Jenolan Caves

Bell’s Talking Telegraph

November 18, 2021

The old Jenolan Caves Post Office

The old post officeFrom 1836 onwards, when development began at Jenolan Caves, the new facilities were not only for tourists.  The caves were so isolated from other communities that most staff had to live on site.  So, in the 1800s a tiny village grew, with its own public school, small store and police station.

As public access improved and more caves were discovered, the fame of Jenolan Caves continued to spread, and the community grew.  By 1887, visitors were enjoying a hotel with capacity for 30 guests.  So, in 1898, for the convenience of both tourists and staff, a small cedar weatherboard Post Office was opened, between the hotel and the Grand Arch.

Telegraph

Two years after that, Jenolan was connected to the outside world by a telegraph line. From Jenolan’s little post office, postcards and letters could be mailed, and telegrams could be sent and received. Jenolan Caves postcards were an extremely popular sales item. Cave tour tickets were sold by the Postmaster or Postmistress.

Telephone

The telephone was invented in 1878 by Alexander Graham Bell, pipping many other inventors to the post. In 1886, inventor, Elisha Gray, clearly suffering from sour grapes, said, 

“As to Bell’s talking telegraph, it only creates interest in scientific circles, and, as a toy it is beautiful; but its commercial value will be limited.”[i]

Gray was so wrong.  Sydney acquired its very first public telephone in 1893. By 1900, 30,000 phone services were operating in Australia.[ii]

But Bell’s ‘talking telegraph’ took quite a long time to be established at Jenolan Caves.

In October 1902, the Postmaster General advised Jenolan that their existing telegraph line could not be used for telephone.[iii]

In June 1910, telephone was promised. Deputy Postmaster-General E. S. Carr, committed to erect a telephone line from Jenolan to Hampton, and hoped it would be completed by the end of 1910.[iv]

Old public phone from Jenolan Post OfficeWe don’t know the date when Jenolan’s first phone was set up, but we know that it was located in Jenolan’s little post office. 

By 1914, Jenolan management was given the good news that a public telephone would be located in Caves House Hotel.[v]

Wireless

When wireless radio began in Australia, radio stations competed for listeners, by broadcasting from unusual locations.  In June 1926, a cast and crew of 20 arrived Jenolan. They broadcast from Jenolan all evening and the next day, by running the existing telephone wires underground into various caves and into Caves House.  Read all about it here. The program went by phone to the broadcasting station at Coogee, 100 miles away. From there, it was sent by wireless all over Australia and New Zealand.[vi]  These cave broadcasts continued for years.

The Old Post Office

Tiny and quaint, the humble Jenolan Caves Post Office is still standing. In 1971, it was due for demolition. But some of our guides got together and agreed that the little building was such a significant part of Jenolan’s heritage, that it needed to be conserved. So, they dismantled, stored and reassembled it on the other side of Caves House. The Jenolan Caves Historical & Preservation Society (JCHAPS) was born. JCHAPS continues to conserve Jenolan’s unique history, building a substantial collection and maintaining a fascinating website. To become a JCHAPS member, please complete the Membership Form and return it to info@jenolanhistory.org.au.

Internet and Mobile Phone

Back in 1876, Alexander Graham Bell said,

“The day will come when the man at the telephone will be able to see the distant person to whom he is speaking”. With Skype, Facetime, Zoom and many other online facilities, we already take this innovation for granted.

We have enjoyed mobile phone coverage at Jenolan, via Telstra, for many years. In regional areas, Telstra is the main service provider. But now, as of last week, we also have Optus coverage.

This is a long-awaited development, and now both Optus and Telstra customers can feel connected to the outside world when they visit Jenolan.

Free, Limited Wi-Fi

When you are visiting the caves, if your mobile provider is Vodafone, coverage is still in the future.  However, we do offer free limited wi-fi on the ground floor of Caves House hotel, the Caves Café, our function room, Jeremiah’s Bar and areas of Chisolm’s Restaurant.

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4655 Jenolan Caves Road, Jenolan Caves, Blue Mountains NSW. Ph: 1300 76 33 11 or +61 2 6359 3911

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