Telegraph that changed Aust celebrated

The landline telegraph that changed the way Australia communicates with the outside world is 150 years old.

The news of the day, British Parliament orders for the colonies and trade information suddenly arrived from all over the world in hours via Morse code rather than taking months in the mail.

“It was the Internet of the day and it changed the way Australia communicated with the world,” historian and author Derek Pugh, who wrote a book on the telegraph, told AAP.

“The tyranny of distance that isolated Australia from the center of power in London disappeared and business, prosperity and wealth flourished.”

Australia’s first telegraph line began operating between Melbourne and nearby Williamstown in 1854, with Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide connected four years later.

In the 1870s, telegraph cables connected England to distant places like Japan and Malaysia.

The growing network spurred plans to improve Australia’s connection with the rest of the world, but first it was necessary to conquer the nation’s vast and inhospitable interior.

Burke and Wills’ expedition to find pasture and a route for the telegraph line failed in 1861 with the loss of seven men, but a year after John McDouall Stuart’s successful voyage from Adelaide to the Gulf of Van Diemen near present-day Darwin, renewed the hope that a transcontinental telegraph line could be built.

After a decade of construction, the 3,000km overland telegraph line between Adelaide and Darwin was connected on 22 August 1872 at Frew Ponds, approximately 640km south of Darwin.

It consisted of 36,000 telegraph poles that suspended a galvanized steel cable that traveled between 11 relay stations, costing nearly four times the original budget of 470,720 PS.

“Engineer Robert Patterson took a shock as he soldered the two ends together, but when he finished he joined a network of telegraph cables spread across the eastern colonies from far north Queensland to Tasmania,” said Pugh.

More importantly, it would also connect Australia to the world via an undersea cable laid in late 1871 from Java in the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia, to Darwin – or Palmerston as one called it then.

Before the line was completed, communication with Britain, where most of the settlers lived, took at least four months by post.

The idea that messages could be sent thousands of miles away in minutes has captured the imagination of people across the country.

The first official electrical telegram sent by Darwin to Adelaide was received shortly after the line was connected, followed by a series of congratulatory messages.

“All were collected and published in the newspapers the next day and a holiday with celebratory banquets was announced,” said Pugh.

The most quoted telegram of the day was sent by the superintendent of telegraphs for South Australia, Charles Todd, who wrote:

“We have this day or two from the date it started, we completed a 2,000 mile line through central Australia a few years ago, terra incognita and it should be a desert, and I have the satisfaction of seeing a successful project. . “

In Frew Ponds, the telegraph technicians who built the line also celebrated, firing 21 rounds from their revolvers and smashing a bottle of brandy against the junction pole.

“The bottle, it is said, was sparingly filled with tea because no one would waste good brandy, not even on this important occasion,” said Mr. Pugh.

“In the first week, 152 telegrams were sent to Palmerston and 148 were received in Adelaide at the rate of 42 per day.”

Within months, the line was connected to the Java-Darwin submarine cable and the service was a success.

According to the National Museum of Australia, more than 4,000 telegrams were transmitted in the first year of service, mostly on behalf of business and government.

“The Earth telegraph line is considered by many, even today, to be no less important to 19th century Australia than Neil Armstrong’s moon landing in the 20th century was to the world,” said Pugh.

“In fact, many say it was the nation’s greatest engineering achievement of the 1800s.”

A commemorative event will take place on Monday to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Earth’s telegraph line, when a bottle of brandy will be shattered again against the Frew Pond junction pole.

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