Back in the late 1980s, the number one ruckman for our Adelaide Hills-based Under 14 footy team was a kid that we called Stobie pole. I’m not even sure that he had a real name. At least, I have no recollection of him having any other name.
The nickname was apt. Having already broken the six foot barrier at the age of thirteen, ‘Stobie’ towered over the rest of us; his visual appearance was unsightly; he was immovable (and immobile, even by a ruckman’s standards); and he would do untold damage to you if you happened to run into him – just like the ubiquitous concrete-and-steel ‘Stobie poles’ that hold up power lines across South Australia.
Note that I am choosing my words carefully, lest ‘Stobie’ has learnt to read in the intervening period. One can only imagine how hideous the bloke looks now.
Design Engineer Mr James Cyril Stobie, the founder of the 1925-patented Stobie pole, described his invention thus:
An improved pole adopted to be used for very many purposes, but particularly for carrying electric cables, telegraph wires… [it] consists of two flanged beams of iron or steel, preferably rolled steel joist of ‘H’ or of channel sections, placed one beside the other with their flanges inward and preferably at a very slight angle one with the other and held together by means of tie bolts, the space between them being filled with cement concrete.
And the non-technical definition:
A pole with concrete in the middle and two railway tracks on the outside.
Often cited as one of the SA’s true icons, the first Stobie poles were erected on South Terrace, Adelaide in 1924, and henceforth they proliferated across the state, becoming central to the speedy expansion of electricity supply.
Stobie poles were cheap to manufacture, had a uniform appearance, a long life expectancy (up to 80 years), and they offered an alternative in lieu of suitable timber, which was not found in abundance in SA.
To this day, South Australia’s electricity infrastructure provider, ETSA Utilities, is yet to find a suitable replacement pole that offers the same clear benefits that the Stobie pole does.
Despite their clear utility, the Stobie pole hasn’t caught on outside of SA. Although used in Broken Hill, Darwin and some remote parts of Western Australia, the Stobie pole remains much-maligned, with many critics who regard them as ugly and more destructive than timber poles in vehicle collisions.
Unfortuntately collisions are relatively commonplace, due to the close proximity of Stobie poles to roads – one just needs to travel South Road (note: not for long now that it’s being redeveloped!) to understand why vehicles and Stobie poles often come into contact.
In spite of its shortcomings, the Stobie is far superior to the aging, splintered, termite-infested poles that prop up high voltage power lines in many Australian urban areas. Long live the Stobie pole – at least until such time as a cost-effective, underground alternative emerges.