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Twenty to the Mile: The Overland Telegraph Line

The greatest engineering feat of 19th century Australia

The greatest engineering problem facing Australia – the tyranny of distance – had a solution: the electric telegraph, and its champion was the sheep-farming state of South Australia. In two years, Charles Todd, leading hundreds of men, constructed a telegraph line across the centre of the continent from Port Augusta to Port Darwin. At nearly 3,000 kilometres long and using 36,000 poles at ’20 to the mile’, it was a mammoth undertaking, but at last, in October 1872, Adelaide was linked to London. The Overland Telegraph Line crossed Aboriginal lands first seen by John McDouall Stuart just 10 years before and messages which previously took weeks to cross the country now took hours. Passing through eleven new repeater stations, built in the remotest parts of Australia, the line joined the vast global telegraph network, and a new era was ushered in. Each station held a staff of six and they became centres of white civilization and the cattle or sheep industry as the Aborigines were displaced. The unique stories of how men and women lived and/or died on the line range from heroic, through desperate, to tragic, but they remain an indelible part of Australia’s history.

Derek Pugh OAM, an educator and award-winning author, writes in several genres: history, science, travel, and YA fiction. Most well-known is a series on Northern Territory settlement, Tambora, Tammy Damulkurra, and Schoolies. He lives in Darwin and has had a career in primary and secondary education in large urban schools, tiny remote homeland schools, and several international schools. He currently is writing the further history of the Northern Territory’s Top End settlements and is promoting the forthcoming sesquicentenary of the Overland Telegraph Line (2022) and the bicentenary of Top End settlement (2024).

* The 150th Anniversary of the OTL falls in 2022. * The OTL enabled communication between Australia and Europe to take less than a day, as opposed to 6 weeks. It was the satellite communication or internet of its day, and its effects in Australia were as profound. The tyranny of distance was broken. * Commemorations are planned along its length throughout the year, with major date (the joining) on 22 August 2022. Publicity: Book launches: * Darwin January 2022 * Port Augusta * Adelaide *Talk back radio - Conversations on ABC * Local radio. * Publicity event at Alice Springs Telegraph Station – Heritage week. * Articles in NT papers, NT Resident magazine * Public Lectures LANT

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