Published: Aug 2023

Sesquicentenary of the Overland Telegraph

Note: indicated routes and locations are approximate.Use official topographic maps for navigation

August 2022 marked the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Overland Telegraph Line, which connected Australia to the rest of the world by telegraph for the first time in 1872.

I have a family connection to the OTL. My father was instrumental in organising and running telegraph demonstration events at the Alice Springs telegraph station during the 1990s and early 2000s. Using a leased telephone line, operators in Alice Springs and Canberra exchanged messages via Morse code. He wrote an article about this which appeared in Morsum Magnificat, vol 17.

The OTL was a major technological achievement in its day, but its development and operation had dramatic consequences for indigenous people along its route. See Aboriginal Interactions with the Overland Telegraph Line, 1870–1880 (Philip Jones, South Australian Museum), The Overland Telegraph Line: A Transcultural history, and this National Indigenous Times article for more information.

Many thanks to Stuart, Andrew and the other OTL enthusiasts who made this trip possible. See History Festival: Overland Telegraph Lines celebrates 150 years for more details about the anniversary event. Andrew also has a good writeup of the trip.

Ruins at Strangways Springs

The remains of the Strangways Springs Telegraph Station. This is the most southern of the stations that I've visited. See the official SA fact sheet for more details.

The station cellar is a separate building, with thick stone walls and dug into the ground to keep food stores cool.

One of the poles at Tennant Creek.

The telegraph office at the Tennant Creek Telegraph Station. See the fact sheet for more details.

The horses were part of a performance of Journal by Danny Gillies, a dramatisation of John McDouall Stuart's diaries.

Warm Spot

Strictly speaking, this has nothing to do with the OTL, but it demonstrates the telecommunication challenges that are still present in 21st century outback Australia.

This setup is basically a reflecting telescope for mobile phone signals. By placing a phone at the focal point you can get a usable phone signal from a phone tower further up the road.

The road in to this site gets pretty rough towards the end, so you might need to park and walk the last few hundred metres. The main building, pictured here, hasn't been restored and is in pretty bad condition.

Just off the Stuart Highway, north of Elliot is the Sir Charles Todd Memorial Overland Telegraph roadside rest area.

The OTL final connection point is about a 1.5km walk from the highway.

You can read more about the restoration of this section of the OTL in this Mates of the Murranji article and this Engineers Australia article.

Completion plate

Harold Dalywaters performing at the reserve.

Camping at Frew Pond

A few kilometres away from the Frew Ponds reserve are the ponds themselves. This location is on private land, so you'll need permission from the owners to camp here.

Frew’s Ironstone Pond