5 State Heritage Places connected with the ground-breaking Overland Telegraph line
24 Feb. 2022 4 min read
From Electra House to The Peake, read about some of the South Australian sites connected to this important piece of telecommunication history.
Did you know 2022 marks the 150th anniversary of Australia’s famous Overland Telegraph?
To mark the occasion we thought it a great time to visit some of the historical South Australian places connected to this revolutionary communication system.
But firstly, what is the Australian Telegraph Line?
Well, it’s a 3,200 km telegraph line that connected Darwin with Port Augusta in South Australia.
Completed in 1872, the Overland Telegraph Line allowed fast communication between Australia and the rest of the world. It was one of the great engineering feats of 19th century Australia and a significant milestone in the history of telecommunication.
Before the Overland Telegraph, it took 60 days to deliver messages from England to Australia by sea, but a telegram could arrive within 3 or 4 hours. Each telegram was relayed in Morse code to its destination.
Charles Todd, who was Superintendent of Telegraphs, was the planner, designer, and driving force behind this revolutionary infrastructure project, successfully reimagining communication with Europe and the world.
South Australia benefitted immensely from the Overland Telegraph Line with a number of now State Heritage-listed places connected to it.
1. Electra House
Now known as a great place to eat and drink on King William Street in Adelaide, this State Heritage Place was the Australian headquarters of the Eastern Extension Australasia and China Telegraph Co. Ltd.
This company was responsible for providing telegraph communication from Europe to connect with South Australia’s Overland Telegraph.
2. GPO, Adelaide
Opened in 1872, the Adelaide GPO was one of South Australia's most important public buildings, and represents the critical role played by postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications in the development of the state.
The scale and impressive architectural detailing of the building and its prominent location in the centre of Adelaide reflect its importance as the focus of the network of communication services in South Australia for many decades.
Its construction was the result of the entrepreneurial drive of Charles Todd, who was instrumental in establishing telegraphic communications in both South Australia and Australia and in encouraging the state government's control of all communication services in South Australia.
Beltana is one of 17 State Heritage Areas in South Australia and is located 540 km north of Adelaide.
Beltana is historically important for its links with not only the Overland Telegraph, but also the Transcontinental Railway, mining, outback services and the Australian Inland Mission. The town was also an important hub for camel-based transport during the 19th century.
A permanent telegraph office was built in 1875 at Beltana. The battery room had 2 banks of 80 glass electricity cells. Each cell yielded 1.5 volts, giving approximately 120 volts per bank. One bank was used for receiving and the other for sending messages.
The telegraph office was staffed by the chief telegraphist, an assistant and 4 linesmen. The copper mining companies at Sliding Rock and Blinman made good use of the telegraph for keeping in touch with the price of copper in London.
Located 38 km south of William Creek in South Australia’s outback, a repeater station was built at Strangways in 1871 – the spot chosen due to the fresh supply of water from the nearby mound spring.
Repeater stations were vital to ensure messages were relayed to Darwin, as otherwise the signal would have been too weak to travel non-stop along the thousands of kilometres of line.
5. The Peake
Located 112 km northwest of William Creek, the ruins at the Peake illustrate the themes of early pastoral settlement in the north of South Australia, the construction and operation of the Overland Telegraph Line and early exploration and mining activity in the region.
After World War II, a lot of new technology became available that radically changed the telegraph industry. Old wire lines were too expensive to maintain and were replaced by coaxial cable and microwave links.
Today, only one of the wooden poles associated with the Overland Telegraph remains and that is held in the History Trust of South Australia’s collection.
Want to learn more about South Australia’s heritage places? Read our stories: 7 heritage places in SA you might not know about and Your guide to understanding South Australia’s State Heritage Places.
(Main image courtesy of the State Library of South Australia)