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OVERLAND TELEGRAPH LINE

OUR EPIC FEAT

Had this epic feat been performed in the United States, film producers would have been in their element – and in filming this story, they would not have to draw on fiction or creative script writing.

The real thing provided all the “excitement” needed and is something that needs to get onto the radar of the likes of Baz Luhrmann. It is an epic journey of courage, endurance and high adventure – a few fearless pioneers bridging almost
3200 kilometres of untamed continent from sea to sea with a single wire on a line of poles along a route only once before traversed by white men.

The lead roles go to John McDouall Stuart, one of Australia’s greatest explorers, who was the first to successfully cross the continent and return.

John Ross, a talented bushman of South Australia’s northern frontier, was to blaze the route for the Overland Telegraph, and Charles Todd, who was later knighted, was to oversee construction.

Telegraphic communication — the wonder of that day, otherwise known as morse code – had been proposed between Britain and Australia for many years. It involved the laying of a submarine cable somewhere in the north and then a landline southward to the capitals of the different colonies.

South Australia had won the commission for the cable and the telegraph line. It had less than
18 months to bridge 32,000 kilometres of wilderness. At the time, it would take nearly that long for one bullock team to cross the continent, without having to construct anything.

With no red tape in sight and limited regulations, governments moved quickly in those days.

The sum of £120,000 ($240,000) was voted immediately to launch the project. Charles Todd had his plans ready and construction parties were assembled in Adelaide within six weeks.

Adelaide, which had a population of 30,000 people at the time, went crazy with excitement.

They wanted to show the other states, especially queensland, which put up a tough battle to be the telegraphic pioneers, what they could do. Victoria and New South Wales sat back and watched, saying the whole scheme was madness.

Hundreds of men rushed for jobs just to be part of the project. They were prepared to risk their lives facing isolation in almost-unknown country for two years – for 25 shillings ($2.50) a week.

For Darwin, the telegraph line assured its permanency and importance.

In 1870, it was an isolated outpost, but in two short years from the installation of the first pole it became the capital of international telecommunication for Australia

August this year is the 150th anniversary of the joining of the telegraph and the first message being sent down the line. The Mates of the Murranji are mustering to celebrate the pioneers, spirited planners, the surveyors and workmen engaged in this great enterprise who deserve our admiration and praise.

On Thursday, 22 August, 1872, the telegraph wires were joined and one of the greatest projects of Australia’s pioneering days had been brought to a successful conclusion. Engineer RC Patterson tapped out his message in morse when the wires were joined that great day 150 years ago.

The feat itself is largely unknown by most people today.

Territory Q is looking back to harness the spirit of our pioneers as Territory Major Projects Commissioner Jason Schoolmeester and Territory Investment Commissioner Andrew Cowan pursue the investment and business reform needed to achieve the NT Government’s goal of a $40 billion economy by 2030.

Darwin’s push to become a hub for data centres and high-tech digital jobs has gained further momentum with telecommunications company Vocus and the Territory Government announcing the construction of a
$100 million, lightning-fast subsea fibre cable into Asia in August this year.

The Darwin-Jakarta-Singapore Cable will deliver 40 terabits per second of internet capacity between Australia and Asia.

Survey work will commence in September.

One hundred and fifty years – this is not the Territory’s first epic telecommunication feat.

WIRED TO THE WORLD AT LAST

Derek Pugh has written the following historical information about the 150th anniversary of the joining of the telegraph wires:

At noon, on 22 August 1872, a small group of techies and bushmen gathered under a pole near Frew’s Ironstone Ponds, deep in the Northern Territory bush and rejoiced as the overland telegraph line was at last joined and open for electric messages between Darwin and Adelaide.

Engineer Robert Patterson, leader of the northern telegraph construction teams climbed a ladder and grasped the two ends of the telegraph line to join them. He let go when hit by an electric shock.

The joining was delayed until he found a handkerchief as insulation. Wrapping the wire with the cloth, he soldered the southward facing line of wire to its mate and the O.T.L. stretched 2839 kilometres unbroken from Palmerston to Port Augusta, and 300 kilometres more to Adelaide.

It joined a network of telegraph wires spread across the eastern states from far Northern Queensland to Tasmania. And Australia joined the modern world. The telegraph was as important then as the internet is to us today. And its arrival is something worth celebrating.

If you would like to know more
about the OTL, Derek Pugh has written a book called Twenty to
the Mile: The OTL which will be released in December.

Pre-sales now available through
www.derekpugh.com.au