Museums Museums

Cardwell Bush Telegraph Heritage Centre

Historic post office & telegraph station, old shire hall, courthouse & lock-up
53 Victoria Street, Cardwell
Ph/Fax: (07) 4066 2412
Opening Hours
Monday – Friday 10am – 1pm
Saturday 9am - noon, or other times by appointment
Sunday & public holidays – closed or as displayed
Extended operating hours may be in place during the tourist season
Free Admission
Donations welcome
Group/school visits encouraged
Packages can be sent out to potential group visits
Tours – guided or self-guided
About the Bush Telegraph
The old Cardwell Telegraph and Post Office (now known as the Bush Telegraph) was built in 1870 and is one of the oldest buildings in North Queensland. It has been entered on the Queensland Heritage Register, the Register of the National Trust and the Register of the National Estate of the Australian Heritage Commission. 
The telegraph office building harks back to Cardwell’s earliest days, having survived both cyclones and termites. It has also played a role in the 20th century as a focus for the town. The old post office, former courthouse, lock-up and old shire hall (which was also built close to the turn of the century) tells the story of Cardwell and its place in communications vital to the development of North Queensland.
The buildings were officially opened as a heritage centre in 2003.
Exhibits shed light on the workings of a telegraph station, the development of communications such as telegraph, road and rail, and the role of local government, police and judicial systems in early Cardwell. 
Friendly Staff
Friendly and knowledgeable staff will guide visitors through the museum and regale them with local stories and interesting facts on exhibits. The museum is also set up for self-guided tours.
Interactive Displays & Activities
Visitors can send a morse code message or ‘race to the top of Australia’ in the Journey Room. They can see old weather instruments and get a feel for the early judicial system in the courthouse and lock-up. School groups will find the museum’s activities sheet fun and educational. The museum also provides object-based themed kits for organised group visits.
Outdoor Display & Gallery
Across Balliol Street from the Old Post Office is a large museum display building where local historical items are on permanent display including a springcart, dray and horse-drawn implements. The recently refurbished old School of Arts, dating back to 1923, is adjacent to the museum display building. It is the home of the Hinchinbrook Regional Arts Gallery and boasts a diverse collection, with exhibits available for purchase.
Public Transport
The Cardwell Bush Telegraph is beside the Bruce Highway at 53 Victoria Street (on the corner of Balliol Street) making it an easy place to find. Cardwell’s transit centre and railway station are a few hundred metres away.
Public toilet
Wheelchair access
Ample parking for coaches
General Information:
Cardwell was settled in 1864 and was the first port settlement on the coast north of Bowen. 
The telegraph facilities at Cardwell were provided because the Queensland Government hoped a connecting cable linking Australia by telegraph to Asia and Europe would be secured for the Gulf of Carpentaria from Java. However the cable was landed at Darwin not the Gulf so the main purpose of the Cardwell Telegraph Office and telegraph lines changed.
The Cardwell Telegraph and Post Office was part of an administrative precinct which originally included a large court and customs house, pilot quarters, police barracks and lock-up, lands office and a police magistrate's residence. The divisional board hall was built next to the post office later, in 1892. Of this precinct, the intact Cardwell Telegraph Office remains. The former divisional board hall (later the shire hall) housed a community museum until it was severely damaged by Cyclone Yasi in 2011. The original courthouse was demolished following a cyclone but its 1890s replacement, constructed on a much smaller scale, and a more recent lock-up dating back to 1907 were moved to the rear of the hall. The resulting historic precinct presents a fine example of the workings and economics of colonial administration over a large and thinly-populated area, and the 19th century technology that coped with it.
The Cardwell Telegraph Office is also fascinating because of the depth of information preserved. Queensland State Archives and the Australian Archives outline original specifications, plans and changes over the years. 
The building was a residence as well as a service outlet. The postmaster was also linesman-in-charge, responsible for maintenance of the telegraph line in his sector. Often it was his wife, as postmistress and telegraph operator, who ran the office while he was away checking the line.
The Cardwell-Normanton telegraph line was a lifeline for the isolated people of this region. It provided contact with the rest of the world and encouraged development of the area.
Interesting Snippets:
  • In 1873 it was from the Cardwell Telegraph Office that authorities in the south were advised Mulligan and others had discovered the rich goldfield of the Palmer River. At that time Cardwell was the station through which news passed from the Gulf Country and the Gilbert goldfield on its way south.
  • The annual salary paid to the Cardwell Postmaster in 1866 was £12. This was before the Cardwell Telegraph Office was built. The first post office was in the Marine Hotel. The first postmaster was the acting police magistrate, who was also the acting sub-collector of customs, clerk of petty sessions, harbour master, shipping master, port master and district registrar. 
  • The telegraph line from Bowen to Cardwell was completed in 1869. It reached Cardwell on Christmas Eve. When the pole opposite the Royal Hotel was erected there were drinks all round and great celebrations.
  • The Cardwell Old Telegraph Office building seems to have been prefabricated in Brisbane and shipped north to be completed on its current site.