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Early days of telegram history in Western Australia

Annoyed by colonial apathy, Perth newspaper proprietor Edmund Stirling offered to build a telegraph line between Perth and Fremantle if the government would supply and erect the poles. This was granted under the supervision of a conditional release ex-convict Scot, James Fleming who had been transported to Australia in 1864 for defrauding fellow Glaswegian tea merchants. The first pole was placed in position at a spot near the foot of the Perth jetty by the Colonial Secretary, the Honorable Fred Barlee.  

1869. A 12-mile wire was hoisted on poles to Fremantle and opened on 21st June 1869 being 15 years after the first line in Australia was opened in Victoria.

Text of first telegram transmitted:


1870. May. The Legislative Council passed a resolution authorising the construction of telegraph lines which would connect the towns of Albany, Bunbury, York and Newcastle (Toodyay) with Perth, and the Electro-Magnetic Telegraph Company was formed to construct those lines.
Initially telegraphs in WA were privately owned. The Western Australian Post and Telegraph Department, who had been operating the lines since 1871 despite not owning them, became sole owners and operators of the colony's telegraph system on 1st January 1873. Stations then in service were Perth, Fremantle, Guildford, Toodyay, Northam, York, Pinjarra, Bunbury and Albany.

1872. 28th December. Connection of line Perth - Albany.
More telegraphists were needed as the lines extended. The resourceful superintendent overcame this problem by training new operators as he went. With manpower scarce, many of the first telegraphists were young ladies.

1881. Lines had reached not only Eucla in the south-east, but also Northampton in the north, together with Beverley and Busselton in the south. Also in that year, plans were made to extend the line beyond Northampton to Roebourne.

1884. The main telegraph line between Perth and Wyndham is perhaps the longest direct line in the Commonwealth being about 2000 miles long.
It was worked duplex from Perth - Broome and extended on a simplex line to Wyndham with repeaters at Mullewa, Marble Bar and Broome.
The Darwin-Adelaide line was 1800 miles long.

1886. Perth-Fremantle line goes duplex-working.

1889. A submarine cable was landed at Broome which made WA independent of the Darwin-Adelaide line with its cables to Java laid in the 1870s.

1890's. The telegraphist's dream come true. No more pen and ink. The typewriter was introduced.

1894. Perth-Coolgardie line opened to cater for the multitude of messages from the WA goldfields.

1896. Second wire added to the Perth-Adelaide line.

1900. The PostMaster-General Richard Scholl reported that the total number of Telegraph Stations opened in Western Australia had reached 161.

1901. The salary for a telegraphist was between 130.00 per annum and 170.00 depending on experience.

1923. Sept. The chief telegraph office (CTO) in Perth opened when the GPO building was completed in Forrest Place.

1929. The gothic typewriter, namely the Imperial model 55 typewriter was introduced.

1954. The public telex service (TELetypewriter EXchange service) was introduced into Australia in 1954 and offered a national and international system for sending and receiving information using teletypewriters or better known as teleprinters. There are still around 1.7 million telex subscribers worldwide.

1959. The Teleprinter Reperforator Exchange Switching System (TRESS) offering fully automated telegram switching was introduced in 1959. It was an innovation which hastened the end of morse telegraphy.

1968. Nov 5th. Morse telegraphy was last used in Australia between Roebourne and Wittenoom Gorge in the north-west of Western Australia, just eight months short of 100 years after the transmitting of the first telegram.

1986. 21st June. The Governor of Western Australia, His Excellency Professor Gordon Reid, witnessed the end of an era in the history of telegraphs in Western Australia.
On this day, Telecoms chief telegraph office supervisor, Jack Fleming oversighted the sending of a telegram to the Mayor of Fremantle, a telegram that had first been sent precisely 117 years before by his namesake, James Coats Fleming. SEE ABOVE

This ceremony marked the introduction of Australia's first computer-based telegram service known as the public message service which uses the telex network.
Telegrams had been sent by mechanical means for the last time.

1989. 28th Jan. Perth central telegraph office closed its keys and switched off its teleprinters at noon on this day for the last time.
On the final day fewer than 30 telegrams and telexes were handled by this office.
Although the office had not handled WA-generated telegrams since 2nd December 1988, it had handled public telexes and overseas telegrams.
All telegrams from now on were handled by the Melbourne telegraph office.

1989. 30th June. Australia Telecom disposed of the national telegram business to Australia Post and the lettergram service was born which was transmitted by telex then mailed to the addressee. The charging was per sheet not per word as the telegram.

1993. 1st Oct. The last mail-delivered lettergram was sent in Melbourne by Australia Post at 1700 hours EST.

International telegrams are handled by Telstra Sydney on telephone 13 1291.
The trademark telegram is now owned by a private company.