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The inter-colonial telegraph station at Eucla.




The lonely outpost at Eucla, built 20 kilometres inside Western Australia's border with South Australia, ensured that up to 600 telegrams a day successfully travelled along iron, and later copper wire between the two states.
In 1874, the WA Legislative Council voted 15,000 for the construction of a telegraph line from King George Sound, Albany Western Australia to Eucla on the border with South Australia.
At the same time, the South Australian authorities agreed to construct a line from Port Augusta to Eucla.
As the line was hung and inched closer each day to the border, telegrams were carried between each end of the line by horsemen - so - telegrams by morse and horse!
This inter-colonial line, 2532 kms long, was opened on 8th December 1877 at a total cost of 33,000 amid congratulatory messages keyed along the single iron wire linking the colonies.
This enabled Western Australia to be in telegraphic communication with the rest of the world.


Text of the first telegram:

"SATURDAY 7 PM (DECEMBER 8TH 1877)
EUCLA LINE OPENED. HURRAH."


Built in sight of the sea, it operated as two colonial terminal stations and became perhaps Australia's most important telegraphic link - all day, all night the sounders clicked.
The station was staffed equally by Western Australian and South Australian telegraphists and the staff worked each on its own side of the 'border'. The telegraph table extended north and south the full length of the room, and for telegraphic purposes the boundary line between the two provinces ran up the centre of the table.

Different versions of morse code was used. A Canadian associate of Samuel Morse, Samuel W. McGowan came to Victoria, realised his associate's invention potential and obtained a contract from the Victorian government to erect Australia's first telegraph line. His knowledge of Samuel Morse's code was obviously invaluable. South Australian operators received their traffic from Adelaide using this code locally known as Victorian code and passed it through holes in the partition to their Western Australian colleagues who would re-transmit to Perth using International morse code which was in use outside of the U.S.A. Even the clocks showed different state times being 90 minutes apart.
In the 1890's, Eucla became the busiest telegraph station in Australia outside the capital cities. On signing of the Federation in 1901, the partition was ceremoniously removed.


Rabbits! Rabbits! Rabbits!
The first plague.

Around 1897, telegraphists used to amuse themselves by watching three waves of rabbits pour across the Nullarbor from the east, en route to Western Australia.

The Eucla telegraph station had been in operation for almost 20 years when telegraphists began noticing rabbit traces when walking for exercise before coming on duty. Soon the traces began to appear more thickly and they even extended to the Pass and on the Roe Plain.

But no one took much notice and did not realize that this was the opening phase of an invasion from the east of hordes of rabbits.

Rabbits had been released in Victoria in 1859 to provide sport and food for the early settlers. It was not long before the scrub with which the beach dunes were densely covered began to disappear. At this rate the sand would soon become loosened and the situation was becoming serious.

An urgent report was telegraphed to Perth, however when it was shown to Sir John Forrest, the Premier did not react with his usual perspicacity.

He dismissed the call for help with a smile and said:
"It's sheep manure they've seen".

The report was soon forgotten and no action was taken. The rabbits continued to pour in from the east and also began to multiply rapidly.

One Sunday, the off duty telegraphists in company with a few natives killed over 1000 rabbits on the outskirts of the settlement but no noticeable effect was produced on the invading hordes.
Thus began the first plague of Eucla.


The second plague.

Tens of thousands of rabbits hunted for food in the already stricken Eucla district and even stripped the bark from the trees. After there was no food above ground they began grubbing up and eating the roots of the saltbush, the blue bush and the cotton bush.

The situation was becoming desperate and a more urgently worded message was telegraphed to Perth. This time the authorities were convinced. The authorities in Adelaide were also showing anxiety and it was they that took the first action.

Whose inspiration was responsible will never be known but someone must have suggested, "Let's send them cats".

The suggestion was taken seriously and the authorities gathered up hundreds of cats and shipped them to Eucla with the instructions, "Let the cats see the rabbits!".

Dutifully but unconvinced, the settlers at Eucla obeyed. On being released the cats swarmed across the sandhills and attacked in style. They gorged themselves, slept it off in the sun, and then attacked again. But the rabbits still multiplied. Eventually the cats tired of rabbit meat and began hunting birds and lizards. The cats also took over rabbit burrows and kittens arrived by the score.
And so began the second plague of Eucla - cats.

The third plague.

The loosened sand was a constant trial in the years that followed. Whenever the wind blew (and it blew almost all the time), windows had to be kept shut regardless of the heat of the day. The streets had to be regularly swept and yards cleared of sand. The battle against the sand was a hopeless one and when the repeater station finally closed down, the sand moved in and overwhelmed most of the buildings.

And for anyone who follows the shores of the bight, say from Port Lincoln to the Sandpatch, they will find that the domestic cat has run wild. In all likelihood, the majority of these are descendants of that disastrous shipload landed at Eucla jetty to exterminate the rabbits.

And of course, the rabbits are there also.

Eventually, with the introduction of electro-magnetic automatic repeaters, the coastal telegraph line was abandoned in 1927 in favour of a more easily maintained line alongside the trans-continental railway line.
In the 1950's, the telegraph station was completely buried but changing winds have pushed the dunes back and some of the walls are now exposed again.
Today, all that's left are its 1897 stone walls and only a portion of those are visible above the sand.