Victoria - Colonial: 1854 - 1900.
Narracoorte Line (No. 3 West).

The Narracoorte Line (as it was in 1890) started at Geelong then on to Ballarat. After Ballarat, it included stations which had originally been classified on the Cross-Country - Western line from Smythesdale to Apsley;

In 1862, the situation was:

A short distance from Ballarat, three extensions were made from the original Cross-Country Western line to provide telegraphic services to smaller centres (later, by 1890, parts of the line were identified by numbers - see table at the end of this page):

The main developments along the Penola line were:

  1. Portland to Hamilton Branch;
  2. Ballarat to Hamilton;
  3. Hamilton to Apsley;
  4. Apsley to Narracoorte (S.A.)
  5. Smythesdale to Rokewood Branch;
  6. Hamilton-Macarthur Branch;
  7. Linton to Snake Valley Branch.
  This map leads to the Border Town line.  


This map leads to the Mount Gambier-Border Town line.



This map leads to the Ballarat No. 8 line.


This map leads to the Southern Coast line.

  This map leads to the Penola line and to the Mount Gambier line.  

1. The Portland to Hamilton Branch.

This branch line of the Cross-Country Western Line ran from Portland on the first line to South Australia on the southern coast of Victoria north to Hamilton. It later became a branch line of the Penola line and details of its development can be found there. In 1890, as part of the redistributions, the Hamilton to Portland line was given the alluring and scenic name of Line 98.


2. The main line from Ballarat to Hamilton.

The McGowan Report for 1862 (p. 2) noted:

"In the item for alterations and improvements etc to existing lines is embraced the cost of affecting an alteration in a section of the Western Line (contingent on the opening of the new inter-colonial wire) which, when completed, will afford doubly increased facilities for the maintenance and working of the main, local and intercolonial communication; there will then be two distinct and independent lines between Melbourne and Portland and thence by double wires on single posts to Mount Gambier; thus:

  1. one line direct to Portland and Mount Gambier via Geelong, Colac, Camperdown, Warrnambool and Belfast;

  2. a second or independent line via Geelong, Ballarat, Beaufort, Streatham, Hexham, Penshurst (Mount Rouse) and Hamilton to Portland and thence by independent wire to Mount Gambier".

Line to Smythesdale and Linton.

With the extension of lines from Raglan on the first line to South Australia north-west through Ararat to Stawell, it was decided that new lines from Ballarat to Streatham - and ultimately to Hamilton - had to be erected further to the south than the original line - so south of Raglan/Beaufort for example. In January 1862, £1,500 was placed on the Estimates for the construction of the telegraph line from Ballarat to Smythesdale. The Ballarat Star of 28 November 1862 noted that "The connection of Smythesdale by telegraph with Ballarat and other parts of the colony is now being done, and the posts to carry the wires are erected along a portion of the route, Armstrone and Skipton Streets being the course taken through the municipality of Ballarat". The branch line from Ballarat to Smythesdale was opened in 1862 along the new line to Streatham (with the Smythesdale telegraph office being opened in early 1863). Another station along this line was opened at Linton in October 1868.

In the Gazette of 17 July 1866, it was announced that a tender had been let to John Rose to mark the route for the telegraph line from Smythesdale to Linton's via Brown's and Scarsdale at a cost of £2 5s per lineal mile.

In his Report for the year 1866, Mr. McGowan noted "an extension contemplated in his previous Report between Smythesdale to Scarsdale and Linton's ... had just been completed and tested". Indeed the Ballarat Star of 19 January 1867 observed that "Mr McGowan, Superintendent of Telegraphs, on Tuesday, 8th January, passed through Smythesdale on his way to the western district and while, passing along, tried the new line of wire from Smythesdale to Linton and found it to answer satisfactory. Whilst making the trial at Linton (adds our local correspondent) several of the residents in tbe vicinity were present and appeared to be highly gratified at this instance of the growing importance of their township. Mr. Nelson observing that Mr Austin ought to send a congratulatory message to his friend Mr Henry Henty, M.L.A.".

The Gazette of 15 February 1867 noted "extra mileage under contract 1131 of 1866, line of telegraph between Smythesdale and Linton's, £2 18s 4d., Thomas Downey".

Nearly five months later, on 3 June 1867, the Ballarat Star updated its readers on progress: "Mr M. H. Baird, President of tho Grenville Shire Council, when in Melbourne a few days ago, waited on Mr McGowan, Superintendent of Telegraphs, respecting the establishment of the proposed telegraph station at Linton and learned that all the necessary appliances are ready, nothing now being wanted but the passing of the Estimates, in order to the final carrying out of the object".

But not just yet - on 29 July 1867, the Star noted "Mr McGowan, Superintendent of Telegraphs, visited Linton last week for the purpose of making enquiries regarding a suitable building for a local telegraph station. It appears that it is not intended to use any of the shire offices for the purpose in question as several of the residents of Linton have been requested to send in tenders to the department naming the terms on which their respective buildings could be obtained". The Age reported this development as "Linton is to have a local telegraph station". It appears that Mr. Scurfield had the instruments working on 22 October 1868 and some locals were able to send trial telegraphic messages to their friends. In McGowan's Report for 1867, he noted that "the extension from Smythesdale to Linton has been completed, tested and accommodation for the office, etc provided; but, owing to the absence of available funds, the communication has not as yet been opened to the public".

Line to Streatham.

The development of this line involved the construction of the line westwards from Streatham through Lake Bolac, Glenthompson and Dunkeld on the way to Hamilton. All this construction was part of the line then referred to as the Cross-Country line.

But - developments from the plan to implementation sometimes take time. The Hamilton Spectator of 12 June 1863 printed the following Letter to the Editor:

"We have been wondering, Mr. Editor, how it is that as yet there are no signs of extending the line of telegraph from Hamilton to Streatham. It seems curious that there should have been, for so long, a period with nothing done to complete the line and strange it looks upon the map to see the unsightly looking gaps as it appears at present. Surely, one would think the receipts from Dunkeld and Wickliffe would in the course of a few years pay the expenses of the necessary posts and wire, which do not come to a very great amount, the more especially as the material for the posts for a great part of the way lie close to the line of road. It would be of no small advantage to get the line completed to the townships it would have to pass through. Now, if a person, as is often the case, requires a telegram to be sent, he must post off to Hamilton, as the nearest telegraph station, to get it forwarded to its destination, a long distance and of course, in most cases, renders the operation null and useless. It requires but this gap, as before said, to be filled and then the line of telegraph would be complete in the Western District, besides being of incalculable service to the inhabitants adjacent. I hope and trust therefore that this bit of information may catch the eyes of some of the powers that be and get the proper parties to take the matter into their serious consideration as to its completion".

By 1866, there was still an operational line from Raglan south to Hexham. By then, Hexham had been connected south-east to Mortlake. Another line from Hexham going north-west to Penshurst was being planned. It was therefore decided to direct the line from Hexham north-west to Hamilton - and so create a line from Mortlake to Hamilton which would later form the basis of the Penola line. That allowed offices to be opened further to the north-west from Hamilton to Harrow and Apsley and that line soon became classified as the Narracoorte line.


3. The Hamilton-Harrow-Apsley Line.

In The Argus of 17 September 1874, tenders were called  for the construction of a line of electric telegraph from Coleraine to Harrow direct along the then Cross-Country line or from Hamilton to Harrow via Cavendish and Balmoral "as may be here after decided upon". On 24 September 1874, The Argus reported that, in the Legislative Assembly on the previous day, Mr. Ramsey had answered a question from Mr. McPherson saying "there were two propositions for the extension of the telegraph line from Hamilton to Harrow. One was for constructing it via Coleraine and the other via Cavendish and Balmoral. The latter distance was considerably longer but, on opening the tenders that day which had been sent in for alternative lines, the difference in the cost of the latter line was only about £800 more than the other and, as it would accommodate a much larger population, it had been decided to accept the tender of Mr. Kerr for the longer line at £2,170".

On 16 July 1878, The Argus reported on the possible arrangements for the border trade between Victoria and South Australia. As part of a commissioned report into the matter, "We are also of the opinion that whichever of those proposals may be entertained by the Governments concerned, the arrangement cannot be effectual or complete unless telegraphic communication is established between Narracoorte and Harrow via Apsley and Edenhope. At those latter places, a Wheatstone's alphabetical instrument would suffice as there are practiced operatives aleady at both Narracoorte and Harrow". On 25 July 1878, The Age reported on "a deputation from Donald, introduced by Mr. MacBain, M.L.A., to the Postmaster-General, who asked for the extension of the telegraph line to Harold, Edenhope and Apsley where it would in all probability be met by a line from South Australia.. Mr Cuthbert said he would consider the suggestion".

In March 1879, it was reported that "The Victorian Government are considering the desirability of taking steps for the duplication of the telegraph line from Melbourne to Adelaide via Harrow, Edenhope and Apsley with Narracoorte, avoiding the coast connection". Soon after it was agreed the line would extend from Hamilton to Balmoral and Harrow. On 23 October 1879, The Hamilton Spectator noted: "Mr. E. Clark (Wimmera) gave notice in the Assembly on Tuesday to ask the Postmaster-General when he intends to call for tenders for the erection of the telegraph between Horsham and Dimboola; also between Harrow and Apsley via Edenhope. Our telegrams report a favorable answer".

Border Watch of 14 December 1881 reported:

"The Postmaster General on Wednesday accepted the tender of Messrs. Jas. Wright and Co. for erecting a telegraph wire from Harrow to Apsley, a distance of 35 miles, the sum being £832. This line will go through Edenhope and has been contracted for on the understanding that the South Australian Government will also extend their telegraphic communication from Narracoorte to Apsley. When this has been completed, another means of communicating by telegraph between the two capitals of Melbourne and Adelaide will have been provided".

On 28 August, 1882, The South Australian Advertiser reported:

"With regard to the construction of the telegraph line from Harrow to Apsley, the Narracoorte Herald of August 23 observes: "The telegraph poles and wires between Harrow and Apsley are erected and, as soon as the necessary furniture arrives, telegraph offices will be opened at Apsley and Edenhope. It is probable that the office at the last-mentioned place will be opened tomorrow under the charge of Miss McFarlane and very likely the Apsley office will be opened next week.

Progress is being made with the erection of poles between Apsley and Narracoorte. There are two contractors at work, both working from the boundary. It is noticeable that the poles on the Victorian side of the boundary are taller and stouter than those on the South Australian side. The Victorian contractor expects to finish in a week".

The completion of the third inter-colonial line - with such a short distance between the two connecting Telegraph Offices in each state - raised the problem of rates to be charged for inter-colonial telegrams spanning only a few miles. The Herald noted:

"In a short time the telegraph will be erected between Narracoorte and Apsley, and as there are close business and social relations between these two places, a good many messages will probably be sent. The distance between the two is nineteen miles and, as Apsley is in Victoria the charge for telegrams will be two shillings for ten words. Port Augusta is several hundred miles from Narracoorte and yet messages can be sent there for half this cost. These small inconveniences—and there are many of them—make life near the border less comfortable than it would be if that imaginary line were wiped off the maps".


4. The Apsley-Narracoorte line.

The Hamilton Spectator - wayback on 11 September 1867 - was one of the first sources to raise the issue of a telegraph line linking Narracoorte to Apsley. At that time, the Victorian line had reached Hamilton (1861) and the South Australian line had reached Narracoorte (1863). The Casterton-Penola line was reaching finalisation (in November 1867). The newspaper wrote:

"It was lately proposed to inaugurate a movement for the purpose of petitioning the Government for a continuation of the telegraphic line from Horsham to Narracoorte. I have no doubt whatever, that were the matter properly handled, such a boon would be granted after the usual amount of circumlocution had been perpetrated. Rapid communication is becoming one of the necessities of this fast age we live in and any agitation in the right direction ought to be supported by the cooperation of all those interested in the improvement and well-doing of the district.

Our postal service in these parts is not, however, so complete as it should be and I do not think it would be altogether in the fitness of things to run a telegraph wire before a mail is established. It may not be generally known that a letter posted here (Apsley) for Narracoorte, a distance of about twenty miles, has to travel, unless taken by private hand, a distance of nearly one hndred and seventy miles before it arrives at its destination as it has to go via Hamilton and Penola.

Of course I am not aware of the terms upon which Victoria stands with her sister Adelaide, but I should imagine some mutual intercolonial arrangement could be made by which a mail could be initiated "over the border". The actual cost of running it could scarcely exceed £60 or £70, a sum which might easily be stowed away in some mysterious clause in the next Chubb's Patent Safely Locked Appropriation Bill and not even be noticed by future obstructionists".


5. The Smythesdale- Rokewood Branch.

Detail of the Skipton - Scarsdale - Ballarat region and the extensions to Buninyong and Rokewood.
Taken from a map in the 1887 Annual Report.
The blue lines are the telegraph lines.

In January 1862, a sum of £1,500 was placed upon the Estimates for the construction of a line of telegraph to Smythesdale.

The Age of 23 October 1862 reported that:

"a petition, about to be presented to the Government for an extension of the telegraph system to Linton. It appears that in the districts of Linton, Happy Valley, Skipton, Rokewood, Pitfield, Snake Valley and Bulldog, there is a population of about 10,000. The revenue derived from that body of people approximates to the sum of £27,500 per annum. The amount of expenditure upon machinery is estimated at about £120,000 and the average yield of gold since 1859, has been no less than 2,000 ozs weekly".

The Telegraph Office at Scarsdale was opened on 4 September 1872. That therefore became the link from the main Narracoorte line to Linton and Skipton and the branch line to Rokewood. At that stage there was no Telegraph Office in Newton.

On 1 April 1873, the Ballarat Courier reported "that the Government Inspector of Telegraph lines has been to Scarsdale and Rokewood during the past week, to ascertain what progress, if any, has been made with the extension of telegraph from the former to the latter place in accordance with a tender accepted some time ago for the work. It appears that the contractor, whoever he is, has as yet done nothing in the way of executing the terms of the contract and it is therefore more than probable that his deposit will be forfeited, the tender cancelled and fresh tenders called for the work". Two months later, the Ballarat Courier of 21 June 1973 referenced the Gazette noting the Government had (again) invited tenders on 18 June for the construction of a telegraph line from Scarsdale to Rokewood.

Progress must then have been very quick. On 6 September 1873, the Ballarat Courier reported "The Postmaster-General has intimated to Mr. W. Clarke, M.L.A. that an officer of the department would be instructed to proceed to Rokewood and take possession of the newly-constructed telegraph line to that place with the view of opening the line with as little delay as possible". Telegraph offices at Rokewood and Serpentine were opened on Tuesday 16 September 1873.

The Smythesdale-Rokewood Branch was approximately south-west of Ballarat. Eleven years earlier, in 1862, the Buninyong Branch line was constructed to the south-east of Ballarat (as can be seen in the map above).


6. The Hamilton-Macarthur Branch.

On 26 August 1876, a petition for the extension of telegraphic communication (to Macarthur) was being rapidly signed and it would be forwarded to Melbourne soon after the copies which had been sent to Hamilton and Belfast for signature had been returned. On 13 September 1876, the Hamilton Spectator reported that a deputation from Hamilton, Warrnambool, Belfast and Macarthur had waited on the Postmaster-General to ask for an extension of the telegraph line to Macarthur. They believed that their application had been favourably received.

On 23 August 1877, the Hamilton Spectator reported to show one aspect which would be directly improved by having a direct telegraphic connection:

"Much gratification was felt by the residents in this district on reading in your issue of Saturday last, Sir John O'Shanassy's telegram to the Belfast Shire Council, intimating that a sum would be placed upon the estimates for the extension of the telegraph wires to Macarthnr. Consequently we hope soon to form part and parcel of that great network of electricity which encircles the globe and makes the great ocean but a step between us and our Fatherland. The want of telegraphic communication has, in the past, been much felt and observation might lead one to the conclusion that it is on the increase as we have in our midst a boiling-down establishment, at which some thousands of sheep per week (multiplied by ten) lose their lives. In connection therewith Mr. E. Hurst, the proprietor, has opened a wool-washing establishment which, together with Mr, Gifford's, both of which are now in full swing, places us in a position, second to none in the colony, to sell to best advantage or to have our wool scoured in first-class style".

The Hamilton Spectator of 28 February 1878 reported on an important follow-up meeting:

"A public meeting, convened by advertisement, was held in the Macarthur Mechanics Institute on Tuesday evening, the 26th inst., for the purpose of giving public expression to the urgent desire of the residents in the district for telegraphic communication. The meeting was well attended, both by townspeople and those from a distance. Mr. E. Hurst, J.P., having been voted to the chair, requested the Hon. secretary, Mr. C. H. Davis, to read the correspondence received from the adjacent municipal bodies when the movement was first set on foot, and from the members of Parliament who had interested themselves in the project. The letters all expressed sympathy and a desire to assist. The Hon. Secretary then read the petition to the Postmaster-General which is being signed by almost every adult in the district. It runs thus:

To the Hon. the Postmaster-General, Sir, We, the undersigned residents in the townships of Macarthur, Byaduk and Orford as well as the surrounding districts, respectfully beg to again bring under your notice the urgent necessity for the extension of the telegraph to this township of Macarthur. We have for some time been given to understand that this facility would be afforded us, we now submit that the increasing importance of the district and our proximity to the main line warrant the expenditure.

Here follow the signatures. Macarthur, 20th February, 1878.

The address was unanimously agreed to and power given to Mr. Davis to forward the monster petition and continue to keep the claims of the township before the authorities till the often-promised extension be granted".

On 15 June 1878: "Our (Macarthur) telegraph is still in the dim vista of the future and, as our local member does not seem inclined to cope with the difficulty, we have opened fire on the Premier himself. That lion-hearted man has not yet responded but we shall persevere till we get it".

On 2 December 1879, the Hamilton Spectator reported "The long-talked-of telegraph line has been, or is nearly completed. There can be no doubt but that it will be a great acquisition to the town and henceforth we shall be placed upon a level with the outer world. Our old friend Mr. Cope should receive a substantial testimonial from the residents here for having procured for them this boon".

On 10 January 1880, the Gazette announced that the Electric Telegraph has been extended to Macarthur, Mooroopna and Morang.

On 13 January 1906, the Hamilton Spectator reported an interesting development: "The telegraph posts and wires are being erected (from Macarthur) to Knebswortb - the residence of Mr. A. Drew - and will be complete in a few days. There are reports that other station holders in the district are on the eve of connecting themselves witb the commercial world by this latest development of electrical skill".

In November 1909, Sir John Quick authorised the calling of tenders for repairs to the Hamilton-Macarthur telegraph line - estimated to cost £170.


7. Linton to Snake Valley Branch.

As the search for gold around Ballarat widened, some of the outlying areas quickly began to show their potential. Snake Valley was one of these areas. Over time, more and more reports were announced which attracted increased interest. Hence the need for telegraph facilities increased and these requests could be easily met because Snake Valley was essentially of the existing telegraph line between Smythesdale and Skipton - see map above.

Examples of these gold reports are:

Given so many reports as these three examples which had been coming in for several months, action on a telegraph connection was taken: "During the last few weeks, the Postmaster-General has been interviewed by several deputations requesting telegraphic extensions to various parts of the colony. Mr. Berry, after conferring with the heads of the department, has sanctioned the erection of telegraph lines from Maryborough to Timor, from Lintons to Snake Valley and from Camperdown to Lismore". (The Age, 9 October 1883).

Remarkably, a Telegraph Office was opened at Snake Valley in December 1883.


The 1890 classifications.

By 1890, increased construction and a re-configuring of the linkages meant that there were 4 lines through the Ballarat to Narracoorte area. Those lines including one for telephones include:

Line 3: Melbourne through Newport Test Box, Werribee, Geelong, Meredith, Ballarat, Haddon, Symthesdale, Scarsdale, Linton, Skipton, Streatham, Lake Bolac, Hamilton, Cavendish, Balmoral, Harrow, Edenhope, Apsley then across the S.A. border to Narracorte.
Line 99: Scarsdale through Piggoret, Cape Clear to Rokewood (telephones).
Line 100: Linton to Snake Valley (near Smythesdale).