March 19, 2009

Party line between Kilcowera Station and Zenonie, Outback Queensland.
Party line between Kilcowera Station and Zenonie, Outback Queensland.


Sometimes all this activity on the phone was a good thing.  If it rained anywhere over where the straggly little phone line went, the line would go out, if a little tree touched the line, it went out, sometimes the mulga post the line was attached to would fall over taking the line with it and it was said that if a bird flew over the line and did a poopsy the line went out.

So sometimes I would find myself swinging off the handle of the phone ringing, ringing trying to get the attention of the exchange ladies and they couldn’t hear me as the line was down somewhere. Usually someone along the line would eventually pick up and act as a relay between me and town and I would get my message across via a neighbour.  Then we would have to drive along the phone line to fix the problem and try not to get bogged if it had rained.  Sometimes a cow might have decided to have a scratch up against the mulga post and knocked it over.

Acacia Victoria 

There were times when we had no communication with the outside world because it was too wet to try and fix the line.  Also when it was wet the phone line didn’t work so well and the exchange ladies had to act as a relay between you and whoever you were trying to talk to.  I had to interview a job applicant with the assistance of the exchange lady and a neighbour once.  It was a novel experience.

If you ever wanted to know any goss these were  the  girls to ask, but they were mostly very discreet.  Mostly.  It paid to be discreet and mindful of what you said on the phone at all times. The phone exchange was manned by about 6 ladies rostered on one at a time and was a 24 hour service. If you were on a long distance call they would come on periodically and say “3 minutes are you extending?”  This might be after you had been on for 10 minutes, so that was nice. But you never knew how much they were listening.  To contact the exchange you would grab the handle of the phone wind it around as hard and fast as you could for about 10 seconds. If that didn’t work you’d go harder and faster and longer.

Old telephone at Kilcowera Station, Outback Australia.

Old telephone from the party line days at Kilcowera Station.

Old telephone from the party line days at Kilcowera Station.


About 1983 we escaped Kilcowera for a brief trip to Brisbane – first time away since marrying in 1980.  Yeehah!!! I remember being in some business house and the salesperson asked for my phone number, unthinkingly I replied “ Thargomindah 22R”  I got a very blank look and then the question “ How do you dial that”  Good question.  Seeing as I hadn’t been to a city since marrying I didn’t know.  When we were in a local town we used a telecard to make a call.  Seems you had to ring an operator and they would put the caller through to the Thargomindah phone exchange operator who would then ring the station with their own distinctive call.  Our number was 22R – the r was a short, long, short ring, based on Morse code.


It had taken me a long time to differentiate between the calls on our party line as there were 8 stations on our line.  Our other place Zenonie was 22U, two shorts and a long and our immediate neighbour was 3 shorts, so everyone on the line knew who was getting a phone call.  Some of the ladies were a bit sticky beakish and would pick up when you were on a call just to see if they could work out who you were talking to in 10 seconds or so.  They could always pretend they had been outside and not heard the phone ring and wanted to make a call themselves but the one on the phone could hear when the other person picked up and if the intruder didn’t put the phone down fairly quickly you would loudly say WORKING!


  All having to share one line was a bit frustrating at times especially if you needed to make a call urgently or before close of business, so if you were a bit desperate you would just keep picking up the phone so the other person got the hint to get off, of course if it was an emergency you would just say so and they would get off but probably not before you told them what the nature of the emergency was.  You can imagine that this system didn’t encourage long gossipy calls often.  Except in what were deemed to be the quiet times of the day.  More on this in my next post!


Lone post showing the insulator the party line was attached to.