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Established in 1871, the site was set to relay messages between Darwin and Adelaide over the 'singing wire'. The underwater cable running across from Indonesia came ashore at Port Darwin and the overland telegraph served to transmit messages providing the first real communication network between Australia and England. This changed communications forever by reducing the time it took for a message to reach its recipient from weeks to just hours.
The line runs 3178 kms and took less than 2 years to build being finally joined on 22 August 1872 at Frew Ponds, near Dunmarra in the Northern Territory.
Built in Arrernte Country, the Station is now a Historical Precinct consisting of a conglomerate of buildings established over an extended period of time during the late 19th and eary 20th centuries. Remaining buildings include the Station Master's Residence (1888), Bungalow Dormitory (1932), Store and Buggy Shed (1870s), Battery Room (circa 1880), Blacksmith's Shop (circa 1870s), Post and Telegraph Office (circa 1870s) and the Barracks which was the first major building at the station. The buildings were all built with local stone and lime mortar and originally had thatched roofs however this was later replaced with galvanised iron for durability.
Originally there were also other buildings, which have unfortunately been demolished or lost to nature; most notably a timber cottage with a thatched roof which was built in 1905 for newlyweds Ern Allchurch and Bessie Williams and the Old Police House (1879).
The Barracks is the oldest building in Central Australia and originally consisted of small rooms which housed staff and the schoolroom. The building now houses displays of life as early settlers. The cutouts in the walls were to enable protection of the site during potential raids, however they were never used as a friendly relationship was maintained with the Arrernte people.
The Post and Telegraph Office as it was originally known, was later to become the Station Kitchen. The building is now once again set up as it was originally, and houses a fascinating array of original equipment. It provides an interactive display which is great for adults and children alike and provides the ability to touch, feel and operate the equipment from yesteryear.
As this was the only Post Office up until 1932, people from town had to come here to post a letter or collect their mail. In today's terms the distance is not great, however being some 4 km north of the town centre it was quite a distance then. You can still post a letter from the Trail Station Kiosk, which is a registered Australia Post Outlet. Have some fun by posting a letter or postcard from here. Stamps can be purchased and any mail posted will be stamped with a commemorative franking stamp.
The nearby township was originally called Sturt, but was later renamed Alice Springs after Mrs Alice Todd. Mrs Todd was the wife of Charles Todd, the person charged with constructing the Overland Telegraph Line by Government Tender.
The family's residence, known as the Station Master's Residence was constructed of thick stone walls with verandas facing north and south to combat the summer heat. A extremely dry climate, the temperature here can reach up to 45 deg C in the summer. A smaller building nearby was used as the family kitchen. The Station Master's wife would use the wood stove in the kitchen to cook the family's meals. The main, larger building consisted of the bedroom, sitting and dining rooms.
The Store and Buggy Shed, built in the early 1870s to store the station's supplies and buggies, now houses amazing artefacts from yesteryear and shows the harshness of travel during the time. Many of the buggies on display have no springs; reminding us of how uncomfortable travel would have been on the harsh bush tracks synonymous with this part of the country. The seats were hard and with no shade available the heat could make travel very uncomfortable.
Other artefacts on display are saddles and other horse memorabilia along with camel crates, which were used to house clothing and personal articles.
In 1932 the Post and Telegraph Office was closed and all services were moved into the now established township. For the following 31 years, the site was used as a school for Aboriginal children called The Bungalow (1931-1942); a wartime army base during World War 2 (1942-1945); and an Aboriginal reserve (1945 - 1963). During subsequent years the Northern Territory Government undertook restoration of this valuable historical site and the buildings and area has been restored to how it was between 1895 and 1905.
The site is a reserve and therefore also consists of picnic tables, walking tracks and a kiosk. The reserve itself is open daily from 8 am to 9 pm, however the Historical Precinct from 9 am - 5 pm every day except Christmas Day. Access to the Station Precinct costs $9.50 adults, $4.50 children 6 - 16, free for children under 6, $8.50 concession card holders or $25 for families (2 A 2C). The kiosk sells light lunches, snacks, coffee, cold drinks, ice creams and souvenirs and is great for a cold drink after exploring the buildings. This is not a quick visit, please give yourself plenty of time to explore the site and the buildings; there is much to see and do here.
Just 4 kms from Alice Springs township, the Precinct can be found by car along Heritage Drive off the Stuart Highway or if you are feeling energetic there is a walking and cycling track into the reserve along the banks of the Todd River known as the Riverside Walk.
This is an amazing place to come and visit and get a taste of early Central Australian history.