For early Australian settlers, communication with the rest of the continent, let alone an overseas destinations, was a long and difficult process.
Letters and news could take months to travel halfway around the world. After the death of Charlotte, Princess of Wales, on 5 November 1817, it wasn’t until 2 April 1818 that New South Wales received the news.
But in 1870 that would all change. The South Australian government agreed to build a telegraph line through the centre of the continent to link a new submarine cable – a communications line under the seabed carrying telecommunications overseas – with the existing telegraph system.
The first pole at the northern end of the line from Darwin to Port Augusta was planted on 15 September 1870.
The Overland Telegraph Line crossed 3200km through mountains, flood plains and desert.
It was one of the greatest engineering achievements of the 19th century.
The project was given to the South Australian Superintendent of Telegraphs, Charles Todd.
With only 18 months and a budget of £128,000 ($2,900,000 in 2010 terms) to complete the line, he divided construction into three sections – southern, central and northern.
The telegraph line was made from 36,000 posts, pins and insulators; almost 3000km of galvanised telegraph wire.
The materials were transported to the workers by bullocks and horse drawn wagons.
Afghan cameleers were also recruited to carry food and supplies to workers along the central and southern sections, giving rise to the name of the famous Ghan train line from Adelaide to Darwin.
However, construction was far from smooth says historian Stuart Traynor.
“The biggest obstacle that Charles Todd faced was that he really had very little idea about the terrain on which the line was to be built,” says Stuart.
“No white men had travelled along the proposed route since explorer John McDouall Stuart’s epic crossing of the continent in 1862.
Normally on a project of this type he would have sent surveyors to map out the route, but due to the 18-month time frame this was not possible.
So he sent ahead (explorer) John Ross to check the terrain, but he was only a little ahead of the construction team.”