On This Day …

21st June, 1869

Photo by Miguel Saavedra

Not today precisely, unless you’re in the US of course, but for us Aussies, it’s yesterday. Communication took a step forward in Australia. The state of Western Australia, more isolated than the rest of the country, finally joined the world of telegrams.

The rest of our country had telegraph lines installed and running by 1861, but because of the remote nature of Perth, it was some years before they caught up. It was through the proprietor of Perth’s newspaper, Edmund Stirling, who saw the need and offered to undertake the work if the government assisted. He and an ex-convict, James Fleming, build a telegraph wire from Perth to Fremantle in 1869, with the first telegram sent on the 21st June.

Photo by Ondrej Verzich

It read: “To the chairman of the Fremantle Town Trust. His Excellency Colonel Bruce heartily congratulates the inhabitants of Fremantle on the annihilation of distance between the Port and the Capital and he requests that this the first message may be publicly known.
Government House 21st June 1869.

James Fleming went on to be the Superintendent of Telegraphs  in Perth, with a Conditional Release, for the next several years. Interestingly, he died on the anniversary of this first telegram in 1885. The success of the telegraph between Perth and Fremantle meant that soon other lines were connected up until Perth was joined to the rest of Australia’s network in 1877.

Over the years this ‘annihilation of distance’ has increased so that now we can chat with people on the other side of the world at a moment’s notice and even by video call. Imagine if we couldn’t. How would losing this ability to communicate with the world impact you?

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Published in: on 22nd June, 2012 at 10:00 am  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. It’s amazing to look back and understand how the telegraph changed the world. I’m taking my son on his first train ride next week. Mackay to Brisbane. It will take about 12 hours, and it cost three times more than a plane ticket – but the experience is worth it. I have been explaining to him how trains revolutionised the way people travelled. I think it’s important to look back, and to experience the ‘way we were’ to appreciate ‘how far we’ve come.’

    • That’s what I love about history, Rose.. and Amanda. It’s the lessons we learn about how people moved through their days. How they acquired what they needed and shared it with others, many times in ways we couldn’t imagine. (This is what I learned when I did my feather quilt post).

      I love the ‘annihilation of distance’! Did it really sort out the’ tyranny of distance’ Australia’s famous for?

      Losing the ease of communication would force us to live the old way. Letters and real time visits. Not a bad thing for quality… but who can go back to the way we were… now that we’ve come so far?

      • ‘Annihilation of distance’ is a great phrase, is it not? It seemed to help very much for those people who experienced the ability to communicate with others so many thousand kilometres away. Imagine having to go back to physically running to fetch help or a doctor, when someone’s life is on the line. Phones probably have saved thousands of lives by now. 🙂

    • Wow. That’s awesome Rose – to take your son on the train trip! And I struggle to take the trip into the city on the train with my kids. 🙂 I agree the experience with worth it though.


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