As many as eleven repeater stations were built along the Overland Telegraph Line between Port Augusta and Darwin which was completed in August 1872. Using the morse key, operators at the stations were able to communicate with the world 24 hours a day. In 1872 it took seven hours to send a message from Adelaide to England. By tapping the morse key an operator would disrupt the flow of electricity. A short break resulted in a dot whereas a longer break gave a dash. Some of the best known telegraph stations were at Beltana, Alice Springs, Barrow Creek, and Tennant Creek. Almost all became a haven for travellers, a post office and ration depot for Aboriginal people.
The total cost of the line, including its eleven repeater stations came to $676,120.00 The line made it possible, and assisted in the opening up and settlement of Central Australia. It was instrumental in the start of both the gold mining and pastoral industries of the Northern Territory. Almost all suitable grazing land along the line was taken up by the 1890s.
The Alice Springs waterhole, discovered by W.W. Mills and the nearby flats of the Todd River made this a perfect location for a repeater station. Construction started in November 1871 and included the telegraph office, station master's residence, police station, blacksmith shop, and several other buildings. For many years the station was the 'capital' of Central Australia.
The buildings making up the Alice Springs repeater station are the oldest buildings of the town. Originally the town was called Stuart Town. Alice Springs, at the foot of the northern slopes of the MacDonnell Ranges, has a population of about 23,000.
The Barrow Creek Telegraph Station is located about 280 kilometres north of Alice Springs on the Stuart Highway. The Barrow Creek was named by John McDouall Stuart, during his first attempt to cross Australia in 1860, after J.H. Barrow, a member of the South Australian Parliament. The site for the Station was chosen by John Ross in September 1871. On 16 August Charles Todd visited Barrow Creek for the official opening of the line and station.
During 1870 some 3000 sheep from the Lake Hope Area in South Australia were overlanded to the Northern Territory, for the men working on the line at Roper River, by Ralph and John Milner. Near Wauchop Creek they lost 900 sheep who had eaten poisonous herbage. John Milner was killed by the Aborigines and Ralph arrived at the Roper with only 1000 sheep.
In 1873, 5000 sheep were overlanded from Adelaide by Alfred Giles for distribution among the Telegraph Stations along the line. During 1877 and 1878 Alfred Giles and Arthur Giles overlanded stock for Dr W.J. Browne to the Katherine River. On the 1878 journey Frank Withall, a joung Englishman, was included on the suggestion of Browne 'to gather some colonial experience'. Alfred Giles later started Springvale, Delamere and the Newcastle Waters runs.
In February 1874 Mounted Constable Samuel Gason arrived at Barrow Creek and a police station was also opened. Eight days later Aborigines from the Katish Tribe attacked the station resulting in the death of two men and the wounding of Ernest Flint. On 22 February Gason cabled to Adelaide, 'This Station has been attacked by natives at 8. Stapleton has been mortally wounded, one of the men, named John Franks, just died from wounds. Civilised Native Boy has had three spear wounds. Mr Flint, assistant operator one spear wound in leg, not serious. Full particulars in morning'. In Adelaide Dr William Gosse adviced treatment for the wounded which was telegraphed back to Barrow Creek.
Samuel Gason later mounted a large police hunt against the Aborigines in search for the attackers resulting in many being killed but no prisoners taken. During the second World War the site was used by the Australian Army as a staging camp for convoys of troops and supplies. Early constables certainly had a hard time in this, and many other, stations. In November 1883 Mounted Constable John Shirley, while stationed at Barrow Creek, led a party of 5 men and 18 horses in search of missing pastoralist Readford. All perished from thirst near Brunette Downs.
Tennant Creek, The Golden Heart of the Northern Territory.
The Creek was named Tennant Creek by John McDouall Stuart in 1860. After the completion of the Telegraph station it remained an isolated group of buildings in the middle of nowhere. The town of Tennant Creek did not eventuate until the discovery of gold in the 1930s which gave rise to Australia's last major gold rush. During 1935 the operations at the telegraph station were transferred to the new township. During the second World War the site was used by the Australian Army as a staging camp for convoys of troops and supplies. Today the town has a population of about 4,000 people and is the commercial hub of the Barkly region.