Arguments for the line from the coast to the Gulf of Carpentaria.

 Northern Argus, Rockhampton.
May 1866.

The absence of precise and reliable information might be reasonably urged as a justification of the Government in making Cardwell rather than Cleveland Bay (i.e. Townsville) the starting point for the telegraph line to the Gulf of Carpentaria. But when information of the most positive kind is offered to the Government, clearly establishing the superiority of the route from Cleveland Bay to the head of the Flinders, no excuse is left for persisting in carrying out the former line.

We will not say that the Cardwell route passing through the Valley of Lagoons, in which locality the late Colonial Secretary, Mr. Herbert, is reported to be largely interested in squatting pursuits, was selected through any private bear in any quarter whatever. Such things, however, have happened in all ages. And even at the present day in Queensland, the pure and high toned railways run in ministerial curves, and roads and bridges are found in suspicious propinquity to official allotments.

A memorial has been forwarded to the Government from the Cleveland Bay and Flinders districts, praying that the proposed government route to the Gulf for the telegraph should be changed. In July last, when the question of telegraphic extension was under consideration, the general feeling of parliament was opposed to continuing the coast line. At that time, a sum of £6000 having been voted for the line from Rockhampton to Clermont, leaving £30,000 for extension to the Gulf, we were in favour of pushing the line from that point direct to the Gulf.

Mr. Cracknell then recommended that Bowen should be made the starting point. Since then two more Northern ports - Cleveland Bay and Cardwell - have competed for the honour and the Government, under the Herbert Administration, selected Cardwell. As there is no immediate prospect that the Clermont route to the Gulf will be entertained, we will confine ourselves to the consideration of the two rival routes and an examination of both leads us to conclude without any hesitation that the selection of Cardwell and the Valley of Lagoons by the late Government was a huge blunder, if not something worse, and that they cannot persist in that blunder without incurring the censure of the country.

The line from Cardwell passes over two or three hundred miles of country, which the best authorities unite in pronouncing as unfit for occupation of any kind - country in fact practically uninhabitable. Travellers have passed over it and have declared that it was like Dan to Beersheba - all barren, unfit for anything, a weak, sandy soil, covered with spinifiex, and full of broken country; so deadly is its character that notices are actually stuck up, warning bullock-drivers to chain up their bullocks during certain stages to prevent their feeding on the poisoned herbage, which alone is found through almost the whole extent of three hundred miles of country due west of the Valley of Lagoons - the seat of Mr. Herbert's pastoral pursuits.

Those pioneers who have seen and examined the two lines of country, when open for occupation, have shown by their selection of country along the Flinders, their estimation of the poverty of the country now selected by the Government for the telegraph line. It must not be forgotten that this line, after leaving the Valley of Lagoons, passes through country perfectly unoccupied and certain to remain so. It strikes the country low down between the Norman and the Flinders, whereas the route from Cleveland Bay would pass through occupied country the whole way to Burketown. In fact, there is a highway of stations from the head waters of the Flinders to the port and, as towns and population will naturally spring up along this line, it possesses a claim to preference which the Cardwell route, from the uninhabitable nature of the country, can never under any circumstances acquire.

This was not forgotten in the construction of other lines of telegraph. The probable centres of population, ceteris paribus,were points always selected as being the greatest sources of future revenue by using the telegraphic lines and also providing depots for material for the repairs of the line.

The Cardwell route - striking due west from the Valley of Lagoons over broken and impracticable country - will never offer any chances of revenue and, should any breakdown occur, not only material for effecting repairs must be carted hundreds of miles but provisions also - and with perhaps a few deaths from starvation on the road. The Cardwell route has not even the poor recommendation of being the shorter of the two and, even if it were, the tremendous disadvantages of a permanent and insuperable character under which it labors, must to the minds of all imperial judges prove conclusively its unfitness for a telegraphic line to the Gulf.

There is one advantage certainly possessed by the Cardwell route - duly appreciated, no doubt, by the owner of the Valley of Lagoons station and enterprising teamsters by that line - that when their bullocks die off on the prison track, the telegraph will enable them to get fresh teams from the South and thus, in the course of time, a brisk trade may be created for the North, in the interests of humanity and the owners of the Valley of Lagoons.

We trust, however, that our government will not be influenced by those strong reasons to sanction the Cardwell route - the adoption of which was a blunder from the first and no artificial means can overcome the difficulties nature herself has placed in the way. The memorial presented by the people of Cleveland Bay is supported by all the squatters from there to the Gulf. The route it recommends is that followed by all drovers on their way to the Gulf. It is cheaper in the long run than the other, runs through a country which in time will be densely populated and therefore must commend itself to the consideration of the Government as the only sensible route to be adopted.

Now that the influence which is supposed to have gained a preference for the Cardwell route is removed from the Government and that the really best line will receive impartial consideration from the Executive, we cannot suppose that they will refuse to grant the prayer of the memorial and lay the line where experience has pronounced it can be of any service to the country - from Cardwell to the head-waters of the Flinders and along its banks to Burketown.

Line was 393 miles and opened on 3 January 1872. Cracknell argued it was not just to serve the significant pastoral and agricultural capabilities but also "northern Queensland is rich in mineral resources to a degree in value, variety and extent certain to speedily attract both population and capital. Circumstances of position and distance render the means of prompt communication between the outlying districts in the direction of the seat of Government of special desirability. " Other details in Argus 26 April 1872 p. 6.


At the beginning of April 1870, the 400 mile Cardwell-Normanton line was the only one being constructed.

Cracknell Report on 1868 (April 1870): "On the 9th of June last, resolutions passed the Legislative Council, and were confirmed by the Legislative Assembly in the following month, to the effect that a line of telegraph should be constructed from Cardwell to the settlements on the Gulf of Carpentaria with the least possible delay. Tenders were therefore invited for this extension, in two sections, early in the following September, and accepted by the Government in December. Before completing the necessary bonds, however, the contractor for the Normanton section refused to proceed with the work, consequently, fresh tenders were called for and arrangements entered into for carrying out the work, on the 28th of Februury last.

The contractors for both sections have had considerable experience in building lines in this colony, and I have every reason to believe will complete the work within the specified time - namely, twelve months after the notification of the acceptance of the tenders. The specification for the work provides for the formation of a bridie track six foot in width, within the clearing, throughout the entire section,which will be found very useful by line-repairers and travellers on this route.

Starting from Cardwell, the line will follow a westerly course for thirteen miles through good open forest country, to the foot of the Coast Range, crossing by the newly discovered route at a point less elevated than Seaview Range, thence south of Mount Lang via Cassidy's head station to the Etheridge River, the proposed junction of the two contracts. The line throughout will be carried as direct as the nature of the country will permit, due attention being paid where possible to the requirements of future roads. If found necessary, it is proposed to contruct a branch from the nearest point on the main line to the principal township on the Gilbert gold fields, which will be far preferable and less expensive, than carrying the main line so far south as the present temporary township.

Arrangements have also been entered into for erecting inexpensive wooden station buildings on the Cardwell and Normanton sections. They will be placed in suitable localities, and from 65 to 70 miles apart.

I may observe that the completion of the Gulf extension will not only prove of great utility in placing the present remote settlements at Carpentaria and the Gilbert goldfields, in direct communication with the various centres of business in this and the neighboring colonies, but will be a great step towards placing Australia and New Zealand in telegraphic connection with India and Europe.


Cracknell Rept May 1871:

Owing to the death of the contractor for the eastern section of the Gulf extension, and the scarcity of timber suitable for poles between the Gilbert and Norman, the works on this line have not progressed so rapidly as was at first supposed.

As the sureties were unable to carry out the contract, tenders were again invited for the construction of the eastern section, but without success. The Government have therefore been compelled to make arrangements for completing the work, which is now being rapidly proceeded with under the immediate management of Mr. Macmillan of the Roads Department.

The works on the western section have been carried out as for as practicable, until the arrival of iron poles required to complete the line in the locality of the Norman where sound timber cannot be obtained. Those poles will be shortly due, and should nothing occur to delay their arrival, I have even reason to believe that communication will be established with Carpentaria early in August (1871) next. The amount voted for this line will probably be exceeded by the cost of the iron poles necessary for its completion, as they were not provided for owing to sufficient timber having been reported available for construction purposes when the estimate was framed.

The Queenslander 7 October 1871:
MR. CRACKNELL, the Superintendent of Telegraphs, returned from his inspection of the line between Cardwell and Normanton on Wednesday. His trip extended over a distance of some 3000 miles and was performed under two months. We understand that he is perfectly satisfied with the construction of the line and anticipates that it will be worked without trouble and cost little for repairs.

Its total length is 393 miles and it is cleared throughout, and wooden poles are erected with the exception of 193 miles from the shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria, where the absence of suitable timber renders iron posts necessary. These are on their way to Normanton and, eight weeks after their arrival, the line will be completed if the weather is favorable - the post-holes being already dug for their reception.

The station buildings at Cashmere, Junction Creek, Etheridge River and Normanton have been finished and are occupied by the officers in charge. The buildings at Gilbert River, Carron Creek and Sandy Point are in progress and will be completed within eight weeks from the present time.

Mr. Cracknell left Brisbane by the Black Swan on August 9 and arrived at Cardwell on the 18th. There was a detention of three days at Wide Bay and the vessel touched at Gladstone, Bowen and Townsville. He started on horseback for Normanton on the afternoon of the 19th, accompanied by Mr. Macmillan, who superintended the construction of the Eastern section, and Mr. Mullen, the line-repairer in charge of the station at the mouth of the Norman River.

The following notes of the stages made we have been allowed to extract from the rough itinerary kept by Mr.Cracknell:

August 19: the party camped at the telegraph tent at the foot of the Range.

August 20: Started from the tent at 10.30 a.m., crossed the Range and arrived at Taylor's Camp west of the scrub, 21 miles from Cardwell, at 5 p.m. and camped.

21st.—Started from camp at 7 a.m., followed the line and arrived at Cashmere at 8 p.m.

22nd.—Started at 10.30, and arrived at the native wells, twenty miles west of Cashmere at 4.30, Mount Lang bearing S.S.W. about fourteen miles. At 10 o'clock at night the blacks set fire to the grass a quarter of a mile to the windward of the camp.

23rd.—Left at 8 a.m., and camped 17 miles east of Junction Creek at 7 p.m. Ascended in the afternoon to the top of Mount Campbell, where an extensive view, magnificent in the extreme, was obtained of the surrounding country. Mounts Emma and Eliza [named by Mr. Macmillan after Mr. Cracknell's daughters] bearing S.E. at a distance of about 10 miles.

24th.—Started at 8 a.m., and arrived at the Telegraph Office, Junction Creek, at 2 p.m., when messages were sent by the wire to Bowen, Brisbane, and Sydney.

25th.—Left Junction Creek at 7.30 a.m., and camped at Eva Creek, 27 miles W., at 6 p.m. A tree was found here marked A†M over 6, cut with a sharp instrument.

26th.—Starting at 7 a.m., crossed Ada Creek at 8.30. At noon passed a tree at the eastern foot of Newcastle Range marked CVIII (the mark apparently about seven years old). Arrived at the main camp 5 miles E. of the Etheridge Office at 5 p.m.

27th.—Arrived at the Etheridge at 11 am. after a two hours journey. Waited for fresh horses and started for Normanton at 4.30 p.m., camping on the line 16 miles west of the Etheridge.

28th.—Left at 7 a.m., and camped on the River Gilbert, 35 miles from the Etheridge, at 4 p.m.

29th.—Left at 7 a.m., and camped on the line 53 miles from the Etheridge at 11.30 a.m. Started from camp again at 7 p.m.

30th.—Camped 84 miles W. of the Etheridge at 3.20 a.m. Started again at 9, and camped 104 miles from the Etheridge at 3 p.m. During the evening the blacks fired the grass about 300 yards to the windward of the camp and destroyed the grass that was depended upon for the horses.

31st.—Started at 5.30 a.m. and camped 76 miles from Normanton at 10.30 a.m. Left again at 5 p.m. and camped 65 miles from Normanton at 10 p.m.

September 1.—Started at 6 p.m. and camped  35 miles (by road) from Normanton at 3.30p.m.

2nd.—Left at 2.30 a.m. and reached Normanton at 6.30 p.m.

3rd.—At Normanton.

4th.—Went in Mr. Bailey's four-oared gig to inspect the site chosen by Mr. Creen for an office at the Norman River Heads. Proceeded 30 miles down the river and camped on the north bank at 11 p.m.

5th.—Started from camp at 6 a.m., and proceeded down the river. At 8 a.m., two blacks carrying pieces of wood came out of the mangroves close to the boat and the unexpected sight made them decamp in great fright. Half-an-hour afterwards, a blackfellow hailed the boat at the same time throwing up his arms above his head and doing all in his power to induce the party to land. He declined an invitation to come on board and, after the boat proceeded, was joined by several other blacks, who seemed to be much disappointed at the request of the first one not having been complied with. Arrived at Sandy Point, 53 miles from Normanton by water, at 2 p.m. Mr.Cracknell inspected portions of the line and approved of the site selected for the Telegraph Station. Being situated on the highest land in the locality, it commands an extensive view of the offing and of the entrance to the Norman River. At 4 p.m. started on return to Normanton and, after camping for a couple of hours for tea, the passage up river was resumed. A large alligator, from 22 to 25 feet in length, was seen on a mud bank in the afternoon, apparently catching flies. On seeing the boat, when about 60 yards off, it leisurely made for the water, quietly sinking below the surface without leaving a ripple.

6th.—Saw another alligator, about 18 feet in length, 70 yards from the boat. After rowing all night, arrived at Normanton at 9.30 a.m.

7th.—Started from Normanton, on the return journey, at 4 p.m., and camped on the line ten miles out.

8th.—Left at 8 a.m., and camped at Rocky Creek, 12 miles east of Carron Creek Road crossing at 8.30 p.m.

9th.—Left at 8.30 a.m., and camped at Francis Lagoon at 5 p.m.

10th.—Started at 7 a.m. Passed the site for the Carron Creek station at 11 a.m., and camped at 5.30 p.m. on Carron Creek, 86 miles by the line from Normanton. 11th.—Started at 7.30 a.m., and camped at Woolley's Lagoon, 118 miles by line from Normanton at 5 p.m.

12th.—Left at 7.30 a.m. and camped on the  Gilbert River, 143 miles from Normanton, at 5 p.m.

13th.—Started at 7 a.m., followed the line and arrived at the Telegraph Office at George Town (Etheridge), at 5.30 p.m.

14th.—Left at 10.30 a.m., and camped 26 miles east of George Town at 8 p.m.

15th.—Started at 5.30, and arrived at the office at Junction Creek (Rosella Plains) at 6.15p.m.

16th.—At Junction Creek.17th.—Started at 1 p.m., and camped 100  miles west of Cardwell at 6 p.m.

18th.—Started at 8 a.m., and camped at Mineral Springs, 23 miles west of Cashmere, at 5.30 p.m.

19th.—Started at 8 a.m., and arrived at Cashmere at 4.30 p.m.

20th.—Started from Cashmere at 8.30 and  camped 23 miles west of Cardwell at 5.30 p.m. Numerous fresh tracks of blacks and lately broken pandanus were seen at the crossing of Blencoe Creek.

21st.—Started at 8 a.m., crossed the Range and arrived at Cardwell at 8.30 p.m.

On the 22nd and 23rd, Mr. Cracknell remained at Cardwell and, finding that the steamer, then at Cleveland Bay, would proceed no farther north, at 9 o'clock on the evening of the 23rd he left by the pilot boat, passed through Rockingham Channel at 9 a.m.; passed Great Palm Island at 3 p.m.; Rattlesnake Island at 6.30 p.m., and anchored under Magnetic Island at 11 p.m., an hour after the steamer had left for Brisbane. His arrival was expected and the lights of the steamer and two rockets thrown up from her were seen from the boats and five or six carbine shots were fired in reply; but the latter appear to have been taken for blacks fires on one of the islands. Mr. Cracknell landed at Townsville on the morning of the 25th, and sailed for Brisbane the same afternoon in the schooner Princess Alexandra, which made a fine run, anchoring off the Yellow Patch at 8 p.m. on the 2nd instant.