Australia: 1901-1988.
Australian telegram rates.

The rates charged for telegrams changed every few years. They are discussed below as follows:

  1. the 1901 Federal Post & Telegraph Act;
  2. the 1902 Federal Post & Telegraph Act;
  3. the 1902-1923 basic rates;
  4. the 1923-1939 basic rates;
  5. the 1939-1963 basic rates;
  6. the post-1964 basic rates;
  7. urgent rates.

The first announcements about rates for telegrams within the new Commonwealth of Australia were contained in the Federal Post and Telegraph Act of 1901:

Urgent Telegrams — Urgent telegrams will now be received for transmission to any part of the Commonwealth on payment of double the ordinary charge.

Delivery of Telegrams — Telegrams are delivered free within a radius of one mile of the office, beyond that distance and up to one and a half miles radius of the office, a charge of 3d is made. No responsibility, will be accepted for delivery beyond the 1½ mile radius.

The details of the rates for sending telegrams were first set by Section 7 of the Post and Telegraph Rates Act of 1902 which came into force on 1 November 1902. Special aspects of this Act included:

Be it enacted by the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty, the Senate, and the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Australia, as follows:-
(1.) This Act may be cited as the Post and Telegraph Rates Act 1964.
(2.) The Post and Telegraph Rates Act 1902-1959* is in this Act referred to as the Principal Act.
(3.) The Principal Act, as amended by this Act, may be cited as the Post and Telegraph Rates Act 1902-1964.
2. This Act shall come into operation on the first day of October, One thousand nine hundred and sixty-four.

The Act ceased to be modified after the 1975 division of the PMG Department into Telecom and Australia Post.

1902-1923: basic rates

The basic rates for ordinary telegrams sent within Australia were:

(15 mile radius)
Other places within the State except Town and Suburban Interstate
(including Tasmania by 1914)
Not exceeding
16 words:
6d 9d 1/-
Each additional word: 1d 1d 1d

The 16 words included the address and the signature (a point of great and continual discussion).

For telegrams sent on a Sunday, Christmas Day or Good Friday - and for Urgent telegrams, the costs were double those above.

There was initially a ½d surcharge per word (previously 1d) on the cost of interstate telegrams to or from Tasmania and that is discussed elsewhere. The surcharge was seen as an anomalous situation in the quest to have uniform interstate telegram rates. See elsewhere for the Official 1902 Tasmanian Post and Telegraph rates.



Melbourne — At a meeting of the Cabinet this morning consideration was given to the request of the interstate Press Association for the reduction of telegraphic rates on press reports of the proceedings of the Federal Parliament. It was decided to make the rate a uniform one of 1s 6d per 100 words. Thus messages would be sent to New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia at the same rate as to any part of Victoria. It is doubtful if Tasmania would get the full benefit of this concession as the Bass Strait cable is in the hands of the Eastern Extension Company. The Cabinet will consider the question of refunding amounts paid, in excess of 1s 6d per 100 words since the opening of Parliament.

The removal of the interstate rate used in 1902 and 1923 was subject to continual debate from 1924 onwards. In 26 April 1935, the following example, repeated in many newspaper articles, appeared in the Barrier Miner:

TELEGRAPHIC COMEDY: How Corowa Men Save Money

COROWA (N.S.W.), Thursday. At a meeting of the progress association reference made to the anomaly of interstate telegraph charges at border towns. It was said that business men at Corowa were in the habit of crossing the river to Wahgunyah to send telegrams, so saving 4d. - a telegram from Corowa to Melbourne costing 1/4.

The strange part is that there is no transmitter at the Wahgunyah office and telegrams presented there have to be telephoned back to Corowa to be transmitted to Melbourne. A telegram could be sent from Perth to Brisbane as easily as one from Corowa to Wahgunyah.

It was decided to ask the Postmaster-General to revise telegraphic charges on a zone system according to distance, as is done with telephone charges.


1923-1939: basic rates.

On 1 October 1923, the basic rates for ordinary telegrams changed to the following:

  Town and Suburban (generally within 15 miles from the sending station). Other places within the State except Town and Suburban Interstate
Not exceeding
16 words:
9d 1/- 1/4
Each additional word: 1d 1d 1d

Word count included address and signature. Urgent rate was double the ordinary rate.

The 9d uniform rate for the basic charge had been denied as being "of no immediate prospect" since at least 1914.

These rates did not address the problem of interstate rates being charged between border towns - especially those at Albury-Wodonga, Corowa-Wahgunya and Mungindi.

The first breakthrough on this issue came in May 1924:

"It has been decided," the Postmaster-General Mr. Gibson said, "to introduce a system of zoning for telegrams on the same lines as that recently adopted regarding telephone charges. Under the existing system there have been complaints that people living near the boundaries of a State have to pay interstate rates for messages sent only a few miles across the border, while the same message could be sent hundreds of miles within the State at a lesser rate.

Our intention is to fix a scale of charges according to zones, of which there will be three or four in the Commonwealth. The charges will be cheaper than the present rates for short distances, but with long distances, such as from Brisbane to Perth, they will be dearer. At present the interstate charges are uniform, the cost of telegraphing from Brisbane to Perth being the same as that from Melbourne to Adelaide. A Bill to authorise the alteration will be introduced this session."

After much pressure, the Postmaster-General announced on 29 October 1924 that:

"it is proposed shortly to introduce a system of zoning which, it is expected, will result in a more equitable distribution of charges ... for telegrams to the distances they are sent ... under the new system, he said, the department expected to lose revenue on short range messages, but there would be an increase on telegrams over intermediate distances. It was not proposed to institute a heavy scale of charges, such as those in certain other countries, which made the cost of a telegram almost prohibitive. The new scale of charges would be carefully drawn up, according to distance. Mr. Gibson predicted a heavy loss of telegraphic revenue for the present financial year."

After this politically-worded statement, the change was made soon after (politically-speaking) - actually 15 years later!!

The First Reading of the 1923 Act also proposed "to permit of the erection of telegraph poles of 8 ft. in height. Under the Act, the wire must be not less than 12 ft. from the ground. The new provision will facilitate the erection of telegraph lines in outback districts".


1939-1963: basic rates.

Between 1939 and 1963 there were five changes to telegram rates.

From 1 July 1939, rates were based on a reduced number of words - from 16 to 14 - but they allowed the 15 miles provision to include destinations to another State. That decision reduced the number of categories from 3 to 2. The name of the state was however to be counted as one word.

Courier Mail 29 June 1939.

CANBERRA, Wednesday 28 June. "Expectations of reduced inter-State telegraph rates from July 1 will not be realised, as the Menzies Government has not had time during its brief term to complete the legislative action necessary. The Lyons Government decided in Hobart to abolish from July 1 the differential rate on inter-State telegrams and the double charge for Sunday telegrams and to admit, at Press rates, news messages addressed to broadcasting stations. Recently the Menzies Cabinet approved of the principle, but as legislative action is necessary the reductions cannot operate until Parliament approves during the Spring session".

The interstate rate was abolished as from 10 June 1940.

  Cost basis: 14 words to 9 July 1951
and thereafter 12 words
Effective date of new rate: Within 15 miles from the sending station. Beyond 15 miles. Each additional word: Notes on the new rate:
10 June 1940 9d 1/- 1d
  • eliminated the double rate provision for telegrams lodged on Sundays, Christmas Day, Good Friday or after the prescribed hours.
  • Concessions made for telegrams transmitted to or from members of the Defence forces - the new cost being 6d for 14 words and each additional two words costing 1d.
1 July 1949 1/3 1/6 1d  
1 December 1950 1/9 2/- 1½d  
9 July 1951 2/3 2/6 2d (CK Coronation, Royal Visit, Tasmania).
1 October 1956 2/9 3/- 3d  

In 1952 porterage charges were increased - from 3d per quarter mile to 6d per quarter mile beyond the free delivery area - i.e. beyond a radius of three miles from the CTO or a mile and a half from suburban or country post offices.

Post 1964 rates.

The different rates for under and over 15 miles were abolished as from October 1964.

Effective date of new rate: 12 words or less: Additional words.
1 October 1964 3/- 6d for 2 words.
14 February 1966 30c 5c for 2 words.
1 October 1967 36c 3c
1 October 1970 48c 4c
1 October 1974 72c 6c
1975 $1.08 9c

Note: the 12 words included the address and signature. For the 1964 and 1966 "additional word" charges, "if the telegram contains an odd number of words, it shall be deemed to contain an additional word". All rates were exclusive of porterage charge. Double the ordinary rate for urgent telegrams

Examples of payment of these rates with different frankings of stamps is shown elsewhere.

Urgent rates

From 1917, urgent rates were set at double the ordinary rates. So, for example, in the 1920 to 1935 period,
the charges were as shown in the following table:

  Town and Suburban (generally within 15 miles from the sending station). Other places within the State except Town and Suburban Interstate
Not exceeding 16 words: 1/6 2/- 2/8
Each additional word: 2d 2d 2d

Just as for the ordinary rates, the 16 words included the address and the signature.