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Nothing says South Australia like the Stobie pole 

The iconic local invention celebrates its 100th birthday in 2024, marking 100 years of service supporting the supply of electricity across our state.  

The Stobie has seen it all.  The great depression, Australia at war, South Australia’s industrialisation, social transformation, the Ash Wednesday bushfires, the State Bank collapse, the birth of the Adelaide Crows and Port Power, and much more.  

Throughout a century of change, the Stobie pole has been a constant in the lives of every South Australian.  

Stobie Pole 100 year roundel-svg


The evolution of the Stobie pole

As South Australia expanded its electricity network at the beginning of the 20th century, the harsh climate, corrosive soils, lack of timber and termite infestation posed a number of significant challenges.  

Wooden poles, the norm for electricity networks at the time, were found to be impractical due to their short lifespan and the cost of importing them from interstate.   

In response, James 'Cyril' Stobie, an engineer with the Adelaide Electric Company, sought a solution. He hit upon the idea of a pole made from steel and concrete that would be highly durable, resistant to termites, and that wouldn’t burn. His innovative design was formally patented in July 1924.    

How Stobie poles are made 

Stobie’s solution was to design a pole consisting of two L-shaped steel beams connected by bolts. The space between them is filled with concrete, making the entire structure incredibly strong and durable.  

Stobie poles continue to be manufactured exclusively by SA Power Networks at our Angle Park facility. The largely automated production process turns out between 20 to 40 poles a day, ranging between eight and 20 metres in length. An adjacent open yard is used to manufacture our larger 30-metre-high transmission poles.  

The manufacturing process involves rolling steel to taper the poles' ends which fit into specifically engineered footings. To achieve the necessary bends in the steel, heat torches are used and up to 110 tonnes of pressure is applied.   

While Stobie poles are initially more costly to manufacture than wooden poles, they can remain in service for 60 or 80 years, more than justifying the time, effort and expense that goes into their production. 

Historic Stobie Pole
Left: The early Stobie pole style
Right: The current Stobie pole


How do Stobie poles compare with wooden poles? 

Wooden poles typically have a working life of about 20 years before they need to be replaced. Today there are around 650,000 Stobie poles across South Australia, wtwhich means the Stobie has helped us avoid a significant demand for wood.   

Although wooden poles are made out of a potentially renewable resource ( trees), their potential uses when their operational life comes to an end are limited due to the toxic chemical preservatives  that are required to be used on them to protect against termite infestation. There are some instances of decommissioned wooden poles being re-used for fencing, but as they can't be used for furniture or playgrounds, nor can they be burnt, most unfortunately end up in landfill.  

In contrast, our Stobie poles are manufactured here in SA from concrete and steel that lasts up to 80 years and which we can re-plate at its footing and potentially get another 30-40 years of working life from them. When we eventually replace them at the end of their working life they are fully recycled.  

Although at this stage the production of concrete and steel is carbon-intensive, but as we move to more carbon-friendly products and 100% renewable energy in the grid, the impact will lessen. Also, the Whyalla Steelworks will be using green hydrogen in a few years’ time instead of coal to make the steel we use for Stobies. In addition, our Pole Plant at Angle Park uses recycled rainwater harvested from its roof.  

90-year-old Stobie pole
One of the best examples of the durability of the Stobie is this pole that has been proudly standing outside of the ABC studios in Collinswood since 1934. 


Who was James Cyril Stobie?

James Cyril Stobie (1895–1953) began working at Adelaide Electric Supply Company (AESCo) in 1916 when he was just 21 years old. He later gained a degree in Engineering from University of Adelaide, and went on to become chairman of the South Australian division of the Institute of Engineers, as well as managing engineering research for the Electricity Trust of South Australia.

In 1926, Stobie had become the founding editor of AESCo's in-house magazine, ‘Adelect’, in which he demonstrated his vision of the company's future and the value of research.

Cyril Stobie Painting

When the Electricity Trust of South Australia took over from AESCo in 1946, he was appointed Chief Design Engineer, and in 1950 became Assistant to the Manager of Engineering Research.

James Cyril Stobie died of coronary thrombosis on 15 August in 1953, and is buried in Centennial Park cemetery.


Public Art - Stobie Pole2
Image credit: Newmarch Gallery

Stobie pole art

The Stobie pole unexpectedly has become a canvas for community art, inspiring a variety of painting and sculpture projects — and even a song. 

Thunderbird Sculpture 1

Thunderbird Sculpture 2

Continuum Stobie Pole

Clancy Warner's 'Thunderbird' sculpture

Clancy Warner's 'Thunderbird' sculpture

 ‘Continuum’ by artist Bianka Kennedy

Two major Stobie pole-inspired art installations – Clancy Warner's 'Thunderbird' sculpture, and ‘Continuum’ by artist Bianka Kennedy – were commissioned by SA Power Networks in collaboration with the Helpmann Academy.

These initiatives highlight the innovative ways in which Stobie poles can be utilised beyond their utility, and are an ideal way to showcase how creative partnerships can be forged between utility services and the artistic community.

The first community based Stobie pole art project began in 1983, pioneered by the state’s first Artist in Residence Anne Newmarch in the City of Prospect.

This was such a success and proved so popular that the project was expanded for the South Australian 150th Jubilee in 1986.

As Anne Newmarch explained in 1987, "The pole is a particular form that allows for painting and community sharing within an environment…It's a nice human scale and people aren't very frightened of using it as a place to express their ideas. But it is also uniquely South Australian, designed by Cyril Stobie ... and it's a project really that's about people sharing and showing their creativity." 

Not everyone liked the idea of Stobie art at first…

In 1984, well-known artist Clifton Pugh, winner of that year’s Archibald Prize, was commissioned to paint a Stobie pole as a promotion for a hairdressing salon. 

His portrait of Adam and Eve drew criticism as it was a bit too revealing for some people, and the City of Prospect Council ordered it to be removed because it had not been approved.

However,  Dr Barry Young, Head of the South Australian Centre for Performing Arts, paid $800 to save Adam and Eve, removing the Pugh pole and installing it in the centre, and paying for a replacement Stobie pole to take its place. 

Since its relatively humble beginnings in the 1980s, more and more South Australian communities have taken up the opportunity to express their creativity through the unique medium of Stobie pole art.

Clifton Pugh painting a stobie pole

Please Note: If you’re planning to paint a Stobie pole, you need approval from SA Power Networks and the relevant council to ensure that it is something the local community would welcome.


Some fine examples of Stobie pole art from across the Adelaide


The future of the Stobie pole

Stobie pole construction

The initial design of the Stobie pole remains largely unchanged a hundred years after the first one appeared on South Terrace, and this serves as a testament to the perfection of the original vision. 

For one hundred years, the Stobie pole has underpinned the overhead network infrastructure, ensuring a stable power supply throughout the state. Excitingly, they have a significant role to play in supporting our renewable energy transition, helping us to share energy generated from renewable sources like the sun and wind. 

Their enduring presence in cities, towns and across the state is not only testament to their practical utility, but also their unique contribution to South Australia’s identity and heritage of innovation. 


Stobie Pole resources


Frequently asked questions

The Stobie was invented in 1924 by Adelaide Electric Supply Company engineer James ‘Cyril’ Stobie to overcame two typically South Australian problems: scarce timber and abundant termites.   

To this day, Stobie poles continue to be manufactured in South Australia by SA Power Networks at our facility in Angle Park.

SA Power Networks supports powerlines being placed underground in all new urban residential and industrial developments. We also work closely with local councils, other authorities and our customers to underground existing overhead power lines through fully-funded or subsidised schemes. 

We appreciate that some within the community want overhead powerlines removed, which is why we spend around $10 million annually undergrounding existing powerlines as part of the Government’s Powerline Environment Committee (PLEC) scheme. 

The total cost to underground the thousands of kilometres of overhead power lines in South Australia is estimated at more than $25 billion. This substantial cost is the main reason for not adopting more extensive undergrounding programs.  

You can read more here: Undergrounding powerlines

A Stobie pole consists of two perpendicular steel L-shaped beams, connected by bolts, with the gap between the two beams filled with concrete. This protects the steel from corrosion and significantly strengthens the overall structure. 

The poles are tapered from ground level to the top, while small holes in the concrete enable cross-arms, insulators and other hardware to be attached. Their unique construction prevents Stobie poles from being infested with termites, as well as making them fireproof and largely immune to corrosion.  

On average, there are more than twenty incidents each year where farm machinery hits Stobie poles and powerlines. This can result in power outages, and damage to both the SA Power Networks asset and the farming equipment. Such incidents also pose a high safety risk to people and property. 
 
Reflective markers in the form of yellow corner cube delineators can be installed on Stobie poles to improve their visibility and reduce the likelihood of incidents involving farm equipment.  

Reflectors are available for free from our stands at shows and field day events, or you call us on 13 12 61 to arrange collection from your nearest SA Power Networks depot. 

There is no limit as to how many reflectors can be installed on a pole, provided it is a yellow, corner cube reflector 83mm in diameter. 

James Cyril Stobie (1895–1953), generally known as JC, C or Cyril to his friends, was born in Parkside, Adelaide on 15 September 1895.  

Stobie excelled academically from an early age, and won a scholarship to the South Australian School of Mines and Industries. However, family difficulties exacerbated by his father’s death in 1912 meant that he had to take over the running of the family grocery shop in Mile End in order to support his mother and three sisters. 

He did ultimately enrol as an evening student at the School of Mines in 1915, from where he gained an Associate Diploma in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, followed by a Fellowship Diploma in 1919. 

In the meantime, Stobie had joined the Adelaide Electric Supply Co. Ltd. (AESCo) in 1916 and continued his engineering studies part-time at the University of Adelaide graduating with a B.E. in 1921 (later taking a M.E. 1932). 

He was appointed Chief Draftsman at AESCo in 1923, and in 1924 invented the transmission pole that to this day carries his name. He was paid £500 by AESCo for the patent rights to the Stobie pole. 

Stobie remained with AESCo throughout his professional life. He was the founding editor of AESCo's in-house magazine, ‘Adelect’ from its launch in 1926 until 1940, and the publication enabled him to express his vision of the company's future, as well as his various research interests. ‘Adelect’ also enabled Stobie to display the sense of humour for which he was renowned, as well as his staunchly Methodist Christian values.  

When the Electricity Trust of South Australia took over from AESCo in 1946, Stobie was appointed Chief Design Engineer, and then Assistant to the Manager of Engineering Research in 1950, despite increasingly suffering or recurring bouts of illness.  

Stobie died of coronary thrombosis on 15 August 1953, and was survived by his wife Rita (the two were married in 1924), two daughters and two sons. He is buried in Centennial Park cemetery. 

Information from: https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stobie-james-cyril-11776