The story of the man who strung the telegraph across Australia, and the woman who gave her name to Alice Springs.
In 1855 an impoverished young scientist from Greenwich told his guardian that he was off to chance his luck in Australia - as Government Astronomer and Superintendent of Telegraphs for the small colony of South Australia. With him went his young wife Alice - after whom Alice Springs would be named. For Charles Todd was following a dream - the near impossible task of stringing a telegraph wire across one of the last uncrossed colonial wilderness, and finally connecting Australia with Britain.
In 1997, their great-great-granddaughter Alice followed in their footsteps. Her plan was to track the telegraph and her ancestors, from Adelaide over the thousands of miles of desert, outback, swamp and mountain that Charles Todd had crossed in the 1860s with his 400 men.
Thomson, a British political columnist and food writer, traces the legendary route taken by her great-grandfather Charles Todd as he attempted to build the first telegraph wire across Australia--the "singing wire," named by Aborigines whose land it cut in two. Using letters, libraries, contemporary newspaper accounts and legislative records, Thomson not only shows the difficulties encountered on Todd's great adventure at the end of the 19th century but also brings to life the happiness and hardships of her great-grandmother, Alice, who had first proposed marriage to Charles Todd at age 12. In comparing her own day-to-day travels with those of her ancestors, Thomson describes how the country has changed: when visiting the old mining town of Pine Creek, she notices that "the passion and greed had been smothered by bourgeois respectability." Thomson's own travelogues pale in comparison to the tale of Alice and Charles, which encompasses sexual, familial, industrial and national politics. Thomson is at her best writing about the impact Charles had on the native people of Australia, as when she observes: "In one move, this wire brought to an end thousands of years of unchanging nomadic existence." Illus.