In pole position: SA icon turns 100

The Hills Hoist, properties of penicillin, sunscreen and boxed wine; South Australia has an impressive history of iconic and groundbreaking innovations.

No South Australian invention is more hidden in plain sight than the humble Stobie pole. They’re spread far and wide across our state, but have you ever stopped to ask yourself why were they made in that fashion? Where did the name come from? Are they still being manufactured?

If the Stobie pole was a person, it would be getting a letter from King Charles this July as it celebrates its 100th birthday. In honour of this auspicious occasion, here are 20 facts about the unpretentious but powerful South Aussie institution.

  1. The Stobie pole design was formally patented on 15 July 1924.
  2. Termites influenced the design because termites don’t have a taste for steel and concrete. In addition, the lack of wood in SA at the time, the cost to import timber from interstate and the poor longevity of wooden products also contributed to the design.
  3. Stobie poles and their footings are made from a combination of steel and concrete, making them rot-proof, termite-proof and (almost completely) weather-proof.
  4. A single Stobie pole has an average lifespan of 60–80 years – more than triple the working life of a wooden pole. With ongoing maintenance, this longevity can be extended further.
  5. Engineer and Adelaide Electric Supply Co (AESCo) employee James Cyril Stobie developed the design for a new way of delivering electricity to SA residents and businesses. He was paid £500 for the rights to the design which at the time was a considerable sum. In today’s money, that would be about $90,000.

 

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  1. They weren’t called “Stobie” poles originally, but the name evolved over time. The patent form simply describes the invention as “An improved pole for carrying electric light cables, telegraph and telephone wires and for other purposes.”
  2. The very first Stobie pole was installed on South Terrace in 1924. You can find one of the original poles as part of a tribute at the Angle Park manufacturing site.
  3. Their average height varies from between 8–30m tall, with some as tall as 36m, depending on the line voltages and requirements.
  4. The unique poles distribute electricity to homes and businesses at voltages ranging between 240 Volts and 66,000 Volts.
  5. Stobie poles can be seen across approximately 180,000sqkm of South Australia. Some are located in remote locations like as Leigh Creek and the Pitjantjara lands in the Far North.
  1. If you laid all the cabling that is suspended in the air from Stobie poles end to end, there would be about 173,000km of line – enough to circumnavigate the earth at the equator more than four times.
  2. You can find some Stobie poles in Tasmania, Northern Territory and Victoria.
  3. There are more than 640,000 Stobie poles currently standing in South Australia.
  4. Today, up to 4000 new Stobie poles are manufactured each year, and are used to replace damaged poles (ie, as a result of vehicle crashes) and as part of replacement rollouts.
Stobie pole being welded
Stobie poles continue to be manufactured here in South Australia. Image: SA Power Networks
  1. The oldest standing and in-use Stobie pole is up for debate, but a 90-year-old veteran outside the ABC Studios in Collinswood is a contender.
  1. Stobie poles that are no longer in use are recycled, with materials re-used in new poles or for construction such as fencing.
  2. Stobie poles reimagined as public art was commissioned in 1983 by SA’s first Artist in Residence, Annie Newmarch. Today, there are thousands of pieces of Stobie pole artwork. They’re not just limited to paint, and dedicated Adelaide locals joyfully document their finds on Instagram. If you’d like to see your artistic skills adorning a Stobie pole in future, don’t forget to get permission.
  3. The most controversial Stobie pole is currently missing, and SA Power Networks would love to locate it. Painted by three-time Archibald Prize winner, Clifton Pugh in 1983, the council ordered it to be removed because permission wasn’t obtained. The risqué depiction of Adam and Eve was saved by the head of the South Australian Centre for Performing Arts, Dr Barry Young, who paid to have the pole removed and a blank one erected in its place. Do you know the where-abouts of Adam and Eve?
  4. There is a Stobie pole in Walkerville that’s undergone a career change. It no longer distributes electricity, but instead is serving the community as a bus stop.
  5. All Stobie poles produced in 2024 will be tagged with an acknowledgement of the 100th anniversary, so let us know if there’s a brand new one in your neighbourhood.
Stobie pole with tag "Celebrating 100 years"
Look out for the 100 year tag attached to Stobie poles manufactured in 2024.