The 'Stobie Pole', Adelaide icon or eyesore?

People of Adelaide At Work

As the Adelaide skyline continues to modernise, and remnants of the past are consigned to the annals of history, let us never forget that magnificent South Australian engineering marvel: the 'stobie pole' - or the nicknames it inspired.

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 big and terrifying the bloke looks now.

What is a 'stobie pole'?

Unlike my ruckman team-mate, the actual ‘Stobie Pole’ is regarded with affection by many South Australians as a heritage icon.

Adelaide-born design engineer Mr James Cyril Stobie, invented the Stobie pole while working at the Adelaide Electric Supply Co. Ltd. in 1924 and 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.

- Cyril James Stobie

Here's my more succinct, non-technical definition: A pole with concrete in the middle and two railway tracks on the outside.

Stobie poles
photo-icon ABC

The rise of the 'stobie pole'

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 – unlike termites and white ants which are, indeed, abundant throughout the state.

To this day, South Australia’s electricity infrastructure provider, SA Power Networks, is yet to find a suitable replacement pole that offers the same clear benefits that the Stobie pole does. 

Stobie poles are still manufactured today at SA Power Networks' Angle Vale facility, with between 20-40 poles rolling off the production line each day.  According to a 2014 ABC report, there are 725,000 Stobie poles in circulation in South Australia.

Despite their clear utility, the Stobie pole hasn’t caught on outside of SA. Although used in Broken Hill, Hobart, 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.

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 more elegant, cost-effective alternative emerges.

Article by

Clayton Wehner

Clayton Wehner

Clayton is what you would call 'middle aged', but acts like he's much younger, despite little encouragement to do so from others around him. He's a family man with two 'clowns', a border collie that won't stop chewing, and a long-suffering wife. Clayton likes craft beer, Dad jokes, 'nerding out' on a computer, singing 'Chantilly Lace' by the Big Bopper, recounting Army tales from days of yore, and tip-toeing along the fine line between tasteful and distasteful. He's a fan of true crime books, railways, Ben Folds, Indian food, and staying under 100kg.