The birthplace and history of Alice Springs
A visit to the Historical Precinct is the best way to immerse yourself in the history of the Alice Springs Telegraph Station. Discover the origin of Alice Springs as a town and its interesting characters throughout its history. But here is a little snippet of what you will learn when you come and see us….
For thousands of years Arrente people met here for ceremonies and to exchange goods
An End to Silence
Explorer history – July 1862 explorer John McDouall Stuart led an expedition (his third and final attempt) through the Centre of Australia. Travelling to the north coast, he was navigating and mapping the country for European settlement. As arguably Australia’s pre-eminent explorer, the Stuart Highway now honours his remarkable feats of exploration and leadership.
Following in Stuart’s footsteps – In October 1870 the South Australian government allocated $250,000 for the construction of an Overland Telegraph Line. The line was to extend from Port Augusta in South Australia, to Palmerston (now Darwin). The line would travel along a route closely following that of McDouall Stuart.Construction of the Overland Telegraph line began in 1871. In December of that year, the first Morse signals were sent along the completed southern section of the line. The north and central sections of the line were eventually joined on August 22nd, 1872 at Frew Ponds, near Dunmarra. Unfortunately there were problems with the undersea cable linking Palmerston with Java were not resolved until October.
The final cost of the line was nearer twice the original estimate, but the prestige for South Australia was immense. It was a true engineering feat!
The Telegraph Station
Becoming the centre of activity in the area, outbuildings were gradually added to the Telegraph Station.. These included policemen’s quarters, harness and buggy sheds, a Stationmasters residence, a battery room, blacksmith’s shop and a kitchen-mess room.
Like the original Telegraph Station these were all built with local stone and lime mortar. They then had thatched rooves which were later replaced with galvanised iron.
The Telegraph Station operated 24 hours a day and was one of 12 along the 3,000 km line. It was basically self-sufficient, relying on provisions from the south only once a year. Sheep, goats, cattle and their own vegetable garden ensured adequate food and the blacksmith made much of their equipment.
The first Stationmaster was Johannes Mueller (1872-1879). Four telegraphist-linesmen, a teacher-governess, a cook, and a stockman-blacksmith made up the rest of the staff.
More modern facilities were then established in the new township of Stuart in 1932 (Corner of Railway Tce and Parson Street) and the Station ceased operation. This modern Post Office in Hartely Street has since replaced this facility. facility. Further, the Telecommunications Centre at the corner of Bath Street and Parsons Street.
Since its closure the original station has been; an education centre for part aboriginal children (1932-42) known as the Bungalow; a wartime army base during World War 2 (1942-1945); and an aboriginal reserve (1945-1963). In 1963 the aboriginal people moved to Amoonguna, an aboriginal settlement south-east of town. This settlement still exists today. The station was therefore gazetted the Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve.
The Historical Reserve
The then Northern Territory Reserves Board (now Parks and Wildlife Commission NT) began a program of reconstruction of the old buildings. Using old photographs of the settlement at the turn of the century resulted in a restoration of the buildings and area as it looked between 1895 and 1905.
So who WAS Alice?
The Alice Springs settlement was named after Mrs Alice Todd. Alice was the wife of Charles Todd who won the Government Tender to construct the Overland Telegraph line. Telegraph line surveyor Mr William Mills was seeking a suitable location for a repeater station ahead of its construction. Mills came across a mighty inland river system (usually dry) he named after his boss Charles Todd. He then came across what he thought was a natural spring in the river system. A location with a water supply was a good location for the repeater station. He named and mapped the site of Alice Springs for the construction party. Sadly there was never a natural spring in the river. It was actually a water hole from after the river had once flowed, then left in the usually dry river system.
Former Bungalow resident and Tour Guide Alec Ross OAM explains the history, heritage and life at the Telegraph Station.