Victoria - Colonial period: 1854-1900.
The Otways lines.



The description of the construction of the telegraph lines throughout the Otways is provided as follows:
  1. The 1859 line from Geelong to Cape Otway;
  2. the line from Geelong to the Western Coast;
  3. the inclusion of Colac and Winchelsea

1. The line to Cape Otway.

The construction of the telegraph line to Cape Otway so early in Victorian telegraphic activity was a recognition of its importance - especially for humanitarian purposes but also for economic purposes and especially in completing the cable link with Tasmania.

In the Estimates hearing of 28 January 1858, the House voted £5,000 for the construction of the Telegraph line from Geelong to Cape Otway. This line was to serve two purposes:

  1. to provide a line of telegraph to inform Melbourne about shipping movements and to provide humanitarian support in the case of a shipping disaster - which were common in the area;
  2. to meet the submarine cable from Tasmania.

On 31 March 1858, the Public Works Department of Victoria advertised a tender "for contracting a Line of Telegraph between Geelong and Cape Otway via Winchelsea and Apollo Bay with a branch from Winchelsea to Colac".

The Hobart Town Daily Mercury of 19 April 1858 noted:

"It is very evident that the Victorian Public Works Department has resolved that no delay shall be occasioned by any sluggishness or procrastination on its part and that by the time our Cable is ready the station at Cape Otway will be ready also. We are quite convinced that not one hour will be wasted by the Contractors on this side of the Straits. By the time the cable arrives from England, the posts and stations on Hunter's and King's Islands will be erected and every preparation made for connecting it with the telegraphic wires. We are glad to find that a disposition seems to e evidenced to have the line completed and we trust that our Government will at once commence extending the line to Cape Grim so that no delay may arise on this side of the Straits".

On 24 April, 1858, the tender submitted by Mr. W. L. McKay at £55 per mile for construction of the 140 mile telegraph line was accepted. As this was not the lowest tender submitted, the House asked a number of questions as to why it was considered to be the best. The answer indicated that it was only 15s more than the lowest tender and, as McKay had performed good work previously, there had been no time to investigate the efficiency or quality of the other bidders.

In the Half-Yearly Report to June 1858, Mr. McGowan noted (page 1) that work can be prosecuted more effectively when it is not winter, "the contractor for the Cape Otway line abandoned the undertaking, and his tender having in consequence lapsed, it was considered advisable to postpone further action in respect of the line in question until the ensuing spring - say September next - during which month I purpose recommending that renewed tenders should be called for and the work may readily be completed within the year".

In his Half-Yearly Report to December 1858, McGowan again noted the contracting difficulties (page 7) but added "I believe the principal obstructions have now been removed and that the line will be completed, if not by the time when it is proposed to lay the cable to Tasmania, at least within a week or ten days thereafter".

He also noted (page 6) the need to improve the telegraphic link with South Australia through the provision of a single wire of line direct from Melbourne via Geelong, Winchelsea, Colac, Camperdown and Warrnambool to connect at Portland with the line from Mt. Gambier. This latter became the Western Coast line and also established the basis for other lines in the Otways region.

Little is recorded of the construction of the line direct to Cape Otway except that the line became operational in September 1859. The Gazette of 7 October 1859 listed "E. L. Crowell - extra work on contract 1,316 of 1858 - Line of telegraph between Geelong and Cape Otway - £90".

The country side was dense and mitigated against any easy access either for those responsible for laying and maintaining the telegraph line to Cape Otway or for people wishing to traverse the general area.

In McGowan's Report for 1860, he lists 8 occasions across four of the months where the Cape Otway line was interrupted. Seven of those interruptions were caused by a tree falling on the line (5 days and 15½ hours in total) and an additional 6 hours interruption in September due to a gale.

The Australasian of 10 May 1873 described traversing the country side (albeit 15 years after the direct Cape Otway line was completed) as follows:

"Land Route to Cape Otway:

In reply to a question from Subscriber last week, a Geelong correspondent kindly supplies the following information: Assuming him to be a resident on the Melbourne side, he must start from this place and go via Birregurra on the Colac Road thence over Mount Sabine to Apollo Bay and along the coast track. He cannot practically follow the telegraph line. The track from Mount Sabine to Apollo Bay is only open for cattle not conveyances. The distances are, as we learn from another informant, from Birregurra to Gherangmite Station eight miles and thence to Mount Sabine 18 miles more and thence to Apollo Bay 13 miles. The track is cut all the way".

The Kilmore Free Press of 7 August 1873 gives a report from Mr. Byron-Moore, an Assistant Surveyor, who was about the visit the area around Cape Otway. He describes four possible tracks - none of which are available for vehicles the whole distance.

The first track "along the telegraph line from Loutit Bay (Lorne) passes over several very steep and lofty ranges occasionally following the coast which is in many places rocky and difficult of passage at high water. The journey along the track is a difficult one to any but good horses and the conveyance of a vehicle along it is an impossibility. The distance from Loutit Bay to Apollo Bay is about 30 miles. From Apollo Bay to Cape Otway, the track is cut through the forest a few miles inland - crossing several large creeks and it is only available for horses. The distance from Apollo Bay to the Cape is 16 miles.

2. The link from Geelong to the Western Coast.

The construction of a new line was undertaken in 1863. With increased traffice within Victoria and with South Australia, McGowan wanted to create alternative routes to avoid congestion and interruption. It was therefore appropriate to run a line direct from Geelong to Warrenbool and thence to Portland and Mt. Gambier.

It was therefore appropriate to open two intermediate offices along the line making that link - at Camperdown and Colac. That line therefore could parallel part of the Geelong - Cape Otway line (which was a dedicated line with no other stations) and as well facilitate, in due course, the inclusion of other station - in particular Winchelsea as well as extending a line to Birregurra.

3. The inclusion of Winchelsea and Birregurra.

Finally, in July 1873, the Geelong Advertiser expressed the hope that "in the course of a few weeks, telegraphic communication will exist between Geelong, Winchelsea and Birregurra". Unfortunately a slightly too optimistic ambition by about 8 months. Nevertheless, the paper followed up the issue on 6 December 1873 with the report that "the erection of new Post and Telegraph Offices is being proceeded with at Winchelsea and Birregurra and it is anticipated that they will be completed by the commencement of the new year". Both Offices opened in February 1874.

By 18??, the Cape Otway line from Geelong encompassed Cape Otway and a branch line to Lorne. The Birregurra Branch also included Winchelsea while the Point Lonsdale from Queenscliff remained as previously.

The line to Krambruk (Apollo Bay) was needed by the local community. The Colac Herald of 26 March 1886 reported:

"The want of a (telegraph) station under the control of a competent officer is severely felt and the various sawmilling companies, backed up by the inhabitants, are moving in the matter. At present one of the Messrs. Carwood Bros. acts as operator and line repairer and when he is engaged, as he often is, on the latter duty, telegrams can neither be received or despatched. Many of the residents also object to the business being conducted in a private house and it has been suggested to the Telegraph Department that the Office be removed to the State School building, where there is room available, or the premises of either Mr. Gosney or Mr. Costin. The sawmill companies are doing their utmost to obtain greater telegraph facilities for the Bay and, to show how thoroughly in earnest they are in the matter, they have signified their intention of paying one-third of the expenses of the Office. On their representations, the Department sent an Inspector to the Bay on Saturday last and his Report thereon is anxiously awaited".

In June 1888, the community at Bellarine - between Drysdale and the Port, began agitating for the opening of a Telegraph Office in their community. In August 1888, it was reported that "the Hon. J. F. Levien brought under the notice of the Postmaster-General the necessity for finalisiing a telegraph office at East Bellarine. Mr Derham has agreed, to give the office a trial, the Postmistress having consented to work it on the two-thirds system. As soon as the necessary arrangements are completed, the office will be opened".

Being only 4 km south west of Portarlington, the community finally had to settle for just the Post Office established in January 1865.

The lines by 1890.

By 1890, there were several lines to and in the Geelong - Otways - Colac area. Those lines which were not solely for telephones include:

Line 8: Melbourne through Williamstown, Newport test box, Werribee, Geelong, Birregurra to Apollo Bay;

Line 9: Melbourne through Williamstown, Newport test box, Werribee, Geelong, Drysdale to Queenscliff;

Line 10: Melbourne through Newport test box, Werribee, Geelong, Winchelsea, Lorne to Apollo Bay;

Line 105: Geelong through Mount Moriac Railway, Winchelsea, Winchelsea Railway, Birregurra, Birregurra Railway, Colac to Colac Railway (Used by the Railway Department and connected to their Port Fairy line).

Line 109: Apollo Bay to Cape Otway;

Line 112: Melbourne through Newport test box, Werribee, Geelong, Geelong West, Market Square, Drysdale, Port Arlington to Queenscliff.

Sub & Sorrento The first line from Melbourne to Geelong was one of the main lines in Victoria. By 1865, the 90 mile line had been duplicated and it was noted as being a "Special Line".

In the 1865 Report of the General Superintendent of Electric Telegraphs, it comprised half of the line which then began to be referred to as the Southern Coast line.

In 1878, a telegraph line was erected along the railway line between Winchelsea and Birregurra.

On 23 October 1891, tenders were called for "Sundry work required to be done renewing poles, etc on the section of the Electric Telegraph lines between Winchelsea and Lorne with extension to Split Point". Further information could be obtained at the Post Offices in Geelong, Winchelsea, Birregurra and Colac.