in the course of time, the wealthier colonies will not be content without having lines of their own, but at present we have the start, and the transmission of the messages to and from the Southern Colonies will afford an income which, at least, will prevent the telegraphic department from being a charge upon the general revenue".

"It is not generally known that when the western Cloncurry-Tambo telegraph circuit is interrupted, the business is deflected through Junction Creek to Bowen and takes its turn over those three already heavily taxed lines (up the Cape) between that place and Bowen. This will explain why an interruption, at say Winton, delays the northern traffic" (The Queenslander of 7 December 1907).


3. Line to the west from Bowen to Charters Towers and Hughenden and north to Junction Creek.

A great deal of impetus for constructing telegraph lines and railways in this area was given by the many gold discoveries in the region. Ravenswood was the site of one of the first of these discoveries - with 62,000 ozs of gold being taken from the Ravenswood field in 1871. The Brisbane Courier of 22 February 1872 was typical of the tenor of many newpaper articles:

"A telegram which appeared in our issue of Tuesday last informs us that a new reefing country, many miles in extent, has been discovered about one hundred miles from Townsville. It is reported to be very rich and a rush has taken place from Ravenswood. Lumps of quartz richly impregnated with gold and 120 ounces of gold nuggets have been lodged in the bank at Ravenswood. More than one hundred prospecting claims have been taken up. The place is named Charters Towers. A rush from the south is anticipated".

As always, the development of a rich mining area immediately created the need for instant communications and so a line of telegraph was planned. A branch line to Ravenswood was provided for in the First Loan Bill in January 1872 - with £1,700 being allocated. On 10 February 1872, the Gazette advertised for tenders to construct the 50 mile extension of the electric telegraph line to connect Ravenswood with the line of telegraph at the Burdekin crossing (i.e. between Bowen and Townsville). That line - from Bowen to the Ravenswood Goldfields - opened on 20 August 1872. It was later extended, after public meetings requested action, to Millchester (28 November 1874) and thence to nearby Charters Towers (29 December 1874. 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 later be abandoned and dismantled.

Charters Towers - the new rush as it was called - was a major gold field. At the end of 1871, there was no-one there except for a small group of prospectors and some indigenous Australians. By February 1872, very large nuggets were being found at Charters Towers - one of them weighing one hundred and twenty-three ounces fourteen pennyweights - and the crowds of prospectors (especially from Sydney) began to descend on the area.

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

The amount of gold being extracted in the wider area was very significant as is shown in a comment in the Brisbane Courier on 20 January 1874:

"A TELEGRAM received by the Commissioner of Police states that the gold escort was to leave Georgetown on Friday last for Cardwell, via Junction Creek and Cashmere, with three thousand one hundred and forty-nine (3,149) ounces of gold and twenty-five ounces of  defaced silver coin. The chief of the escort expects to experience some difficulty in crossing the Herbert at Cashmere, as he hears the river is flooded.

A telegram from Sub-Inspector Clohesy advises the Commissioner that the escort from Charters Towers arrived at Ravenswood on Wednesday, with one thousand nine hundred and seventy-one (1,971) ounces of gold and was to start for Townsville with one thousand four hundred and nineteen ounces additional from Ravenswood; making the total amount conveyed by this escort, three thousand three hundred and ninety (3,390) ounces".

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 several years, lines need to be rewired and upgraded. A major undertaking was the rewiring of the Townsville to Charters Towers section:

The Townsville Bulletin of 12 June 1900 states that "the parties engaged in renewing the telegraph line between Charters Towers and Townsville are still going on with the erection of poles and will start wiring in about a week. The poles are now erected on the Townsville side for a distance of 41 miles which is the end of the section. The gang working from the Charters Towers end have finished their half so that, with the exception of one or two poles which to place will require some blasting and a few specially long ones at the approaches of the Burdekin bridge, this part of the work is complete. The wiring will be proceeded with carefully so as to avoid as far as possible any interruption of business".

The line to the west was later extended to Cloncurry (15 August 1883) to link with the line being constructed south from Cloncurry to Winton (see below). At that stage this was a terminating line because there was no onward line yet completed. Soon after, Cloncurry changed to become a repeater station as other terminating lines were added - 197 miles to Camooweal in February 1890 and then on to Urandangie and Carrandotta (300 miles and completed during 1891). A line was also constructed to link to Boulia from Urandangie.

As Mt. Isa was not established until the late 1920s, no Telegraph Office was contemplated until the 1930s.


The line from Winton to Hughenden and Cloncurry.

The line between Hughenden and Cloncurry passed through Richmond. It was an extension of the Charters Towers-Hughenden line.

The Charters Towers-Hughenden line became very important in the circuit when Hughenden was linked to Winton via Stamford (probably in the mid-1890s as the first reference to it is in the 1899 Annual Report). It provided important alternative routes from Tambo both to Cloncurry and to Townsville.


The line north from Winton to Cloncurry and Normanton.

A line was constructed to Winton north to Cloncurry in the first half of 1883. Concurrently - but taking much longer - was a line from Winton to Boulia. After many problems including very difficult terrain and instruments not arriving from England, the 528 mile line from Cloncurry to Boulia via Winton opened on 11 August 1884.

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 link between Cloncurry and Normanton was then planned. This major line of 240 miles to the north was constructed with a completion date of February 1899. This line provided an additional route to the Gulf and was a more direct route to the north-west than the line via Junction Creek.

The Brisbane Courier of 22 April 1887 (p.5) reported on a local meeting held on Saturday 11th February at the Landsborough Hotel at Camooweal:

"to advocate the construction of a telegraph line from Floraville to Camooweal". The Chairman had sent a memorial to the local member "to show how those outlying lines yielded a handsome return. He had also enclosed under the same cover a memo of the receipts derived from the Burketown telegraph office. He stated that during the month of January the receipts were £40 and taking a similar amount from the Normanton end and a gross receipt of £20 from the Floraville office would give a total of £100 per month irrespective of Government messages.

The length of the line would be 150 miles and the cost something like £7500.

If the Queensland Government constructed this line to Camooweal, a town within seven miles of the western boundary of the colony, the South Australian Government, by continuing the line to Tennant's Creek on the overland telegraph line, would afford the whole of the colonies a duplicate line to that point. The importance of this would be seen when it was remembered that nearly all the interruptions to communication with Europe occurred on the line south of Tennant's Creek. He also pointed out that the line would run through well-timbered country, where suitable posts could be obtained.

The meeting was of the opinion that, with a view to promote the pastoral and commercial interests of this district, the Government be urged to construct as expeditiously as possible, an electric telegraph line from Floraville to Camooweal. The line would greatly assist the merchantman of Normanton and Burketown to retain the trade across the South Australian border pointing out that just across the line were some of the finest pastoral runs in Australia".

In the Legislative Assembly of 31 August 1888, "Mr. Donaldson, in reply to Mr. Archer, said the Government would favourably consider tbe construction of a telegraph line to Camooweal and the work would be carried out with the least possible delay". On 21 October 1889, tenders were called for for the erection of Post and Telegraph offices 69-mile and 150-mile along the Camooweal telegraph line. It could be inferred that these would be repeater stations. By mid-December 1889, the section of telegraph line between Camooweal and Cloncurry - a distance of 197 miles - was nearly completed and it was expected to be ready for opening about the end of February 1890. When the line reached Camooweal and had been tested, the contractor immediately commenced constructing the line extending to Urandangi - about 150 miles further.


A Mount Isa line?

The existence of a telegraph line to Mount Isa is a vexed question. The Townsville Daily Bulletin of 6 September 1924 reported the following:

"Notwithstanding the fact that Mt. Isa could be linked up to a telephone and telegraph system merely by the erection of a line to a point twelve miles distant, connecting with the existing West Leichhardt-Camooweal line, the public are still forced to pay for a so-called telegram to Mt Isa which ceases to be a telegram at Duchess 60 miles away and may lay a couple of days at the Duchess Post Office before a car leaves for Mt. Isa which, due to the courtesy of the driver, will bring it out. It is understood that the department have authorised the construction of a line connecting Mt. Isa with the telegraph system and it is to be hoped it does not share the fate of so many public works which have been authorised and forgotten ad libitum (Ed: as often as necessary or desired)".

The Week of 16 December 1927 noted, in relation to the Duchess - Mt. Isa Railway, that "Topping of bridges In progress and bridges and grids ready for rails to 18½ miles. Telegraph line poles erected to 5 miles and in progress beyond. Preparations to put a sleeper mill at Dajarra into operation are under way". Very straight forward report. Clem Walton - born in Kadina SA and moved to Mount Isa - worked on the railway telegraph line and provides an interesting account of his life there.

On 14 January 1938 the Townsville Daily Bulletin reported that discussions were underway to determine a location for a new Post Office and that "it had been arranged with the Department to run an auxilliary mail service between Mt. Isa and Camooweal".


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 Normanton-Cloncurry-Mackay 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
N1 Rockhampton Bowen Via Nebo and Mackay
N2 Bowen Cooktown via Townsville, Charters Towers and Junction Creek.
N3 Bowen Normanton via Clare, Ravenswood, Charters Towers and Junction Creek.
N4 Bowen Muttaburra via Clare, Townsville, Charters Towers, Hughenden, Tangorin
N6 Karumba Croydon via Normanton
N7 Townsville Geraldton (Innisfail)  
N8 Clare Cape Bowling Green via Ayr
N9 Junction Creek Burketown via Normanton
N12 Bowen Charters Towers via Clare and Ravenswood
N13 Townsville Hughenden looped into Ravenswood
N14 Ingham Lucinda  
N16 Bowen Townsville  
N17 Magnetic Island Cape Cleveland via Townsville
S17 Tambo Normanton via Barcaldine, Muttaburra, Winton and Cloncurry.
N18 Hughenden Richmond Downs  
N19 Mackay Eton  
N24 Charters Towers Racecourse  
N25 Townsville Charters Towers along railway
S26 Tambo Ravenswood via Springsure and Clermont
S27 Boulia Urandangie via Cloncurry and Camooweal
S38 Rockhampton Bowen via Mount Morgan, Emerald, Clermont and Nebo
S54 Emerald Longreach  

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