Green’s Dictionary of Slang

bush telegraph n.

also bush wire
(orig. Aus.)

1. a member of a bushranging gang whose task is to keep his colleagues informed of the whereabouts of potential victims or efforts to capture them.

[Aus] in Bell’s Life in Sydney 23 Apr. 2/5: Two or three noted ‘bush-telegraphs’ were among the crowd who had come [...] to obtain one more look at the robbers [AND].
[Aus]Australian i 507: The police are baffled by the false reports of the confederates, and the number and activity of the bush telegraphs [F&H].
[Aus]‘Rolf Boldrewood’ Robbery Under Arms (1922) 2: Our ‘bush telegraphs’ were safe to let us know when the ‘traps’ were closing in on us. [Ibid.] 240: A bush telegraph, you see, is mostly worked about the neighbourhood he was born in [...] Within twenty miles of where he was born and bred he knows every track, every range, every hill, every creek, as well as all the short cuts and by-roads.
[Aus]K. Mackay Out Back 74: A hint dropped in this town set the bush telegraphs riding in all directions. [Ibid.] 188: What’s the name of the bloomin’ bush wire as told yer?
[Aus] (ref. to late 19C) Baker Aus. Lang. 75: The original bush telegraph was a confederate of bushrangers who warned them of police movements.
[Aus] (ref. to late 19C) N. Pulliam I Travelled a Lonely Land (1957) 231/1: bush telegraph – those who supplied news of police movement to bushrangers.

2. (also blackfellow telegraph, bush telegram) a network of gossip and rumour that brings news, often inaccurate, before the official sources [SAusE blackfellow (now derog.), a Native Australian].

[Aus]Sydney Punch 13 Aug. 91/1: The following correspondence has been forwarded to us for publication. It was carried through the medium of ‘Bush Telegraphs’.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘Black Joe’ in Roderick (1972) 255: The nearest squatter’s wife [...] arranged (by bush telegraph) to drive over next morning.
C.J. Hyne Kate Meredith, Financier 152: ‘By the way, Slade, have you been in touch with the bush telegraph?’ ‘Oh, I heard that the usual vague rows and horribles were going on in Okky City.’.
[Aus]J.L. Beeston Five Months at Anzac 35: Bush Telegraph [...] is a tortoise in its movements compared with a Beachogram [AND].
[UK]M. Forrest Hibiscus Heart 199: They felt secure enough, for they had had word by their special bush telegraph.
W.R. Foran African Odyssey 30: The hardy runners and native drums — the latter the ‘bush-telegraph’ system of the Africans — have been supplanted by both telephone and telegraph.
[Aus]Baker Aus. Lang. 75: Bush telegraph [...] became synonymous with any rumour or false report.
[Aus]Cusack & James Come in Spinner (1960) 43: Now then, bush telegraph, lay off the staff here.
[Aus]N. Pulliam I Travelled a Lonely Land (1957) 231/1: bush telegram – a rumour or a report which probably isn’t true [...] bush telegraph – [...] the source of an unfounded report. Sometimes the expression is modernized to bush radio.
[Aus]T. Ronan Moleskin Midas 95: There was blackfellow telegraph that there’d been throuble here, and I’ve come from town.
[UK]C. MacInnes Mr Love and Justice (1964) 164: The news of the arrest of Frankie’s girl had already spread by the ponce-prostitute bush telegraph.
G.O. Preshaw Banking under Difficulties 87: The ‘bush telegraph’ was at work [in] the billiard-rooms of the bars of the principal hotels of Burrangon.
A.S. King British Prime Minister 79: The private secretaries of Whitehall constitute the ‘bush telegraph’ of government.
[Aus]G. Seal Lingo 50: Related to these activities is the term for those who brought news of what the traps or troopers were doing to the bushrangers with whom they sympathised – bush telegraphs. bush telegraph and the even more evocative mulga wire are still in use to describe mostly, though not exclusively, rural rumour networks.
[NZ] McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl.