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


The Central section of Queensland is defined here as being the region from but not including Rockhampton at the 23th parallel to Cardwell at the 18th parallel from the east coast line to the western border.

After the first line to the north had been constructed to Bowen, lines began to be constructed to the west. One of these lines was directed to the Gulf line and is discussed elsewhere.

The first line to the west in this central section was from Clermont and it linked to Mackay via Fort Cooper (Nebo). Soon after, that line was extended south to Emerald and then to Springsure (2 April 1872 - which was about 9 years after the Cullin-La-Ringo massacre).

Almost immediately it was discovered that the insulation on the lines was impaired by undergrowth touching the wire at points on the line between Cardwell and 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, more especially in the coastal districts of tropical Queensland, where the growth of vegetation is so luxuriant and rapid.

A second line to the west was opened from Bowen to the Ravenswood Goldfields on 20 August 1872. That line was later extended, after public meetings requested action, to Millchester (28 November 1874) and thence to nearby Charters Towers (29 December 1874).

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 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".

The Charters Towers-Hughenden line became very important in the circuit when Hughenden was linked to Winton (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 to the west was later extended to Cloncurry (15 August 1883) and at that stage it was a terminating line. Later Cloncurry changed to a repeater station when other terminating lines were added - to Camooweal and then on to Carrandotta (300 miles and completed during 1891) and also to Boulia via Urandangie. As Mt. Isa was not established until the late 1920s, no Telegraph Office was contemplated until the 1930s. Another major line of 240 miles to the north from Cloncurry to Normanton 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 lines constructed from the south into the central region can be regarded as beginning at Tambo - the major centre in the north and west region. The line ran north from Tambo to Blackall (8 April 1877) and then through where Balcaldine was later situated (see the base of the map above). The line 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.

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".

Summary

Each line ran between two nominated places - often two adjacent lines running for miles before diverging to their respective destinations.

A summary of the lines constructed in the Central region before Federation together with their line numbers is presented in the following table.

Line # From To Note
4 Bowen Muttaburra via Clare, Townsville, Charters Towers, Hughenden, Tangorin
9 Junction Creek Burketown via Normanton
12 Bowen Charters Towers via Clare and Ravenswood
13 Townsville Hughenden looped into Ravenswood
17 Tambo Normanton via Barcaldine, Muttaburra, Winton and Cloncurry.
18 Hughenden Richmond  
20 Cairns Railway Mareeba  
22 Herberton Montalbion  
25 Townsville Charters Towers along railway
       
54 Emerald Longreach