Located almost in the dead centre of Australia is the Northern Territory town of Alice Springs.
The Alice, as she is locally known, exists for one reason – to service the newly-built telegraph line which connected Australia to the rest of the world. The repeater station began operating in The Alice in 1872, and all equipment had to be transported by camel from the town at the end of the nearest railway line, Oodnadatta, a mere 500 kilometres away.
A visit to the Alice Springs Telegraph Station is well worthwhile, and I found it to be a very interesting experience, particularly when you consider that when it opened the station would have been one of the most remote contemporary places in the world. The people who lived and worked here would have had to endure extreme isolation, even though they were in constant contact with the rest of the world.
The first thing that attracted my attention was just how clean and bright the location and buildings looked. The station is built between a rocky outcrop and the normally-dry Todd River. The rocks here are estimated to be about 1.8 billion years old, and they are a light ochre colour which blends in perfectly with the lovely tall ghost gums which provide shade, and the sandy colour of the Todd River sand.
At the heart of the complex is the telegraph office, with the battery room being located about 20 metres away. Telegraph operators would be constantly working away receiving and transmitting messages in Morse code. The original equipment is in situ, from which you can get a great appreciation of just how simple and uncomplicated the original working conditions were.
One of the first buildings to be built on the site was the barracks, which was also the first major structure to be built in Central Australia. As well as the station master and telegraph operators, they also ran a weather station kept about 60 horses for the linesmen who spent most of their time patrolling the telegraph line to maintain it.
Later on a separate Station Master’s residence was built to accommodate a family. The telegraph station operated for 60 years until more modern communications meant that Morse code was not required anymore.
The station was then used as an army barracks and then from 1932 until 1942 was renamed the Bungalow and became the home of several hundred Aboriginal children who had been taken away from their parents. When I visited, we were greeted by Alec Ross, who told us of the history of the place. This had special meaning as Alec had been one of those children that had been taken from his mother to be raised at the station.
The Telegraph Station is the most visited attraction in Alice Springs for the reason that it is well presented, easy to negotiate and because without it, there may not be an Alice Springs today.