CHAPTER XXIV. DEMOCRACY AT WORK
The submarine cable has still more closely linked up this out-lying continent with Great Britain. There had been cable communication between London and the East for some years before the system was extended to Australia. In those days there was little co-operation between the colonies. Particularist lines of policy were pursued by each of them. The cable ought to have been a joint concern; but, failing that, the South Australian Government had the enterprise to step forward and do the necessary connecting work. She had in her service a skilful electrician in Charles Todd, who superintended the construction of an overland telegraph line 1,970 miles in length, following McDouall Stuart's track through the centre of Australia to Port Darwin. There it was connected with a deep-sea cable laid by an English company between Port Darwin and Java. The opening of this line in 1871 placed Australia and London within a few hours' communication. In 1902 another cable route was completed, linking up Brisbane with Vancouver across the Pacific. This line is the joint property of the Governments of Australia, Great Britain, Canada, and New Zealand. The development of wireless telegraphy led to further improvement and cheapening of overseas communications when the beam wireless service was started in Australia in 1927. In 1928 the Imperial cable and beam wireless services were brought under a single control, and are now managed by Cable and Wireless Ltd. In addition, an overseas wireless telephone service was introduced in 1930, whereby people in this country can speak to people overseas by telephone. Another important improvement in communications since 1923 has been the development of wireless broadcasting, which has enabled people in remote places to receive news and other services just as rapidly as those in closely settled areas and towns. Not only can people listen to programmes provided in their own countries, but overseas programmes from England and America can be relayed to Australian listeners. The number of listeners' licenses issued in Australia rose from 37,000 in 1924 to 1,130,000 in 1939.
The lack of co-operation between colonies which for too many years regarded each other as rivals instead of partners in the development of a great heritage had an unfortunate consequence in the era of railway construction. Efforts were made to arrive at an agreement to build to a common gauge, but they failed. Gladstone, while Colonial Secretary in 1846, recommended the adoption of a 4 ft. 8 1/2 in. gauge, but that was four years before the first line from Sydney to Goulburn was constructed. There was no railway in Victoria till after the gold diggings began, the first length having been from Melbourne to the Port (Hobson's Bay) in 1854. The first lines were owned by companies, but all the colonies afterwards determined to make railway building and railway policy state concerns.
In 1852 New South Wales appointed an Irish engineer-in-chief, who had been accustomed to the 5 ft. 3 in. gauge in Ireland, and who persuaded the Government to adopt that gauge, despite the advice of the Colonial Secretary. Victoria and South Australia, desiring to build to the same gauge as the principal colony, decided to follow suit, and both commenced to construct 5 ft. 3 in. railways. But meanwhile New South Wales appointed a new engineer-in-chief, a Scotsman, who was an intense partisan of the standard, or 4 ft. 8 1/2 in. gauge, and he 'left no stone unturned to bring New South Wales back to her first love, regardless of keeping faith with the other colonies, whose railways were now progressing with comparative rapidity, and who had already reversed their policy once in order to keep in line with New South Wales.' The Scotch engineer won his way, the 1852 Act was repealed in 1855, and 'the most lamentable engineering disaster in Australia was an accomplished fact.' (Professor W. C. Kernot, in PROCEEDINGS of Victorian Institute of Engineers, vol. vii, p. 73.)
The result was that traffic has ever since been incommoded and trade made costlier by a break of gauge at the border between the two States. The Commonwealth line from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie (1,051 miles) was opened in 1917, completing a chain of lines from east to west. By 1939 there were 28,000 miles of railway in the country, but there had been little new railway construction since 1929. The falling off in railway construction since about 1920 has been due, of course, to the growth of motor traffic, and the development of air services. In every state a central board has undertaken the building and upkeep of main roads, and since 1922 this work has been subsidised by the Commonwealth Government. The growth of motor traffic is shown by the increase in the number of motor vehicles registered from 239,000 in 1924 to 900,000 in 1939. The development of air-traffic has been equally arresting; between 1924 and 1939 the number of passengers carried during the year increased from less than 5,000 to nearly 150,000, mails from 175,000 lbs. to 740,000 lbs., and goods from 8,500 lbs. to 1,735,000 lbs. As a result of this competition the railway departments found it harder to meet all their expenses, but they were also stimulated to improve their services.