This Innovative Pole Design Powers an Entire State - Stobie Poles
This Innovative Pole Design Powers an Entire State - Stobie Poles

This Innovative Pole Design Powers an Entire State - Stobie Poles

The stobie pole is a uniquely South Australian invention that has become an icon. This is what it is, what makes it distinct and how it came to be.


When electricity was being rolled out around the world, one of the challenges for engineers and designers was how to connect every home and shop that needed it in a safe way. And the solution was this, overhead power lines lifted well above street level raised up by utility and power poles.

Now I'm in South Australia and it faced its own challenges in doing that, because it's a state that doesn't have the tall trees necessary for these poles. In fact, a big portion of the state is called the Nullarbor which translates from Latin, null meaning none, and arbor meaning trees, literally, the no tree plane.

So what the state would do was import these poles from other parts of the country. Now that would cost more, but they'd also be impacted by white ants and termites. So that was the local challenge.

And the local solution was this, this is a Stobie pole. It was invented in 1924 by James Cyril Stobie who was part of the Adelaide electric supply company. And I went and dug up the original patents. And this was called in those documents, "an improved poles for electric cables, telegraph and telephone wires and other purposes." But it's more commonly be called as a pole with concrete in the middle and railway tracks on each side.

And it does the job. It's a straightforward design that lifts up the power lines and importantly is not effected by white ants and termites and it can be built locally.

There is one place in the world that builds these poles and that is right here. I'm in Angle Park in Adelaide and this is the SA Power Networks Stobie pole manufacturing facility. And these poles are quite remarkable, this plant can make them from eight to 30 meters, they can weigh 18 tons. And these designs can last for 70 years.

So that's led to this really interesting situation where these poles are ubiquitous in South Australia. There are over 700,000 of them but outside the state, they're uncommon. So it's led to a question, is this pole an eye sore or an icon?

There is one feature about it that makes it distinct from other types of poles and that's it's flat sides. It makes it being a really good source for artistic and creative projects, from schools and artists and community groups. And in fact, it's quite common and there's a formal mechanism to do artistic projects.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention and that invention is the Stobie pole. A piece of electric infrastructure which is unique, because it's shaped the streetscapes of an entire state.

Now over to you, if you enjoyed this, please do subscribe or share with anyone else in your life that likes niche electrical infrastructure projects. I'm Julian O'Shea, and there must be dozens of us out there. That's it for me.