Gippsland lines - the Bairnsdale Branch to Sale and Omeo.


The following lines are discussed on this page:

1: The extension from Sale to Bairnsdale.

1.1 Stratford.
1.2 Maffra.

2: Immediate lines from Bairnsdale.

2.1 Bruthen.

2,2 Buchan.

2.3 Paynesville.

2.4: Lake's Entrance (Cunningham).

3: Lines to Omeo.

4: Lines east from Lake's Entrance to the Snowy River.

5: Beyond the Snowy River.

6. Gabo Island.


1: The extension from Sale to Bairnsdale.

In his Report for 1865, McGowan recommended that a 43 mile branch line be constructed from Sale to Bairnsdale in 1866. It was planned as a precursor to the Gippsland Line.

This work was to be the only extension of communication in the Victorian Colony during 1866. The extension was however suspended in 1867 but the survey for the route was completed and the positioning for the poles was fixed.

  This line continues as
the Corowa Line - southern component.
This line continues west as the Gippsland line.  
This line continues east from Lakes Entrance as the Gippsland - Lakes Entrance to Snowy River and Mallacoota.

Construction of the line from Sale to Bairnsdale recommenced in early 1869 when the cost had been added to the expenditure. In January Mr. Alfred Chitts was awarded the tender for the construction of the telegraph line between Sale and Bairnsdale for the amount of £1,380 2s of which £1,097 was to be charged against the 1868 vote. Although more information cannot be found, the Gazette of 2 April 1869 listed "remaining portion of contract for constructing telegraph line between Sale and Bairnsdale, £283 2s., Alfred Chitts". By mid-January, Gipsland Times was abl to report that "the work of erecting the line of telegraph from Sale to Bairnsdale has been commenced. The posts are now deposited at regular intervals along the route commencing at the Telegraph Office and extending up Raymond Street along the Stratford Road. The excavations are also being made".

By 11 May 1869, the Gippsland Times reported that, in regards to "the telegraph line, I hear that Mr Chitts is energetically pushing on towards Bairnsdale and I believe in two months the line will be in working order. When it is completed, we certainly must have the necessary attendant in red viz., a postman. This privilege has been granted other towns long before they were so far advanced as this". Construction of the branch line from Sale was completed later in that same year and the Bairnsdale Telegraph Office opened in July 1869.

On 13 August 1867, a committee at Bairnsdale wrote to the Minister of Public Works "representing the desirability of grubbing, instead of felling trees when constructing new lines of telegraph. The Minister replied to the request by stating that, in preparing the text specification for the construction of a line of telegraph, steps will be taken to ascertain how far the suggestions can be adopted".
(Ed: Grubbing is the approach wherein all unwanted vegetative matter from underground (eg roots, stumps, etc) are removed)).


The line constructed to Bairnsdale passed through Stratford. It took four years of public meetings and disagreements combined with demonstrated reluctance on the part of the authorities in Melbourne before a Post and Telegraph Office could be agreed to. At last, on 12 December 1872, the Gippsland Times was able to report a positive development: "A communication was received at Stratford on Tuesday evening from Melbourne stating that the request of the inhabitants of that township to have a Telegraph and Post Office there has been acceded to and that tenders for the erection of the building would be called for forthwith".

On 13 February 1873, the Gippsland Times noted "The building for the Post and Telegraph Offices in course of erection at Stratford is now nearly completed and adds an improved appearance to the part of the town in which it is situated. It is expected that the office will be fit for use in about six weeks time. When in full working order, the telegraph will prove a great boon to the residents of Stratford and its neighbourhood". The offices were opened on 26 May 1873.


The Maffra Branch.

After the opening of the Stratford Post and Telegraph Office, the people at Maffra (west of Stratford) began agitating for a branch line west from Stratford to their place. On 25 March 1873, the Gippsland Times reported "Maffra it seems is not going to be behind Stratford in the matter of Telegraph and Post office as I hear a petition for one is being got up. I see no reason why it should be refused and so I expect we shall get it some of those fine days". By that stage, both areas needed access to rapid communications because of their high quality cheese production requiring access to markets in Melbourne and elsewhere in the Colony.

Progress was not however going well. The Gippsland Times of 14 October 1873 summarised local Maffra attitudes as follows:

"For some time past, there has been a growing desire for a Post and Telegraph office. No action has been taken owing to the general esteem in which the present Postmaster is held and all shrink from even the semblance of opposition to this popular gentleman. Of his urbanity and attention there can be but one opinion; but the public good must always be considered superior to private benefit.

I could cite numerous cases where delay and anxiety or expense would have been obviated had we (in Maffra) possessed the magic wires. The advantages and necessity of this rapid means of communication are too evident to require any illustration. By the statistical scheme of allotment adopted by the Post and Telegraph department and the policy it pursues, we are entitled to these benefits and would obtain them with but little difficulty. The townsfolk will eventually, no doubt, consider that, if Stratford is provided with these offices, they too should enjoy them; but I am confident that whatever action may be taken, it will not be done with any spirit but that most commendable one, whose aim is to secure the greatest good to the greatest number".

Hopes were dashed when, in January 1874, the application from the residents of Maffra for a Telegraph Office was rejected.

"The department curtly negatives our request. It is significant that no reason is vouchsafed for this refusal and departure from the well-known policy of the office, which for many years has always been ready to establish telegraph offices in small and distant communities ... However Maffra bids fair to elevate its bristles and its "dander" has "riz" to an extent surprising to one who knows its philosophic indifference to such a disappointment ... The ratepayers, if they really desire the benefits of telegraphic extension, should agitate this matter vigorously and it is more than probable, if our position is represented in its proper light, that success will crown their efforts"
(Gippsland Times 20 January 1874).

An energetic committee met the following month and noted "The one examination which must decide the postal heads, namely, that of finance, cannot but prove our right to the boon, since our population and the extensive district around us will, without doubt, render the office at least self supporting ... There is every indication that ere long I will be able to chronicle the completion by the government of definite arrangements to supply us not only with the magic wire but a commodious and substantial office for mails".

The Gippsland Times reported:


2: Immediate lines from Bairnsdale.

On 30 April 1877, the Gippsland Times proffered a comment on the financing of a line to the east of Bairnsdale:

"Regarding the extension of the telegraph wires to the Lakes' Entrance, Sir Gavan Duffy writes the following note to the Chairman of his Sale committee, under date April 23rd:
"As the estimates are generally prepared about this time of the year, I thought it better to see the Treasurer on the subject of the extension of telegraph to the Lakes' Entrance. He was disposed to consider the subject favorably. The chief difficulty that struck him was that the line would yield no income as there would be only a few messages from the two ends and no intermediate ones. If the Borough Council will prepare a statement of the various grounds on which this extension is justifiable, I will urge it on the Treasurer anew. If you concur in the advisability of this suggestion, the sooner it is acted on the better as the estimates are always prepared before the opening of Parliament and proposals of this character rest on official documents in case they should be called in question.
Faithfully yours, C. GAVAN DUFFY.

To George Ross, Esq., J. P.:" We submit that this is a question which Government is bound to entertain apart from revenue present or prospective. The fact that a large number of vessels carrying passengers and merchandise are constantly trading between Melbourne and Sale and that the entrance to the Lakes is sometimes of a dangerous character and should be sufficient to warrant any reasonable outlay for the preservation of life and property. The Courier states that in constructing the line, it would have to go via Bruthen where a payable telegraph office could be maintained in conjunction with the post office there. Bruthen is on the Omeo Road and is situated eighteen miles from the Entrance and the line to that distance would form a portion of the telegraph line to Omeo. Therefore, although for a short time perhaps, it might not prove monetarily a profitable undertaking, it may fairly be believed that it would return the working expenses. Then again the line to Bruthen would pass through the townships of Lucknow and Sarsfield - situated three and eight miles respectively from Bairnsdale, each of which, at no very distant date, will require a Post and Telegraph office".


In mid-1877, there was increasing discussion and agitation for a line from Bairnsdale to Bruthen, then north to Omeo and south to Lake's Entrance. For example in May, the Bairnsdale Advertiser noted "The proposed selection of the Bruthen route dispenses at once with the Treasurer's difficulty in regard to the lack of intermediate messages. Very little short of 15,000 head of cattle and 500 horses passed through Bruthen from Manaro and Omeo during the year ending on the 31st of March. This will give some idea of the extent of the interest to be accommodated by the selection of the Bruthen route".

Soon after, on 28 May 1877, The Argus reported:

"A deputation representing the Maffra and Avon Shire Councils and the Gippsland Steam Navigation Company was introduced to the Postmaster-General on Saturday by Mr F. L. Smyth, M.L.A. for the purpose of urging the necessity of extending the electric telegraph to the entrance of the Gippsland Lakes. At present the telegraph extends to Bairnsdale and the extension now asked for was from Bairnsdale to Bruthen and thence to the Lakes' Entrance or altogether a distance of under 35 miles. It was urged in support of the application - which had been frequently brought before previous Governments but had never been finally dealt with - that the shipping trade between Melbourne and Gipps Land had been rapidly increasing for a long time past while, owing to the want of telegraphic communication with the entrance to the lakes, no speedy intelligence could be transmitted of any casualty which might occur to a vessel at the dangerous bar across the entrance, so that great loss of life might ensue before a steamer could be despatched to the rescue.

The cost of carrying out the work asked for was estimated to be between £1,500 and £2,000. Mr Lalor said he could not give any definite answer to the application at present but he would take the matter into his favourable consideration and, in the mean time, he would instruct the Deputy Postmaster-General to communicate with the Lands Department to ascertain the extent of settlement in the district and the population which would be served by the extension of the telegraph requested".

Only 16 months later, the Mount Alexander Mail of 14 September 1878 reported that "The Postmaster-General today has given his consent to a telegraph line of communication being constructed from Sale to the entrance of the Gippsland Lakes via Bruthen. The necessity of this is apparent from the interruptions arising by the frequency of wrecks and the difficulty of communicating with the metropolis. This was particularly instanced at the loss of the steamship Rosedale. The deputation which brought the subject under the notice of the Minister was introduced by Mr. F. L. Smyth, M.L.A.". This statement hence laid the plan for extensions from Bairnsdale - first being the 16 mile line to Bruthen. On 28 November 1878, the Ovens and Murray Advertiser updated the position with: "The telegraph line from Bairnsdale to Omeo is now being surveyed and Mr Allan, the surveyor, expects to be finished by about January next. This will be a great boon when we get it as at present we have virtually but one mail a week from Melbourne. There was a great agitation some time since for a second mail via Bairnsdale but, like everything else that would prove beneficial to the place, it has been allowed to fall into the back ground".


2.1: To Bruthen.

In 1879, the Gippsland Times announced that:

The Telegraph Office at Bruthen opened in May 1880.


2.2: To Buchan

The Tambo Shire Council, at its meeting of 1 September 1882, received papers relative to the proposed telegraph lines to Buchan and the Snowy River (i.e. Orbost and Marlo). On 4 May 1883, the Council met with the Postmaster-General who stated that "as to telegraph extension to Buchan, the Snowy River and Bendoc, the Minister would make no definite promise further than to say that he would consider the matter in connection with a through line to New South Wales". On 4 April 1884, the Council noted letters to local members of the Assembly (Mr. A. McLean and Mr A. Harris M.L.A.) who had both received letters from the Post and Telegraph Department informing them that "a survey for a telegraph line to Buchan would be made when funds are available"..

By mid-February 1885, a new Post and Telegraph Office in Buchan was nearing completion and it was hoped the telegraph line from Bairnsdale to Buchan would be connected in early March. Certainly in March the contractor was asked to remove felled timber from the road but that argument went on for a couple of months. In any event, the telegraph line was finally extended to Buchan and the telegraph office opened at the beginning of May 1885.


2.3: To Paynesville

In June 1884, the Surveyor-General had been requested to have the telegraph line to Paynesville carried along the western side of the road, instead of along the side of the river. Guarantees were provided by four citizens in September. By October 1884, construction of a telegraph line between Bairnsdale and Paynesville was about to commence and the Post and Telegraph Department advertised for tenders for the work. Tenders had to be submitted by noon on Tuesday, November 11 and were to be accompanied by a preliminary deposit of £10. In December the contract submitted by J. McCallum was accepted for £192 1s.

The Telegraph Office opened on 1 May 1885.


2.4: Lakes Entrance (Cunningham) to Bruthen.

Erecting the telegraph to the Omeo.

Magnificent and illuminative engraving from a pen and pencil drawing printed in
The Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil, 30 August 1879, p. 85.

The descriptive and insightful comment provided on page 87 of that Journal is reproduced:

Our illustration depicts the formation of the line of telegraph, now being constructed to Omeo. To elucidate the engraving, we cannot do better than quote from a recent article in The Australasian descriptive of the country through which the line is passing. The writer says:

From Cunningham, at the Lakes Entrance, to Bruthen is only about 18 miles but the variety of soil is great and the forest scenery ever changing. The old forest track winds and twists several hundreds of times one way and the other in this short distance, keeping as nearly as may be the top of the ridge which commences to ascend at a distance of about half a mile from the entrance, finally attaining an altitude of about 1,800ft. when 12 miles inland and then it becomes comparatively level and continues so to Bruthen.

Along this track the new telegraph line is now being constructed and as the old track on the ridge has been followed, the angles in the line are numerous but at places there are straight runs of about half a mile or so. To look along the 80ft. opening made in the forest by the contractors' men is to see a very pretty sight. In any such half mile the opening gradually seems to close, like two huge walls 150ft. or 200ft. high. Such is the care taken to have all growing timber that overhangs into the clearing cut down or lopped away that the two sides resemble a gigantic straight hedgerow.

When the timber is all removed from the 80ft. now being cleared by the contractors for the electric telegraph, an excellent road formation could be made at a trifling expense. The sun will soon harden the ground sufficiently to admit of drays passing over it in safety. As the survey has evidently been made with the view of using the clearing for road purposes, it follows the easiest route as to rise and fall while at the same time the present track distance is considerably reduced between Bruthen and Cunningham. When this is done, there will soon be selection and trade will follow.

The timber consists of honeysuckle on the borders of the lake behind which is a belt of ti-tree, then another belt of stunted gums — boxwood and apple-tree box. As the land rises, the timber becomes more and more dense until the foliage almost entirely excludes the sun's rays. The forest commences on the ridge and its timber consists principally of blue, white and swamp gum box, ironbark and mountain ash. There are many kangaroos, bears, monkey-bears, etc to be had for the trouble of getting. Some of the kangaroos are very large and, in wet weather, allow anyone to go very near to them before moving off — so near, indeed, as to make it necessary sometimes for the traveller to call out and startle them away. Numerous parrots, cockatoos, pigeons and birds of all kinds known to the bush flit about in all directions but, while they may be heard in the forest, it is only on the outskirts or near the cutting they can be seen. Their plumage is something gorgeous. When the axes of the working party are quiet, there is a peculiar stillness in this dense forest broken, at long intervals apart, by the scream of a cockatoo or parrot, the slap of the tail of a kangaroo on the ground as he leaps along or, in the absence of these, the hum of innumerable wild bees.

Gipps Land is famed for its honey and this part of it is said to be the very best for bee-hunters. When the men are at work, the ring of many axes makes a pleasant sound and the falling of the great trees every now and then comes in with stunning, crashing, booming effect, saying not a little for the wonderful power of man's efforts in the overcoming of natural difficulties. In this respect the difficulties presented to the ordinary observer are not a few, the chief one being the taking down and clearing away of many thousands of stately forest trees. The ironbark grows to perfection in these ranges and it seems a pity to cut down this timber for no purpose beyond clearing the way for the telegraph".

An easy interpretation of the line construction is that, as the line from Bairnsdale was being constructed to reach Bruthen, a line to Lake's Entrance would start at Bruthen. The above description reverses that approach in favour of the easier construction from Lake's Entrance - all supplies could be more easily offloaded from the Port. The two lines to Bruthen were being (approximately) constructed concurrently as the Telegraph Office at Lake's Entrance opened as Cunninghame in October 1879 - that at Bruthen opened in May 1880.


To the North West

On 4 December 1886, the Bairnsdale Advertiser reported "the telegraph line to Lindenow is now open to the service of the public" - Lindenow is about 2 miles north west of Bairnsdale along the road to Dargo. In preparation for the line, it was planned to house the Telegraph Office in the Post Office BUT "A number of the residents of Lindenow object to the avowed intention of removing the Post and Telegraph office to Mr. Bustorff's new store and are forwarding a petition to the department protesting against the contemplated alteration of the site. The memorialists state that the present situation is the most convenient to the majority of the residents and likewise urge that vested interests have sprung up around consequent on it being understood the site had been permanently fixed. They further direct attention to the fact that the school, public library and other such buildings have been erected in the vicinity of the post office and consequently it would be manifestly unfair to effect any change. It is likewise pointed out that it would be inexpedient to take the Post Office a mile nearer to the one established at Upper Coongalmerang. We understand that the memorial has been numerously signed and will be forwarded to the authorities tomorrow - the council, at the suggestion of Cr. Ross, having taken charge of it" (Bairnsdale Advertiser 26 August 1886). No other details are to hand - but in April 1888, the Telegraph Office was at Mr. Bustorff's store.

In the cyclonic storm which hit eastern Gippsland in March 1911, "The Bullumwaal and Bruthen telegraph lines came down in different places and communication with Omeo and Orbost was also interrupted. The Melbourne lines were also unusable until about 8 o'clock in the evening when one line was made workable. At Lindenow and Lucknow a number of poles are down and near the Bairnsdale wharf the line was down. All the repairers were out yesterday working hard to get the lines into a usable condition" (Bairnsdale Advertiser 9 March 1911). (Ed. note: Boggy Creek was renamed to Bulumwaal in 1871).


3: Lines to Omeo.

The discussion in this section references the map above in Section 3.1.

The first requests for a line to be extended from Bairnsdale via Bruthen to Omeo were based on the isolation of the area. For example, the Ovens and Murray Advertiser of 31 May 1877 (before the line to Bruthen had been constructed) was one of a number of newspapers which reported on a deputation to the Chief Secretary and the Postmaster General:

"urging the Government to extend the telegraph line from Bairnsdale to Omeo. The deputation was introduced by Mr. F. L. Smyth, M.L.A., and Mr. D. P. Keogh. It was strongly urged that telegraph communication should be extended to Omeo via Bairnsdale and Bruthen. The Omeo district being at present without railway or telegraphic communication for a population of nearly 2000, its isolation was such as to have become a serious disadvantage. The amount of land selected at Omeo, the deputation stated, was over 25,000 acres and selections of an extensive nature would be sure to take place in the immediate future should the communication with the centres of population be improved in the manner proposed. The Chief Secretary, after hearing the opinion expressed by the deputation, said that in such matters the Government would be disposed to assist all country districts upon a fair case being proved. In this instance inquiry would be made with a view to carry out the wishes of the deputation".

An alternative proposal was also made at about this time - to connect Omeo through Bright on the Wahgunyah branch and thence to Melbourne along the main North-Eastern line. The Bright Shire Council on 1 June 1877 passed a motion that the Secretary be instructed to apply to the department for the extension of the telegraph line to Omeo via Harrietville.

The Age of 18 October 1877 reported the next stage of this proposal as follows: "Yesterday a deputation, consisting of, Messrs. J. S. Wallace, Wm. Wilson and Peter Wright, waited upon the Postmaster-General and asked for the construction of a telegraph line from Bright to Omeo by way of Harrietville - a distance of about sixty miles (Ed: see map above). It was stated that the line, if constructed, would pass through mountainous district and might prove exceedingly useful as a guide to travellers who had missed their way when crossing the country in the snowy season. Another and more cogent reason alleged for the erection of the proposed telegraph line was that the district of Omeo would be able to furnish a tolerably large amount of business as it contains a population of 1,400 people and is rich in minerals. Mr. Cuthbert stated that at present he had no money for the purpose and recommended the deputation to have an interview with the Treasurer".

Nothing further seems to have come of that proposal. In 1879, the Ovens and Murray Advertiser reported as follows on the accepted lines to the south:

The Australasian of 29 November 1879 reported that the electric telegraph had been extended to Omeo "and the Office at that place is available to the public". There is no information about the nature of "that Office".

The Ovens and Murray Advertiser of 23 February 1884 advised its readers that " Mr Knight, telegraph master and line repairer from Bruthen, is now at Omeo with his staff of men engaged in painting telegraph poles and repairing the line".

An 11 mile line from Omeo south to Cassilis was erected in 1894.

In the Report for the Post Office and Telegraph Department for 1887, the following line of telegraph was listed for the region east of Sale:

Designation of Line Names of Stations Branch Lines Length of line Length of wires Names of Stations
From To
Omeo Line (No. 3 East): Omeo, Bruthen, Bairnsdale, Stratford, Maffra, Sale, Rosedale, Traralgon, Warragul, Dandenong, Malvern, Armadale. Bairnsdale Cunninghame 18 33 Bairnsdale,Bruthen, Cunninghame
Bruthen Buchan 24¼ 30½ Bruthen, Buchan


The 1890 classifications.

In the Report for the Post Office and Telegraph Department for 1890, the following lines of telegraph are listed for the region east of Sale:

Line 30: Melbourne to Malvern Test Box, Oakleigh, Dandenong, Berwick, Packenham, Drouin, Waragul, Yarragon, Trafalgar, Morwell, Traralgon, Rosedale, Sale, Maffra, Stratford.
Line 31: Melbourne through Malvern test box, Oakleigh, Dandenong, Packenham, Warragul, Morwell, Traralgon, Rosedale, Sale, Stratford, Bairnsdale, Bruthen, Tambo Crossing (telephone), Ensay (telephone), Swift's Creek (telephone), Tongio (telephone), Omeo.
Line 119: Bairnsdale, Bruthen, Cunninghame, Orbost.

In addition, there were 3 lines for telephones:

Line 120: Bruthen to Buchan.
Line 199: Maffra to Upper Maffra.
Line 200: Cunninghame to Lake Tyres.