Victoria - Colonial period: 1854-1900.
The Donald (Cross Country) line.

The line constructed through to Ballarat in 1856 established the basis for a number of subsequent lines - including the first line to South Australia. The Donald line also began at Ballarat and tracked to the north before turning to the north-west near Dunolly. Originally this line was named the Cross Country line.

THere are a number of components to the construction activity:

  1. Castlemaine to Ballarat - the direct route;
  2. Castlemaine to Dunolly and Maryborough;
  3. the Maryborough to Avoca and Ballarat lines;
  4. extensions to St. Arnaud and Donald.

With the many developments in the region - mostly stimulated by the gold discoveries - construction of lines north of Ballarat became a priority.

Ballarat to Castlemaine - the direct connection.

In May 1858, tenders were accepted to construct a line from Castlemaine to 'Ballaarat' via Guilford, Daylesford and Creswick. This was constructed in 1859 and so provided two lines of communication from Mebourne to each of Ballarat and Bendigo.

Gold discoveries were becoming more frequent and those ares needed rapid communication facilities. For example, at Hard Hills, Dunolly, a 22 ounce (623 grams) nugget was found.

Castlemaine to Dunolly.

Hence, in 1859, another line which looped to the north was constructed from Castlemaine to Dunolly then down to Maryborough (further details of this extension are given in connection with the Swan Hill line).

The short branch from Maryborough to Avoca was actually an extension of this circuit intended to service the goldfields. Hence the opening date of the Avoca Telegraph Office before Talbot or Clunes.

Further details of the connections made can be found elsewhere.

The Maryborough to Avoca and Ballarat lines.

Both Maryborough and Avoca were developed through the gold rush and both were the centres of their region's commercial and administrative life. In 1859, the Lamplough rush and subsequent discoveries gave Avoca a vital population and commercial centre. For example, from 1859 to 1870, gold worth at least £2,500,000 - and perhaps three times that amount - was sent from Avoca to Melbourne.

The gap between Maryborough and Creswick was closed by the construction of a separate line from Creswick to Maryborough via Back Creek (Talbot) and Clunes - this being "completed" on 21 December 1860. Not only did this line make telegraphic sense but huge nuggets were also being discovered in the area around Talbot - ranging from 5.0 kg to 8.3 kg with a number of "smaller" nuggets between 1 kg and 2 kg. Indeed Talbot was a very substantial town with six streets of stores. Unfortunately the line between Clunes and Back Creek could not be opened for some time after being extended (wrote McGowan on 12 February 1860 in his Report) owing to an oversight in not providing forthe payment of operators in the present Estimates. The Supplementary Estimates, however, did include theoverlooked items.

In the reorganisation of lines during the 1870s to balance the loads on major Telegraph Offices, many of the these connection described above were dismantled. For example, Daylesford was connected to the main Castlemaine line south of Kyneton at Carlesruhe. Dunnolly becamea hub from which one line went to Donald and another went to Swan Hill.

A 7 mile line was erected from Maryborough to Majorca in 1870.

The 1878 Annual Report indicates that telegraph wires were erected along the railway lines between Maryborough and Clunes while similar work continued between Clunes and Creswick and between Maryborough and Avoca.

Extensions to St. Arnaud and Donald.

In 1862, it was intended to construct a line from Avoca to Redbank. This construction was not started for reasons now unknown. In his Report for 1861 (p.6), McGowan stated that the proposal "had been granted principally on account of strong petitions presented to Government from the residents of the places most interested, it being impossible to expect that the probable receipts of the branch will even approximately cover working expenses".

In the (Ballarat) Star of 14 April 1864, part of a parliamentary session was reported as follows:

"Mr. B. G. Davies called the attention of the Hon. the Chief Secretary to a promise made by a previous Government to extend telegraphic communication from the towns of Inglewood and Dunolly so as to connect them with Wedderburne, Bealiba, Kingower and St. Arnaud and to ask whether the Government would carry out that promise.

Mr. McCulloch said, in reply, that on searching in his office for a memorandum relative to the alleged promise, he had found no documents. He found however, that a promise had been made to connect Inglewood, Dunolly and St Arnaud by way of Redbank and that promise would be carried out. But he did not think that telegraphic communication was requisite for the small town mentioned in the question of the Hon. member".

The line was therefore extended in 1865 from Dunolly via Redbank to St. Arnaud. A small 7 mile branch line was erected in mid-April 1870 to Majorca.

In addition to gold finds some years previously, silver was being mined in the mid-1860s from the St Arnaud silver lode by various prospectors including the Freiberg Silver Mine and the St Arnaud Mining Company.

The decision to extend the line to Donald was finally made in conjunction with the extension of the railway line. The Argus of 16 June 1877 reports on a deputation as follows:

"Mr. MacBain MLA, yesterday introduced Mr. J A Meyer as a deputation from Donald to the Minister of Railways, to ask that, in the event of the Government deciding to extend the railway to St. Arnaud, it might be continued on to Donald, a further distance of 23 miles. A memorandum of reasons in support of the application was read by Mr. MacBain, showing that there was a very large amount of settlement in the district. Last year it was calculated that there were 2,555 selectors in the St Arnaud shire who had over 100 000 acres of land under cultivation, while it was estimated that, after providing for local consumption, 1,700,000 bushels of grain required transmission to market. With the construction of the railway it was also urged there would be a large traffic in wool, hides, skins, tallow and timber as the traffic was restricted at present through the carriers charging 50/- per ton for conveying goods the 23 miles to St Arnaud.

Mr. Woods said he had fully recognised the necessity for extending the railway to Donald 18 months ago, when he had ordered a flying survey to be made there. That might be taken as an indication of his individual opinion of the necessity of railway communication to this district. No doubt such lines as this would have to come under the consideration of the Government, as permanent settlement would be impossible without railway communication within a reasonable distance. A railway near a farm enhanced its commercial value by at least 10 percent".

Clearly the telegraph would support these commercial interests and the construction of the line would be facilitated by using the railway poles. This work was completed two years later with the Donald Telegraph Office opening in June 1879.