Getting the News

In the cities today, getting family or business news is easy. We can check current weather forecasts or emergency warnings any time on the web or smart phones. But in the Flinders Ranges and other remote areas in Australia, it’s not so easy. Mobile phone coverage is patchy, and so is access to the internet. Many places have their own satellite dishes so they can communicate with the outside.

How did people manage before satellites made all this possible?

• South Australia had a ‘rational and efficient’ postal service right from the beginning.
• In the early years, mail was delivered by men riding horses or driving carts.

Coach services carried mail – for instance there was a weekly coach between Wilpena and Blinman in the 1870s, and a fortnightly mail coach drove from Wonoka Mail Station through Hookina Creek
Gorge to Mern Merna, Edeowie, Beltana and Sliding Rock
• Post offices were highly prized. Some stations served as the local post office – eg at Kanyaka and Mt Serle. Small mining centres like Bolla Bollana
• When the railways came, mail came by train, then later by road.

Postal services, mail

• Telegraph line. Telegrams meant station and farming families could follow the progress of their stock and crops to market, as well as getting urgent family news.
• By 1860, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Tasmania were all connected by telegraph, but sending and receiving messages to Europe still relied on shipping and took about 60 to 80 days each way. The new technology promised relatively immediate communication with the
rest of the world. In 1866 the first long-distance undersea cable was successfully laid across the Atlantic Ocean and telegraph communication between continents was made possible. Telegraph and Telephone Connections
• Adelaide and Port Augusta were connected by telegraph in 1865. A year later, there was a telegraph station at Melrose.
• The Telegraph Station at Beltana was built as part of the great Overland Telegraph Line.
• The Overland Telegraph line north from Port Augusta to Darwin was completed in 1872 and connected with a submarine cable at its northern end, so that news could be send quickly between England and Australia.
• Many of the 36,000 poles came from Wirrabara Forest. Beltana supplied horses, and men from Blinman found work carting poles.
• There were 11 repeating stations between Port Augusta and Darwin,
• Its role was to receive and retransmit messages to the next station in the line as well as maintain its section of the line. There was no mains electricity to power the lines, each station had its own power supply of glass batteries.
• Initially the messages were re-transmitted manually. The route pretty much followed that taken by John McDouall Stuart – and that in turn followed the Aboriginal trade routes between water sources. These same routes were ideal for droving stock because they had water. • As railway lines went in, some telegraph routes shifted from the stock routes to railway reserves. The telegraph route between Port Augusta and the repeating station at Beltana changed in 1884, with the new route to Marree. Telephone
• During World War II, the trunk line from Adelaide to Darwin was upgraded, and for the first time long-distance voice calls could be made by telephone. For many years, calls needed to be connected manually by operators working in exchanges. Progressive automation and technical change means that people can now dial anywhere – provided they are connected to a network.
• Most places in the Flinders Ranges don’t have mobile phone coverage in 2012. Radio telephone
• John Flynn thought of getting medical help to remote areas by aeroplane. And how to summon help? By wireless radio. In 1927 Alfred Traeger dreamed up the ‘pedal radio’, which meant one person could generate enough electricity to operate a radio that could send and receive messages. It made a huge difference in emergencies – and also meant people on isolated stations and homesteads could talk t each other.
• It was essential for the School of the Air, which operated from 1951. Radio The first radio broadcast in South Australia was in 1924. The Hawker store sold radios from the 1920s. Before radio, people relied on the sun to set their clocks and tell the time.


Lee, Robert. Linking a Nation: Australia’s Transport and Communications 1788-1970.
Available on the Australian Heritage Council website at: