Western Australia: 1869-1900.
Telegraph lines to the north (Geraldton).

The northern region of Western Australia is defined here, for purposes of describing telegraph line construction, as being the region:

Geraldton was a major centre in the north. It had been established as a military outpost but later developed through the influx of pastoralists as well as through the discovery of lead deposits which led to the establishment of the Geraldine mine. It had a good harbour which was developed for various ships and, by the 1870s, it was the port through which the lead from mines at Northampton further to the north was shipped. Geraldton was proclaimed a town in 1871.

The construction activities are described as follows:

The line following the mail route.

The overall route followed by the telegraph line needed to be cost-effective. Of three proposals submitted for evaluation, that favoured by Governor Weld followed the mail line. It also passed near the mission at New Norcia established by Spanish Benedictine missionaries to assist the aboriginal people. This proposal was also the cheapest.

In 1867, the mail route had been changed from the coastal route from Perth via Dandaragan to an inland route passing through New Norcia, Walebing, Berkshire Valley, Marah, Coorow, Carnamah and on to Geraldton. The route was designed to cater for the inland settlers and was surveyed in 1870 by Alexander Forrest. It was therefore soon agreed that the telegraph line should also follow this route.

Northern The telegraph line from Perth had been constructed to Guilford at which placed it branched:
  • east to Northam from where it would head to the Eastern Goldfields;
  • north east to Newcastle from where it could be extended to New Norcia.

Contract discussions then began concerning the construction of the rest of the line to Geraldton. A contract was signed with Nunnan and Smith on 2 November 1872 at a cost of £19/9/- per mile.



Work on the line commenced reasonably soon after and the line was constructed from Newcastle to New Norcia and then, in a north-westerly direction, to Geraldton.

The interaction of various Government initiatives to bring about economic development is highlighted by the following report in the Fremantle Herald of 30 Novemner 1872:

"Messrs. Wanliss' railway from the timber range to Rockingham is expected to be finished in the course of a few weeks. It is a substantial and desirable work, and reflects great credit upon the enterprising capitalists who have constructed it. The Rockingham Jarrah Timber Company is now ready to execute orders. The contract for the supply of telegraph posts, required by the Government for the extension of the line from Newcastle to Champion Bay, is in course of fulfilment. The posts will be commenced to be delivered at Rockingham immediately on the completion of the Railway".

The Newcastle to Geraldton (Champion Bay) line was completed on 4 August 1873 but the late arrival of plant delayed the opening of the line until 5 June 1874.

Seven Telegraph Offices were opened along this long stretch as shown in blue in the map giving nine altogether in this region. That was half of the number of Telegraph Offices in the Colony at the end of 1874. That so many Offices were opened over the new lines in about three months is a tribute to the crews involved.

All the Telegraph Officers along this line were female. One - Mary Ellen Cuper - was a half-caste native from the New Norcia Mission who became postmistress of the New Norcia Office on the day it became a P&T Office and changed its name from Victoria Plains.

The Berkshire Valley Office was operated by Miss Clinch at her homestead.

The extension of the line to Northampton.

There was a pause in construction activity in this region after the line reached Geraldton in 1873. To the immediate north, the line from Northampton back to Geraldton was constructed in 1878 to support the commercial activity especially related to the lead mining.

Alternative western route to Geraldton.

In 1886, a line was constructed from Guilford to Gingin to serve the rich agricultural production there. A new Telegraph Office was opened at Gin Gin following the construction. The cost of constructing the 35 mile line from Guilford was £610.

This extension from Guilford marked the beginning of a second line in the northern region. It roughly followed the old mail line. Gingin was an important rest-stop for horses travelling between Perth and Geraldton and also had a Police station - all good reasons to have telegraphic facilities opened there. The population was about 200.

On 19 July 1886, Mr Shenton addressed the House to ask that "a humble address be presented to the Governor, praying his Excellency to place on the Estimates for 1887, the sum required to provide for the extension of the telegraph line from Gingin to Dandarragan".

No further activity took place to extend that line until 1894. In that year, an intermediate Office was opened at Mingenew on the first telegraph line (in the heart of ideal cattle country). Then, in 1896, the second telegraph line in the Northern region was constructed starting at Gingin and laid out via Dandaragan and Moora to link with Mingenew. Hence there was then a back-up facility which made the push to the far north a more reliable proposition.