You don’t have to go far from any far north Queensland town before you’re “out of range”. No mobile phone signal, and nothing on the car radio. No Facebook or Twitter, you can’t hear the cricket on the ABC. And what will you do if the car gives up?
If you’re going into remote country, consider getting a two-way radio, either HF or UHF. A satellite phone is a good emergency back-up, but the call costs are way too high for more routine conversations. There’s surprisingly good mobile phone coverage around some of the more remote FNQ towns, but only on one network and only for a few kms out from town.
As sparse as the current set-up is, it’s way better than ever before. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that people on Cape York got dialling telephones, about 40 years after the rest of Australia.
When you travel on Cape York Peninsula, you’ll get insights into communication remote-area style now and way back then. Mail used to come on pack horses, now much of it comes by air – small planes doing mail runs to land on bush strips and drop off the mail bags. Many telephones operate by radio link, people get their Internet by satellite, two-way radio is widely used.
Long before these things were invented, there was telegraph. A sort of 19th century text message system that relied on long stretches of cable strung from posts, along which electrical signals were sent in Morse Code. Short and long beeps, dots and dashes, were assigned to each letter of the alphabet. Messages could be sent over vast distances, as long as there was a telegraph line to send them on.
In the mid 1800s, colonial bosses in Brisbane felt the need for a means of communicating with Queensland’s remote and sparsely populated north. Surveyors explored a route to the top of Cape York and on to Thursday Island, in the Torres Strait. The Telegraph Line was built and fully operational by the mid 1870s. The present day road to the Tip largely follows the route of the Telegraph Line, although there’s nothing much left of the Line itself. It carried its last Morse message, a telegram to Thursday Island, in 1964. It was shut down in 1987 at age 100.
There were seven repeater stations along the Line, and some of those have survived. One of the key stations was at Moreton, on the banks of the Wenlock River. These days, Moreton is in the tourism business, offering accommodation, local tours and stories of the old days.
It’s a lovely spot, but like a lot of places on the Peninsula, it gets cut off during the wet season. The Wenlock River can rise up to ten metres above the road bridge. Even during the dry time, the river has some big sea creatures in it. Bull sharks and sting rays are regularly seen near the station, about 140 kms from the sea!
Listen to Cathy show us around Moreton Telegraph Station .