South Australia - Colonial period: 1855 - 1900.
2nd inter-colonial telegraph line to Victoria (No. 2 line) - December 1883.

One of the main objectives of this No. 2 line was to have two lines from Adelaide to Melbourne which would then minimise the problem of one line becoming inoperative. That possibility was acute with the coastal line partly because of the effects of the salt and wind near the sea. The South Australian No. 2 line was therefore to follow an inland route.

The critical barriers for constructing telegraph lines to reach the Victorian border included:

Decisions to be made included:

The No. 1 line from Adelaide via Goolwa to Mount Gambier and then to the Victorian Western Coast line) had significantly changed the landscape of telecommuncation between the Australian States. It was complemented by the Victorian and New South Wales inter-connection on 29 October 1858. Such was the demand for using the No. 1 line that it was not long before other proposals were being made.

The description and analysis presented on this page focusses on the No. 2 line itself from Adeaide to Border Town and on to Nhill and Harrow in Victoria.

The other lines in the south-east region from Mount Gambier to Penola and to Narracoorte and thence to Casterton and to Apsley in Victoria respectively are discussed elsewhere.

The connection to Victoria through Mount Gambier and Penola to Casterton did not however reduce the burden on the Mount Gambier office. Hence, in October 1873, it was announced that "Mr Todd intends erecting the new telegraph line via Swanport, thence inland to Kincraig and Penola, connecting with the Victorian lines over the border at Casterton - thus avoiding the great disadvantage of the coast line and enabling this colony to telegraph direct with Victoria instead of via Mount Gambier" (Launceston Examiner 11 October 1873). Those connections were not included in the final design for the No. 2 line.

This line would be referred to as the No. 2 or the inland line.

On 21 July 1877, the Adelaide Observer printed the following:


The Australasian, referring to the proposed new telegraph line between Adelaide and Melbourne, says:

"The unsatisfactory nature of the communication between Melbourne and Adelaide has long been recognised by the Telegraph departments of the two colonies and the respective Governments came to a sort of understanding several years ago that a direct inland line should be brought into use at as early a period as possible.

The principal share in carrying out this project falls to South Australia and, as enterprising as she has shown herself in telegraphic matters, she is in this instance somewhat behindhand. Three years ago the Victorian line was extended to the Border and the communication is continued on the South Australian side as far as Narracoorte. From Adelaide the wires have been carried to Wellington, on the Murray, a distance of 55 miles, and there now remains a gap of about 150 miles to be accounted for.

But there is other work to be done besides. The object in view is to establish a separate and distinct means of communication between Adelaide and Melbourne and it is therefore necessary to have a special wire for the whole of the distance. But where poles have already been erected, they will he made use of and it will he seen from what we have stated that it is only between Wellington and Narracoorte that the line will have to be constructed from the beginning.

On the Victorian side, a special wire extends from Melbourne to Hexham and all that this colony has now to do is to place some 60 additional miles of wire on poles already in the ground. South Australia for her part, in addition to constructing 150 miles of fresh line, will have to furnish an additional wire for the poles erected between the Victorian border and Narracoorte and between Wellington and Adelaide.

With the completion of the new line the telegraphic system between Melbourne and Adelaide will assume an entirely new character. The communication, instead of being uncertain, will he about as perfect as it would be possible to make it. It is expected that the inland route will be workable in any weather unless of a very exceptional kind. In case of accidental interruptions, from which no line is free, there will be the coast line and the line via New South Wales to fall back upon. The liability to interruption will of course be greatest between Wellington and Narracoorte, where only a single wire will exist and the territory is unsettled but for the remainder of the distance there will be duplicate wires passing through thoroughly good country. In fact, when Hexham is reached, there will be three wires available from thence to Melbourne viz., the special wire and two others going by way of Camperdown and Streatham respectively - the former passing through Colac and Geelong and the other through Skipton and Ballarat.

It will be seen, therefore, that an important work is awaiting execution. It has been in abeyance for several years but we are glad to know that the South Australian Government have now made up its mind to carry it into effect. So little remains for our own Government to do that the responsibility cannot be said to rest with Victoria. There is yet another route to be established perhaps at some future day, the opening of which would render the interruption in the communication between Melbourne and Adelaide practically impossible. By constructing a telegraph from Swan Hill in Victoria to Wentworth in South Australia (sic.), a distance of 125 miles, we should have a further alternative wire, which would be almost as efficient as the direct line itself. The work would not be such a large one as that which South Australia has to perform and some day it may be undertaken. For the present, however, it is not likely to receive serious consideration from any Victorian Government and the accomplishment of what is already proposed may very well content us."

The Wellington - Border Town - Kaniva link.

The first task was to get a line of telegraph to Border Town.

The SA Register of 2 July 1877 reported that:

"It is proposed to run a telegraph line direct from Adelaide to Melbourne, by which messages will be sent straight through from one city to the other without the necessity of repeating, as is now done at Gambiertown. The line will cross the Murray at Wellington or Swanport and from thence will run almost straight through the Ninety-Mile Desert to Bordertown, then south to Narracoorte and across the border and by way of Casterton to Melbourne. The want of such a line has been felt for some time past and, in view of the increase of business which must result from the opening of telegraphic communication with Western Australia, is urgently required".


By October 1879, the contractors whose responsibility was to construct the telegraph line between Callington and Border Town were proceeding quickly and by the end of November, all the poles between the Bridge and Tailem Bend were in place.


"The erection of the direct telegraph line to Melbourne via Callington, the Murray Bridge and Border Town is progressing satisfactorily, having been completed to a distance of eight miles on the other side of the Bridge. The line, so far as this colony is concerned, will be without a single intermediate station and it is hoped that the Victorian line will be erected in the same manner and similarly free from local business, which, on the present line, very much delays the transmission of through messages from Adelaide to Melbourne - now very numerous indeed. The direct course will also give a much better circuit".

At Tailem Bend, the telegraph line left the Wellington track and took the main road to Cooke's Plain.

On 3 October 1884, the Mount Barker Courier published the following Letter to the Editor:


Sir: Several accidents which have recently occurred on the line of railway now being constructed from Callington to Murray Bridge, and more especially the accident which occurred yesterday at Rocky Gully, show how necessary it is, even if only temporarily, that there should be telegraphic communication between Murray Bridge and Callington.

During the time a messenger is travelling from the former place to Callington - the nearest telegraphic station (a distance of 16 miles) - much valuable time is being lost in obtaining surgical help in serious accidents — time which, in some cases, may make the difference between life and death.

Large earth works requiring blasting are in process of construction and shortly additional earthworks of a formidable character will be in progress beyond the Bridge. There are the poles for the intercolonial telegraphic line with brackets for an additional wire already fixed and the outlay would not be large in at once placing Murray Bridge in connection with Callington. Again, on business grounds, such communication is necessary.

It is only slightly ante-dating the completion of a portion of the second telegraph wire to Melbourne to render a valuable service to the contracters, their men and the public generally.

I am Sir, C. Maslen Deane, M.D.
October 2, l884.

In 1886, tenders were called for the supply of iron telegraph posts for the line between Tailem Bend and Border Town.

Crossing the 90 mile desert.

The route to Border Town across the Ninety-Mile Desert was mainly guided by a short cut which had been established for the gold escort and for travellers to and from the Victorian diggings. It entered the desert on the Tatiara - side near Brimbago and wended out to the Monster (a guiding landmark from either direction) thence to the north-west to Jim Crow's Flat (also known in the 1870s as Tintinara) and on to Binney's lookout, the lushest point in the granite-capped MacDonnell Range. From there the track forked, one track going via Cooke's Plains towards the Wellington punt.

The extraordinary difficulty of the hardships in the desert was highlighted by a deputation seeking to clear a way for the road noted above AFTER the telegraph line had been constructed. The SA Weekly Chronicle of 6 August 1881 reported the meeting as follows:


A deputation from the South-East - attended by Mr. Henning, M.P., Mr. Hardy, M.P., the Hon. J. Rankine,M.L.C.,and Mr. West-Erskine - waited upon the Commissioner of Crown Lands on Monday morning, August 1. Mr. Henning explained that the object of their visit was to get a road cleared from Wellington to Border Town through the desert.

Various speakers gave their experiences of the present track, which was very difficult to travel over in consequence of the numerous stumps and rocks and was so circuitous that more than a day was lost in the distance that might be saved by a direct road. There was one stretch of 24 miles without water where a well or two would be required. The whole work might be done at an outlay of from £300 to £500.

The direct road would also be a great advantage to farmers north of Tatiara, who would be able to send their sheep down, whereas now there was a delay of fully a week in getting sheep across those ninety miles of desert. A travelling reserve was greatly required in this part of the country. Mr. West-Erskine pointed out that the original tracks through the desert were made by bullock drays, followed by other bullock drays, until at last all the traffic had to go many miles out of the proper course and thus a deal of time was wasted. The telegraph line was a great guide as to the direct course but could not always be followed by the traffic.

No special grant would be required for this road because there was a sum on the estimates for clearing roads outside the limits of district councils and corporations and, if the Government took in hand the matter of the piece of land which forms the disputed boundary of the two colonies, they would realise more than sufficient to provide improvements in this district for some time to come. Mr. Hardy said the work would commend itself to the judgment of the Commissioner who would not need to ask that a vote be placed on the Estimates for it.

Tenders could be called and, if the lowest were twice the amount named, it would be worth carrying out. The Commissioner, in reply, said he had no practical knowledge of the road through the desert. He had been through the lower desert by the Coorong and, if the road through the upper desert was much worse than that, it must be very bad indeed. (A voice: That road's not one-fiftieth part as bad as the desert road"). Then the desert road must be a very bad case and their request should have his immediate attention. If the work could be done for £300 or even £500, he had no doubt it would be money well spent. Providing water over the 24 miles stretch could not be lost sight of and he would make enquiries about affording travelling stock reserves in the South-East.

Mr. Moody pointed out that the direct line to Border Town was from the Murray Bridge and, as there was a probability some day of the intercolonial railway taking that route, he thought it would be advisable to survey along that line, clear a road and sink wells and then whenever the railway was made, those wells would be useful to the Government. Mr. West-Erskine advocated boring for water in preference to sinking. The deputation then withdrew".

Sometimes it is difficult to retrieve information about when developments occurred. Insight into the replacement of the first telegraph line across the desert by moving it to the railway line came as follows from The Advertiser of 1 December 1886: "An extraordinary fatal accident, which occurred on the Borderline last week, is thus reported by our Border Town correspondent:

"I regret to chronicle the accidental death of Mr. J. A. Mansfield of this town, who was the largest contractor in this part for all kinds of work connected with sawmills, farming, road, buildings, &c. He was carrying out a contract for removing the old Border Town and Murray Bridge telegraph line to the railway line and on Thursday last was riding in one of a number of trucks forming a train which was travelling at the rate of about eight or ten miles an hour, when one of the telegraph poles on the side of the line rebounded towards the train and struck the deceased with such force as to throw him 16 feet in the air. He fell again into another truck and was taken to his residence at Border Town where it was found that both his legs were broken. He was also internally injured. He succumbed about midday on Saturday after suffering much pain. Mr. Mansfield was unmarried and about 30 years of age. Deceased was buried on Sunday and had the largest funeral ever seen in Border Town.

About mid-July 1886, tenders were called for "the erection of a telegraph line with iron posts from Tailem Bend to Border Town along the railway".

An inspection tour of the region from Murray Bridge to beyond Cooke's Plains was made in June 1886 by a group of horticulturalists and others for the purpose of reporting to the Government upon the possibility of cultivating various kinds of useful timber and forest trees, vines and other economic plants. They noted in part that "the country in that region is admirably suited for the growth of Callistris or Native Pine of which Mr. Charles Todd, C.M.G. speaks in the highest terms as being suitable for telegraph poles - not subject to attack by termites (white ants) and as long-lived (i.e. as telegraph poles) as jarrah".

The line to Border Town.

The first task was to get a line of telegraph to a suitableand independent place near the Victorian border. As Border Town was the most northerly of the main places along the Victorian, it was the logical place. A line coming from Murray Bridge/Swanport would meet with the most northerly township in the eastern region. Although Narracoorte - which was only 50 miles to the south - was also a possibility, the location of Border Town made it the preferred site for the end of the telegraph line across the desert. Nevertheless, the question of a telegraph line between Narracoorte and Border Town had long been discussed.

The SA Register of 2 July 1877 reported that:

"It is proposed to run a telegraph line direct from Adelaide to Melbourne, by which messages will be sent straight through from one city to the other without the necessity of repeating, as is now done at Gambiertown. The line will cross the Murray at Wellington or Swanport and from thence will run almost straight through the Ninety-Mile Desert to Bordertown, then south to Narracoorte and across the border and by way of Casterton to Melbourne. The want of such a line has been felt for some time past and, in view of the increase of business which must result from the opening of telegraphic communication with Western Australia, is urgently required".

On 29 September 1877, the Weekly Mail reported "Great hopes were entertained a short time since of seeing the telegraph line to Narracoorte erected (from Border Town). Tenders were called and sent in and an officer was waiting on the route to supervise the erection of the work but for reasons not made public, no tender was accepted and the officer has been recalled to town".

In the South Australian Chronicle of 23 February 1878, the following "reply and clarification" appeared (perhaps as a prelude to later "State of Origin" encounters):

" 'The recent interruption of telegraphic communication with Adelaide at a time when important cable news was expected reminds us', observes the Melbourne Argus,

'that a long-promised work is still unfinished. As our readers are probably aware, the telegraph which connects Adelaide with Melbourne is a coast line and is therefore peculiarly liable to get out of order in bad weather. That it frequently does so, and very often at most untimely seasons — as, for instance, when cable messages are awaiting dispatch or when the English mail arrives — is a common experience.

It is true that the line via Deniliquin is also available, but it cannot be depended on any more than the other, and both are frequently unworkable at the same moment. The desirability of having more certain communication has been long recognised and an understanding was come to several years ago between the South Australian and Victorian Governments that a special wire should be established between Adelaide and Melbourne via Wellington, Narracoorte and Hexham, avoiding the coast and running inland the whole way. Victoria has practically performed her share of the bargain by carrying a special wire from Melbourne to Hexham, which could be extended to the Border at very short notice.

But South Australia, having constructed a line to Wellington, a distance of 65 miles, has stopped short in the work. South Australia has expended such large sums on telegraphic construction in other directions that the delay which has taken place is perhaps excusable but we confess to a feeling of disappointment at the non-completion of this important line. It is so essential in these days that the chain of communication between the mother country and the Australian Colonies should be as perfect as possible, that the subject is of more than local interest. The imperfections of the local line cause delay in the transmission of cable messages not only to Melbourne but to New Zealand and Tasmania also so that our anxiety in the matter is not purely selfish. We trust that South Australia, as the distributor of European intelligence, will realise the fact that she owes a duty to her neighbors and will lose no unnecessary time in discharging the obligation which rests upon her'.

Anyone unacquainted with the facts would suppose from reading the foregoing that the stoppages had occurred on this side of the border but we find that not one of these interruptions has taken place in South Australia. The Argus lays great stress upon the importance of having an inland telegraph as being less liable to interruption than one skirting the coast and accuses South Australia of not having carried out her promise of constructing her share of such a line to meet one coming via Hexham. The fact is the materials for the South Australian portion of this work have been ordered and the undertaking will soon be completed. It so happens, however, that on the Wentworth and Deniliquin wires, which decidedly are inland, there have been interruptions".

The Telegraph Office opened in Border Town on 18 November 1879. That construction was a balance between the two lines being constructed towards Border Town - one from the Desert and the other from Narracoorte. One of the congratulatory messages noted "that after so many difficulties as to route and other matters, the boon is an accomplished fact".

Border Town east to Victoria.

The inter-colonial line was then extended when funds allowed. By early January 1881, the telegraph line from Border Town was within 12 miles of the Victorian border and the tenders for the erection of the last section had been called. It was anticipated that the work would be finished by the end of February. At that time, the Victorian line had only extended to Horsham and so there was still about 70 miles to complete to reach the border on the Victorian side. Intercolonial messages sent to Border Town on the Wellington line therefore had to be transmitted via Mount Gambier to Melbourne. The Victorian line from Horsham to the South Australian border was eagerly awaited for then messages would not have to approach the coast where the atmospheric disturbances were so much more frequent and severe.

The construction of the telegraph line from Border Town to Lockhart - right on the SA-Victorian border en route to Kaniva - was commenced at the end of April 1881. As discussed in another place, the Victorian telegraph line from Horsham through Kaniva to the border was under construction and, in December 1883, the inter-colonial connection was made.


By the 1930s, the telegraph line between Murray Bridge and Bordertown had long since been demolished and forgotten.