Overland Telegraph Station

Finding a route for the Overland Telegraph Line between Charlotte Waters and Alice Springs proved tedious.  John Ross, the surveyor spent months trying to find a suitable route through the MacDonnell Ranges.

Although seven years earlier John McDouall Stuart had found a way through, it was unsuitable for the line's construction parties.

Months later, on March 11, 1871, a way through was forged and a dry riverbed was found with waterholes and springs, the main spring named Alice Springs, in honor of Charles Todd's wife.

Work on the first building at Alice Springs started in November 1871. It was a combined telegraph office and men's quarters. Then as resources became available a harness room, buggy shed, police station, post and telegraphs office, kitchen and stationmaster's residence were added.

These buildings were made almost entirely from local materials. Most had stone walls cemented with mud mortar. Lime was made from burning limestone dug from the nearby hills. The roof was reed-thatch, later replaced with iron sheets brought up from the south by camel.

The barracks was designed as a fort, but the local Aboriginal people were friendly, even though the repeater station was built near an important sacred site and ceremonial ground. Many of the Aboriginals later became valued companions and employees of the tiny community.

The Alice Springs telegraph station was initially staffed by six men; the stationmaster (who served an average of seven years) an assistant telegraph operator and four linesmen who maintained 290kms of line. Much of their work in the early years involved replacing porcelain conductors which the Aboriginal people broke off to make spearheads and scraping tools.

The Overland Telegraph traversed the continent from south to north, through the arid centre of Australia, but Central Australia was far from the 'dead heart' described by European explorers and settlers.

It was populated by Aboriginal groups who communicated with each other and connected the lands through ceremonies, dreaming stories and trade routes.  Aboriginal groups have been traveling the Overland Telegraph route since long before the telegraph was invented. The Overland Telegraph was constructed along one of the most important ochre trade routes in Australia. Aboriginal groups from most parts of Australia have been trading high-grade red ochre from the north of South Australia to the farthest reaches of the country for many thousands of years. The ochre is still used today for traditional ceremonies.

The route chosen for the Overland Telegraph was one of the same routes used for the ochre trade - both routes relied on the availability of water in the springs and creeks of this arid landscape.

The station was closed in 1932 and is now open for inspection as an important part of the early European history of the area.  The buildings have had an interesting history being used at various times as an Aboriginal reserve for the maintenance and education of part–Aboriginal children, an Army camp and an administration block. They were improved in the 1960s which accounts for their pristine condition and all the new cement work.

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