Please join us on Saturday 25th March at 10.30am in our Port Macquarie Library for a chat with the delightful writer and journalist Rosamund Burton.
Since 2001 Rosamund has worked as a freelance journalist. Her second book, Whispering Wire: Tracing the Overland Telegraph Line through the Heart of Australia (Wakefield Press) is published in October 2022. Her first book, Castles, Follies and Four-Leaf Clovers: Adventures along Ireland’s St Declan’s Way (Allen & Unwin), was published in 2011.
Rosamund was born in Ireland and grew up in England. Having worked as an actress in Dublin, performing at Dublin’s Gate Theatre and Gaiety Theatre, she also acted in the film Educating Rita with Julie Walters and Michael Caine. In London she ran Syllabub Theatre Company (1982–1989) together with writer Douglas Slater, and from 1990 to 1994 she worked as Publications Manager for England’s first left-wing think-tank.
In 1995 she came to Australia to join the organising team for the Mind Body Spirit Festival Sydney, where she worked until 2001. For three and a half years she headed this small team as the General Manager. From 2000 to 2005 she was both a story contributor and presenter for the weekly alternative health program Panacea on 2SER Community Radio.
Interweaving history and travel adventures, this is a funny, sometimes sad, but always intriguing account of tracing the 3200km Overland Telegraph Line from Adelaide to Darwin.
Despite being slow and unfit, Rosamund Burton cycles with a friend 800km from Adelaide through the Flinders Ranges to the deserted outback town of Farina, pedalling through piercing winds and pelting rain. She continues with her husband by 4WD along remote dirt tracks in her search for derelict repeater stations, before in a race against time she delivers a large unwieldy rental campervan from Alice Springs to Darwin.
This journey follows in the footsteps of the explorer John McDouall Stuart and his attempts to reach the north coast of Australia to ascertain if a telegraph line could be built across the continent. The now largely forgotten repeater stations and old telegraph poles tell the story of the bespectacled civil servant, Charles Todd, who came from England to South Australia with his wife, Alice, and was responsible for the successful construction between 1870 and 1872, against all odds, of the Overland Telegraph Line. With the line’s completion, Adelaide became Australia’s communication hub, connecting the continent with the rest of the world and heralding the dawn of the era of instant communication.
Also running through the narrative is how this new telegraph technology benefited the cattle king Sir Sidney Kidman’s gigantic pastoral empire. Kidman, his managers and stockmen telegraphed about rainfall, rich pastures and stock prices. The line meant up-to-date information and the ability to make better business decisions.
But the explorers, telegraphists and pastoralists put an end to the age-old Indigenous way of life. Charles Todd’s strict guidelines ensured Aboriginal people were respected during the construction of the line, but its establishment quickly led to tragic deaths and loss of lands and freedom. Whispering Wire includes conversations with Adelaide-based Aboriginal woman Rosemary Wanganeen, of Kaurna and Wirangu heritage, who is the founder of the Healing Centre for Griefology; the Arabunna co-author of Talking Sideways, Reg Dodd, whose ancestors assisted the surveyors for the Overland Telegraph Line; and a traditional healer from Alice Springs, whose parents lived in the Alice Springs Telegraph Station when it was a home for mixed race children.
This is a journey through the country’s many layers of narrative – the voices of the land, its First Peoples and its later immigrants – tracing a single strand of wire that ran through the heart of Australia.
Whispering Wire: Tracing the Overland Telegraph Line through the Heart of Australia by Rosamund Burton was published by Wakefield Press in October 2022.
Photo credit for author photo: Gavin Libott