Australia in the 1870s

Transport and communications

The 1870s was a decade of railway expansion that would overtake the dominance of paddle-steamers. Both forms of transport were used to carry agricultural produce and minerals to ports for export, and to allow passengers to travel within and between the colonies. Initially the railways were built by private companies but, as the costs increased, the colonial governments took over the responsibility for building them.

Bridge construction accompanied rail expansion. In 1871 Tasmania's first railway line was opened from Deloraine to Launceston. In Western Australia the first railway line opened from Lockville to Yoganup. Between 1873 and 1875, the first Brisbane rail terminal station was built at Roma Street. In 1876 the main line of railway carried the first passengers between Hobart Town and Launceston. A bridge at Echuca spanning the Murray River was opened in 1879 with a railway line placed in its centre. Also, the Murray Bridge in South Australia was completed.
In 1871 the builders of the Overland Telegraph Line reached a waterhole in the centre of Australia, naming it Alice Springs after the wife of the Post-Master General, who was in charge of building the telegraph from Adelaide to Palmerston (Darwin). The Alice Springs Telegraph Station was the first European building to be built in central Australia. The Overland Telegraph Line was completed in 1872. Shortly after its completion, the first morse code message was received in Adelaide, 3,500 kilometres and 36,000 telegraph poles away. A submarine cable from Java reached Darwin, connecting Australia to the rest of the world in hours.

The Sydney Post Office issued postcards for the first time in 1875.

Boats under Murray Railway Bridge, Echuca

A snapshot of 1878

  • January
    • The construction of the Ghan railway line commenced at Port Augusta in South Australia.

  • February
    • The telephone was used for the first time in Melbourne.

  • April
    • The Stawell Easter Gift, a professional foot-racing competition over 120 metres, was run for the first time on Easter Monday.

  • May
    • One thousand unemployed men marched up Collins Street in Melbourne demanding relief work.

  • November
    • The song 'Advance Australia Fair' was presented for the first time.

  • December
    • Seamen in Sydney went on strike against the employment of low-paid Chinese crews on ships. The strike spread to other ports in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. A mass anti-Chinese meeting was held in Hyde Park, Sydney.


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