Telegraph Line

In 1875 contractors began work on the erection of poles, insulators and wires for the first East-West telegraph line. Two years later, on 8 December 1877, their task was completed and Perth was connected to Adelaide, via Albany, Esperance, Israelite Bay, Eyre and Eucla.

The connection was a single wire carried by thousands of squared jarrah poles (16 to the mile – roughly one every 100 metres). No survey was made of the 208 km coastal route followed by the telegraph line in the section between Albany and Eucla – surveyors merely reconnoitred a few kilometres ahead of working parties.

The main centre for the East-West telegraph link was at Eucla. The line was closed in 1927 when it was replaced by three lines following the transcontinental railway line far to the north.

The line was generally installed within a few hundred metres from the coast, and consisted of a single 8-gauge galvanised iron wire using an earth return. Poles were Jarrah timber, about 120 mm square, with a Siemens Bros insulator bolted to the top. Where terrain dictated, or where there was easy inland access, the line was constructed further back from the coast. To regenerate the signal, weakened by distance, repeater stations were located at Bremer Bay, Esperance Bay, Israelite Bay, Eyre, Eucla, and in South Australia at Fowlers Bay and Streaky Bay.

At the jointly-operated Eucla station (located on the WA side of the border) a large hall was separated by a partition, and messages were handed from one operator to the other.

Within a short time of commencement of operation, it became apparent that the hostile conditions of the coast played havoc with the reliability of the line, causing many breakdowns due to corrosion and salt deposits on insulators. When the eastern goldfields were discovered in the early 1890s, Coolgardie became a large telegraph post, and the line was extended to the newly discovered goldfields at Norseman (Dundas).

The telegraph line was extended eastwards to Balladonia where a repeater station was constructed, then across country to Eyre. In addition, the line was kept inland (following the foot of the escarpment) through to Eucla, thereby withdrawing the line away from the coast, and improving reliability. Despite this, the Eyre – Israelite Bay – Albany section of the line was retained, apparently due to the need for telegraph traffic to these regions. The inland route was upgraded to copper wire and steel poles, providing a greater level of reliability and improved communications.

With the closure of the telegraph line in the late 1920s, the army took over ownership of the line, to be used as a military backup system. Later, the line (which now operated from Norseman to Balladonia, Madura and Eucla) was handed over as a party line for the various pastoral stations along the route. Over 20 phones were operating over the single-wire line which terminated in Norseman. This was finally closed about 1970, after phones were cut over to the microwave system.

More information about the telegraph in Western Australia


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