Overland Telegraph Line – Australia

BY RICK MOORE

Danger, exploration, innovation and the risk of financial ruin were all part of the construction of the 3200 km Overland Telegraph Line from Port Augusta to Darwin that would provide Australia’s first electronic communication with the rest of the world.

At a banquet in Sydney to mark its completion, one guest said it was: “By far the most wonderful event that has ever occurred in the history of this country”

By the late 1850s, telegrams had become established as the new communication technology that would break down the isolation of Australia’s far-flung settlements. Commerce and government scrambled to build lines and introduce the new technology, and by the early 1860s, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane were connected by a rapidly growing telegraph network.

Overland Telegraph Line

The big challenge now was to link Australia with ‘Home’, on the other side of the globe. In January of 1870 the British-Australian Telegraph Company (BAT) was formed and proposed to lay a cable between Java and Port Darwin. From there the line could go either south via Port Augusta to Adelaide, or Southeast to Burketown, and thence to Brisbane.

The Queenslanders had already begun to build a section of their overland line, and competition between the two colonies to secure the project was intense. The South Australian Government, recognising the commercial benefits of the project and the opportunities it would bring in developing the Northern Territory, over which it had recently acquired control, responded by promising to pass a Bill that would guarantee and pay for erection of the overland line.

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