The Overland Telegraph Line
  |  First Published: March 2005

At the ‘top’ of Queensland lies the vast, remote and unspoilt Cape York Peninsula, an incredibly diverse 130 000 square kilometres of tropical wilderness that provides some of the most adventurous and challenging 4WD’ing to be had anywhere in Australia.

The grandly-named Peninsula Developmental Road runs from Mareeba up the centre of the Cape then veers west to Weipa and although it’s certainly no highway - the corrugations are unbelievable – the really rough stuff doesn’t start until you cross the Wenlock River bridge, near the old Moreton Telegraph Station. Not far from here the road splits in two. The easier route, known as the DCS Road, follows the high ground and the microwave towers and although quite monotonous, is the preferred route for those in a hurry to have their photo taken beside the sign that marks the very ‘Tip’ of Australia, the continent’s most northerly point.

Those with more time and an intrepid spirit however can ‘conquer The Cape’ – the more demanding and satisfying way via the Overland Telegraph Line track (OTL). This rough and eroded track weaves between countless rusting steel poles that mark the route of the telegraph wire that once linked Thursday Island with Brisbane. Between 1885 and 1887, despite forbidding terrain and the constant threat of attack from hostile aboriginals, the line construction gangs gradually extended the wire over 600km from Fairview Station near Laura right up the middle of the peninsula to Paterson Telegraph Station on Peak Point, 10 km west of the tip of Cape York. A submarine cable was laid to Thursday Island and the line, built at a cost of over 30,000 pounds, became operational in August 1887.

The OTL served as a tenuous link with the outside world for Cape York residents for almost 60 years until it gained new importance in 1942 as a vital communications link in our WWII defences. The last Morse-code message was tapped down the line in June 1964 and until the new microwave towers were erected and it was decommissioned in 1987, the OTL served as the Cape’s local telephone line.

Along the OTL, you’ll cross numerous crystal-clear creeks and have the opportunity to truly experience this timeless landscape. You simply cannot travel at a fast pace on this route but you’ll gain a far better appreciation of the place than you would by speeding through it on the alternative road. This way, you’ll be forced out of your seat to check the depths, entries and exits of the seemingly endless fords, at the same time immersing yourself in the wild surroundings.

You’ll need to be a reasonably experienced 4WDer to safely make it through without mishap, but when you finally reach the end of the road and take the short walk to enjoy the vista from the very tip of Cape York, a wonderful sense of achievement will make it all worthwhile. The challenges you experience along the way will probably become part of family folklore, the stuff of legend for years to come. If you only plan on doing a serious 4WD trip once in your life, take the drive to Cape York via the OTL track; the memories will last a lifetime and I bet you end up going back!

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