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The Telegraphist.



The telegraphist, both urban and outback, made up a new and distinctive group in colonial society. Drawn usually from well-educated or aspiring backgrounds, they grew out of the dynamic new technology, developed technical skills and often possessed scientific knowledge and some scholarly attainments.

"The telegraph operator is brain work, requiring close and unremitting application", one professor summed up the new calling.

"The mental effort involved in receiving (morse code) from a sounder was exactly similar to that in which a shorthand writer was engaged when reporting a speaker verbatim, and it took as long to train a good telegraph operator as a good reporter".

But there was more.

In order to do his work intelligently, the telegraphist must be well in touch with the politician, the sportsman, and the man of commerce; and after becoming an expert manipulator of the key, he must acquaint himself with technical duties. It should also be remembered that the most delicate and momentous secrets are entrusted to his discretion, and his work is of a highly confidential character.

Telegraphists were an elite.

In city and suburban post and telegraph offices, they occupied a position between the manipulative classes of telegraph messenger, letter carrier and postal sorter, and the managerial classes of supervisor, postmaster and superintendent.

Their training and skills, and the sense of commitment that their duties inspired, turned them into a cohesive group, with conventions and "in-house" codes and jokes and a deep sense of camaraderie.

Better educated that most other members of the public service, urban telegraphists showed their middle class alliance by dressing fashionably. Dapper in gloves and brightly coloured waistcoats, they completed their ensemble with a cane.

Even in the inland torrid heat, there were few concessions to comfortable dress. The telegraphists at Eucla confronted each other across the state border partition sartorially correct in flannel trousers, white shirts, ties and the ornate Victorian waistcoat.