Western Australia: 1861-1988.
Telegram rates.

There was little change to the rates charged for telegrams from 1861 to 1900 in Western Australia.

The main changes took place as follows:

  1. 1872 - Sunday operation;
  2. 1879
  3. 1880s
  4. 1884 - proposed;
  5. 1888 - before prorogation of Parliament;
  6. WA - Java Cable rates;
  7. 1894.


1872: Sunday operation.

One rate which was introduced related to Sunday operations. The first change was announced in March 1872 in which the Postmaster informed the public that, on and after 24 March 1872, the Telegraph Office (in Perth) would be open for the transmission of messages every Sunday afternoon from 3:00 pm to 3:30 pm. The rate charged for sending telegrams was to be twice the normal rate.

This service was extended six years later. The Western Australian Times of 23 August 1878 reported:

"Country settlers generally will be very glad to hear that His Excellency the Governor has been pleased to sanction the re-opening of the telegraph offices, for the convenience of the public, for a short time, in the morning and evening of Sunday. For this very great concession, the public will be required to pay double rates for transmission - a tax which many of them will cheerfully submit to. Once having experienced the great advantages derived from Sunday telegraphic communication, the settlers were grievously disappointed at its discontinuance and they are fully alive to, and grateful for, the restoration of the privilege".


The rates published on the reverse of the first transmission form (WC-TO-2) in 1879 are:

1879 charges

The second paragraph shows that Western Australia was in agreement with the other Colonies by not charging for address and signature.

At the same time, specially designed stamps with a TELEGRAPHS inscription were printed with a use being to prepay telegraph charges. See elsewhere for details.



During the 1880s, these charges were modified slightly as is shown by the reverse side of the transmission form (WC-TO-3A used in 1889):

1889 charges

The main change was that a local rate was introduced for telegrams between Perth and Fremantle.

A delivery form (WC-DO-4A) used in 1890 has almost the same scale of charges except:


Proposed in 1884:

In the Legislative Council of 30 July 1884, the following amazing proposal was debated - during the construction of the northern line from Geraldton to Roebourne across incredibly difficult terrain:

"The proposal of the Postmaster General to make a special tariff of charges for telegrams transmitted to and from Roebourne within certain parts of the Colony, was received by the House with an amount of surprise that was equalled only by the dispatch with which it was negatived by hon. members. Looking at the service of the telegraph as one of the greatest conveniences that can be afforded to any community, it is difficult to understand how an experienced officer like Mr. Helmich could have framed a suggestion which, had it been adopted, would have caused endless trouble to his department, irritated the public, and considerably reduced cash receipts.

The Postmaster General's intention was:

The Daily Mail commented that "It would thus appear that the Postmaster General considers that any person availing himself of the privilege of using the wires between the Greenough and Roebourne should pay 150 per cent more than his neighbour who might avail himself of the opportunity of wiring between Northampton and Eucla, a distance nearly double that between Greenough and Roebourne".

Thankfully the House rejected Mr. Helmich's proposal immediately.:

"Both Mr. Crowther and Mr. Shenton spoke upon the subject, to the effect that, in their opinion, it would not be right to ask the northern inhabitants to pay more than those in the southern portion of the Colony. Mr. Randell maintained that an increase of the revenue derived from the telegraph lines would be obtained by reducing the charges upon messages. Mr. Marmion advocated the retention of a uniform rate of charge. Mr. Brown moved, as an amendment, that uniform rates should be charged throughout the Colony which was seconded by Sir Thomas Campbell. The Colonial Secretary did not offer any opposition to the amendment but, upon Mr. Steere's suggestion, the words 'not increasing the rates, at present existing' were added. The amendment was then agreed to".


1888 - before prorogation.

Consideration of changing rates at this time was problematic especially as the telegraph lines were concurrently being extended through the Kimberley and the Pilbara as well as some other lines. Nevertheless, the Government wanted to act for reasons known only to itself and its own electoral strategies. There were many issues involved - one of which was the principle of uniform rates to palces within the Colony.

A review of the issues and implications is given in the Western Mail of 15 December 1888.


W.A. - Java Cable rates.

Once the W.A. - Java cable was opened to the public on 9 April 1889, issues arose about when that cable should be used and what rates should be charged for messages within the Colony and for access to the cable.

The access issue is discussed elsewhere.

The uniform rates principle was again debated in this context. The West Australian of 11 April 1889 outlined some important issues as follows:

"Now that the (Colonial) line to Derby has been completed, a serious question is demanding a decision. We have, at present, the longest continuous stretch of electric line possessed by any of the colonies and another great extension to Wyndham is in progress. What then is the tariff which shall be charged?

On first principles there ought to be a uniform rate for the whole colony. Nor can anything be suggested more likely to provoke thoughts of division and separation than a differential tariff. There are no stronger bonds of union for any country than a cheap and common postal and telegraph system. In this colony the Kimberley miner, equally with the Eucla pastoralist, should feel that his citizenship places him on even terms with the most favoured inhabitant of the capital. The settlers in all districts are subject to the same custom and excise duties. They should in theory pay the same fees for the use of the Telegraph and the Post Office.

But it is conceivable that this may inflict too severe a strain on the financial resources of the department. In South Australia, a very acute difference is observed in the case of all messages transmitted over the Port Augusta-Port Darwin line, which are charged at the rate of seven shillings for ten words, the intermediate rates being in proportion.

So strongly was the Legislative Council imbued with this fear that, last December, the members agreed to a resolution by which the colony was divided into three sections and, within each section a uniform charge of a shilling was to be imposed. At the time this proposal was agreed to, we pointed out that it would in all probability prove most unequal in its operation and exceedingly difficult to work:

  • a station just outside one section, if it sent a message to a station just inside would have to pay two shillings - perhaps though but a few miles divided them;
  • a station just to the south of a section sending a message to a station just to the north of the same section would be charged three shillings.

In addition the resolution appears to contemplate only a division of the trunk line. At all events, as we announced yesterday, the moment it was attempted to put the scheme into practice, it was found to be unworkable and a provisional shilling rate was authorised for the whole colony.

If it is found impossible to retain this, only one expedient appears at once equitable and practicable. The colony should be divided into several, say five or six districts, and a message should travel for the same sum so long as it did not pass the limits of three districts. As each district would be at least several hundred miles in length, a telegram must travel something (probably a good deal) further than that as it would pass partially through two other districts before it could be charged the higher rate.

Such a system would be a rough approach to a mileage one. Any other principle would be sure to provoke immediate and endless agitation".



In 1894, telegram rates in Western Australia were:

Telegram from To any station in First 10 words Each additional word
Perth, North Fremantle and Fremantle. Perth, North Fremantle and Fremantle. 6d. 1d.
Any station in WA Any other station in WA 1/- 1d.
  South Australia 2/- 2d.
  Victoria and New South Wales 3/- 3d.
  Queensland and Tasmania 4/- 4d.

To New Zealand, 10 words 5s 6d, each extra word 7d.

On Sunday, all stations were open from 8 to 9 am. and 6 to 7 p.m. and messages lodged on Sundays, except for Cables and the Press, were charged at double rates.

The West Australian of 16 July 1894 pointed out that:

"it can be well argued that all parts of the colony should be treated alike. In short, a number of abstract reasons may be given why the raising of the fares along the new line should be deprecated, though it may be remarked that uniformity in rates is not the practice in the sister colonies, either for railway freights or for telegraph charges. For example, we charge the same rate for telegrams from Eucla to Wyndham as from Perth to Guildford. In South Australia the telegraph rates along the line to Port Darwin from Port Augusta rise according to the distance, reaching even as high a figure as six shillings for the first ten words and sixpence for each additional word between Adelaide and Port Darwin itself".

During the Interim period, rates were determined by the new Federal Government. Details of these rates are included elsewhere.