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11 April 2012 / leggypeggy

Eucla—world famous on maps

Old telegraph station at Eucla. Note missing roof

Eucla verges on being imaginary. It’s in the middle of nowhere with fewer than 100 people, yet it’s one of a handful of towns that appear on every atlas map of Australia. I have friends who have friends who say they know someone who comes from there, I know people who claim to have been there and I’ve often wondered if I’d ever get there myself.

On our long haul from Canberra to Perth—Poor John and I made it. So we stopped to explore.

Eucla is in Western Australia, just 11 kilometres west of the South Australian border. It’s desolate. In 1877, it was established as a manual repeater station for the Overland Telegraph. In those early days, a jetty and tramline were built for offloading and transporting the supplies brought in by sea.

Could there be a window under all that sand

The station was the key telegraph conversion point because South Australia and Victoria used American Morse Code, while Western Australia used the International Morse Code. According to Poor John—Mr Trivia—the story goes that telegraph operators from east and west sat on opposite sides of an inner station window and relayed ‘translated’ messages to one another. We can’t confirm the story, but it sounds like something that would happen in outback Oz.

Eucla is also the only Western Australian location on the Eyre Highway that has a direct view of the Great Australia Bight. We drove a few kilometres toward the shore to explore the old repeater station and see if we could find the famous message-passing window. But so much sand has blown in that it’s hard to make out the different rooms, let alone whether there was ever a window between any of them.

Poor John admits he may have contributed to the station’s sorry state. He and a group of university mates drove across the Nullarbor Plain in the late 1960s and stopped in Eucla. They visited the station and pinched (stole) a few sections of the corrugated iron roof.

Hi-jinks are not unheard of in Eucla. The town got worldwide publicity in 1971, when news broke of the Nullarbor Nymph, a half-naked blonde girl who had gone wild and lived and ran with the kangaroos. A clever, but short-lived, hoax cooked up by the townsfolk.

Eucla and the region have their own unofficial time zone too. They call it the Central Western Time Zone and set their clocks half-way between the official times used in Adelaide and Perth, which differ by an hour and a half. You have to admit it, Eucla sure has its own style.

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