Darwin: Survival of a City: The 1890s Derek Pugh brings the Darwin of the 1890s alive (Hon Sally Thomas AC). The last decade of the nineteenth century was a tough time for South Australia’s Top End settlement of Palmerston. The major industries of mining, pastoralism, and agriculture suffered from downturn, disease, and distance. The South Australians had had enough of their ‘white elephant’ and, when Palmerston blew away in the Great Hurricane of 1897, the calls for the Territory’s return to the British Colonial Government grew louder. But the Territory, as ever, was full of resilient and resourceful characters. They appear in these pages: judges, railway gangers, bushmen, murderers, buffalo hunters, hoteliers, Chinese miners, Aboriginal station hands, explorers, cross-country cyclists, murderers, and more. Territorians were, as Banjo Patterson described them, full of ‘booze, blow and blasphemy’ – but even he couldn’t wait to get back.
The greatest engineering feat of 19th century Australia
The greatest engineering problem facing Australia – the tyranny of distance – had a solution: the electric telegraph, and its champion was the sheep-farming state of South Australia. In two years, Charles Todd, leading hundreds of men, constructed a telegraph line across the centre of the continent from Port Augusta to Port Darwin. At nearly 3,000 kilometres long and using 36,000 poles at ’20 to the mile’, it was a mammoth undertaking but in October 1872, Adelaide was finally linked to London. The Overland Telegraph Line crossed Aboriginal lands first seen by John McDouall Stuart just 10 years before. Messages which previously took weeks to cross the country now took hours. Passing through eleven new repeater stations and the remotest parts of Australia, the line joined the vast global telegraph network, and a new era was ushered in. Each station held a staff of six. They became centres of white civilization and the cattle or sheep industry. In many places the local Aborigines were displaced. The unique stories of how men and women lived and/or died on the line range from heroic through desperate, to tragic, but they remain an indelible part of Australia’s history.
… a book written with heart and admiration… a lasting tribute to the inventiveness and tenacity of the people behind the planning, building and execution of the Overland Telegraph – a true nation building endeavour (His Excellency, The Honourable Hieu Van Le AC).
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MEDIA RELEASE These days, computers and mobile devices keep us in touch with each other as never before, and news and information is instantly available. Australia no longer suffers the ‘tyranny of distance’, but it was very different in colonial Australia. Months would pass before letters could be answered and international news was always old when it was finally printed in the papers.
This all changed after the completion of the greatest engineering feat of the 19th century. In 1872, the Overland Telegraph Line connected Adelaide to London, and communication channels were open. But first, the tiny colony of Palmerston, now called Darwin, needed to be connected to the world’s telegraph system by an undersea cable. This was pulled on shore by men and horses on 7 November 1871, 150 years ago.
The first telegram to Australia arrived 12 days later, on 19 November 1871. The Morse code message was tapped out by Captain Robert Halpin after he and a fleet of three ships laid the cable on the sea floor between Port Darwin and Banyuwangi in Java. Proudly written, our first electric communication simply ended with “Advance Australia”
Darwin historian Derek Pugh said “the OTL was the internet of the day, allowing rapid communication with the world. It provided almost instant access to information and broke the tyranny of distance. The arrival of the international cable was the first step of this huge technological leap”. The incredible story of the OTL is told in Pugh’s new book Twenty to the Mile: The Overland Telegraph Line.
Available now, cost $39.95 plus postage. Wholesale distribution by Woodslane.
For more information on the 2022 sequicentenary celebrations of the OTL see https://ot150.net
This sequel to Darwin: Origin of a City tells stories from the Top End in the 1880s.
The 1880s started with a boom in Palmerston and the Top End. South Australian investors flocked to put their money into gold mines, sugar and coffee plantations, and the pastoral industry. Cattle stations bigger than a British county were carved out of the bush. The Overland Telegraph Line stretched across the continent, and the Top End was alive with Aborigines, explorers, agriculturalists, pastoralists, and reef miners. Then came the railway builders, pearl divers, Chinese ‘Coolies’, and ‘misfits, missionaries and mercenaries’.
The story of Palmerston (Darwin) and the Top End in the 1880s is a story of murder and mayhem, fortunes won and lost, challenges taken up, tragedies unfold, and golden opportunities grasped by extraordinary men and women. It was they who began to turn this remote area of Australia into what it is today, and they who forged a new Australian identity — the ‘Territorian’.
BIO: Derek Pugh OAM, is an educator and award-winning author, writing books in several genres: history, science, adventure travel and YA fiction. He is most well-known for his history series on early European settlement of the Top End, Tambora, and the novels Tammy Damulkurra, and Schoolies. His career in education moved between large urban senior schools to tiny remote homeland centre schools in Central Arnhem Land, and several international schools. He lives in Darwin, continues to write about Northern Territory settlement history and has recently been the presenter in the documentary Twenty to the Mile.
Awards: Winner: Territory Read Best Non-Fiction Book 2016 for Tambora: Travels to Sumbawa and the Mountain of Change Short-listed: Chief Minister's Book of the Year, 2016 for Tambora Short-listed: Chief Minister's Book of the Year, 2020 for Darwin: Origin of a City Short-listed: Chief Minister's Book of the Year, 2021 for Port Essington
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