Investigation 3

What impact did the construction of South Australia’s overland Telegraph line have on the colonies?

The English-born astronomer, Charles Todd came up with the idea to build a transcontinental telegraph system between Port Augusta and Palmerston (Darwin) in order to connect Australia with the rest of the world. The telegraph system, known as the Overland Telegraph Line, took almost two years to build. When it was finished on 22 August 1872, the line stretched across 3,000 kilometres and crossed land that had barely been explored by non-Indigenous people. The telegraph line was generally regarded as a ‘national’ achievement. People could communicate faster and easier than ever before, reading about events in London less than a day after they happened. Before the telegraph, messages came from Britain by sea and took several months. Todd later supervised the building of the telegraph line to Perth with equally good results. He also used the telegraph stations that were built along the line to begin a system of meteorological stations to collect scientific information about weather.

Your Task

Consider the impact the construction of South Australia’s Overland Telegraph Line had on the lives of people in the late 1800s.


  1. Examine the map of South Australia and its Northern Territory.
  2. Form small groups. Discuss the following questions and record your answers.
    • What kinds of difficulties might Todd and his team of workers have experienced when constructing the Overland Telegraph Line?
    • How might the line have improved communication for colonial governments, businesses and families?
    • Why might the line have been generally regarded as a ‘national’ achievement?
    • Why might improved communication have encouraged people to think of themselves as Australians rather than as part of a colony?
    • Why might the ability to communicate with Britain have been considered important? Does this ability have the same level of importance today? Why?
  3. The telegraph was used for messages that were very short and important. Individually or with a partner, write an urgent telegram message to a relative living in another colony or overseas. Think of a very complicated situation that you must explain using as few words as possible. For example, ‘Mother fell off a ladder and is in a coma. We aren’t sure how seriously injured she may be. You should make arrangements to come here as soon as possible and you may have to stay here for several weeks before we know her situation’, might be reduced to ‘Mother had a bad accident. Come quickly’.