Monday, 22 August 2022

150th Anniversary of the Completion of the Overland Telegraph Line

I acknowledge the Jingili and Mudburra people as the traditional owners – from the past, today and into the future - of the land on which we are gathering and pay my respects to the elders and to all Aboriginal people present.

We think particularly today of the toll which exploration and settlement took on Aboriginal people, but also of their enduring care for this land, and the pathway of reconciliation we now walk together.

It is a privilege for Rod and me to join you today at this special ceremony to commemorate the Sesquicentenary of the completion of the Overland Telegraph Line.

In coming together, we are reminded of the enduring links between South Australia and the Northern Territory, and our strategic position as a central north-south corridor for trade, transport, tourism and settlement.

We share a sense of pride in, and admiration for, the achievement of 150 years ago. It connects us.

On our flight from Adelaide to Darwin, Rod and I saw the Outback stretching beyond the horizon; vast, beautiful, yet harsh.

That sight really brought home the vision, tenacity and courage of those who crossed the country, stringing 36,000 poles with 8-gauge steel wire to connect the colonies to the world.

Even more remarkably, while Aboriginal people had traversed this land for thousands of years and knew of its water holes and other resources, the feat was undertaken at a time when Australia was sparsely populated by European settlers and the great interior was a great unknown to them.

The ease of road, rail and air connections today makes it difficult truly to comprehend and appreciate the gruelling toil it took explorer John McDouall Stuart in his six expeditions to find a route through the interior of the country to the north coast.

As we know, his knowledge – and task - informed the way for the route of the Overland Telegraph and gave Sir Charles Todd the confidence his grand plan was indeed possible.

I am honoured to be continuing a long tradition of South Australian Vice Regal support for this monumental project.

My predecessor Governors Sir Richard Graves MacDonnell, Sir Dominick Daly and the Right Honourable Sir James Fergusson were strong supporters and have landmarks on the line named after them.

The completion of the line sparked great celebration in Adelaide, and even prompted Governor Fergusson to declare a public holiday in South Australia.

More recently, the Honourable Hieu Van Le wrote the preface to Derek Pugh’s book Twenty to the Mile, paying tribute to how the tyranny of distance was tamed and the role that Afghan Cameleers played in doing so.

I congratulate all the organisations involved in bringing the story of the Overland Telegraph Line to the wider public.

For the aficionados, there is much of interest on the Ot-150 website, which has clearly been put together with dedication and enthusiasm, and in Derek’s book.

As has often been stated, the impact of the line on the economic, social and political fabric of our nation was dramatic.

As Her Honour outlined, it anchored Darwin as a strategic port, a position enhanced by the Adelaide to Darwin railway.

And while the telegraph line has been surpassed by other, quicker communications methods – among them the internet, mobile phones, satellites and fibre optic cable - there is much we can learn from its ambition and achievement.

We, too, can be bold, we can take risks, we can overcome obstacles, we can conceive of and implement nationally significant projects.

We can look confidently to the future.

Already, South Australia and the Northern Territory are strategically placed for defence and space industries, leveraging our relationship and position in the region just as we did 150 years ago.

Our potential continues to be captured in the concluding words telegrammed in 1871 from the captain of the ship that had just laid the undersea cable from Darwin to Java, the final external communications link that was to open the colonies to the world.

“Advance Australia”.

Coming events