Ok, imagine this. On yet another scorching Perth day we head off to the ‘hot weather park’ (lots of shade and a tap with a dog drinking bucket always full) and there in the middle of the big grassy area is a ute, a couple of big blokes and a HUGE antenna being erected in the sand. My thought initially was remote controlled planes but a handshake later discover that this was the preliminaries for a weekend of Amateur (Ham) radio wizardry celebrating the life of John Moyle, a pioneer in electronics and sound recording and editor of Wireless Weekly. A hero too, as during his service in the RAAF in WW2 he kept radio and radar equipment operating under extreme circumstances, cobbling equipment together with whatever was available.
The aim of the competition is to encourage and provide familiarisation with portable operations. In other words set up radio communications wherever, whenever in whatever situation and power that radio with generators, batteries or say solar power to provide communications in times of dire needs and circumstance. Dramatic though that may sound, think Cyclone Tracy and the fact that when the cyclone hit in 1974 all communications went down and an amateur radio enthusiast hitched up his radio to his car battery and let the world know what had happened. Think Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when amateur radio was used to co-ordinate disaster relief activities, the Dec 2004 tsunami and the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and in Australia, 1939 Black Friday bushfires and the Black Saturday Bushfires in Victoria in 2009.
Saturday afternoon and there is a lot of talking into radios with callsigns and what seems like endless repetitions of the same. Every call responded to is logged, manually or on computer, and at the end of the weekend they will tally up the contacts and be ranked in the Australia wide competition. There also seems to be a lot of standing around and cogitating, laying out lines of cable and using a fishing rod and line to raise them into high trees and a sort of crop circle of orange wire, the earth mat. Mind you it is very warm and while the two mobile homes have aircons I’m guessing they aren’t cranked up during the day. The main tent where the action is swarms with gear…screens, amps, big orange boxes full of kit, batteries, rolls of wires, large hammer (if it stops working give it a thump??) and a very splendidly iced chocolate mud cake. Sticky, yummy and probably not good on fingers about to fiddle finely with knobs on controls. As the sun heats up, the icing melts and there are a lot of big mouthfuls and sticky finger wipes on shorts and jeans.
Wireless Radio in Australia celebrated 100 years last year and in WA the 100 year birthday happens next year. The lads here in the park today were part of the group that reconnected with space last year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of John Glenn’s orbit over Perth which became known as the ‘city of lights’ when the population switched on lights in homes and offices and from space the astronaut saw a twinkling glow amidst the black. Two of the fellows initially involved came to the celebrations, now in their 70s and 80s and contact was made with the current space station and school children had the chance to talk via radio with the current space station commander.
As I write this, watching telly and cranking up the kettle with a click of a switch the ‘HARGs’ (Hills Amateur Radio Group) are self contained in a park with generators, solar and batteries powering the mobile homes, radios and beer fridges! As I write this, a cyclone is pummelling the Pilbara coast and Amateur radio enthusiasts are probably telling the blokes in the park what is going on in their front yard as it happens and which we will hear about tomorrow.
Until today I hadn’t thought of this for years but when I worked in Namibia in the 70s, when out in the bush in often very isolated exploration camps, we used radio to connect to the office and to have contact with, in my case, husband, Paul. He was even more often in some very isolated parts of the country! The radio was connected to a truck battery, which also powered the caravan and camp and every day we logged on and called in. Tracking through a central point, call sign 33, we were connected and as everyone and their auntie on the same network could hear conversations they were somewhat limited and coy and when business was concerned, very vague or coded. So simple, reliable and after ten minutes or so the rest of the day flowed without interruption. The only beeps and chirrups to be heard came from the trees and not a pocketed mobile.
On a side note, I’ve discovered that John Moyle’s wife Alice was one of Australia’s great ethnomusicologists travelling in remote Australia recording Aboriginal songs and music and learning the stories. In particular she worked with the Anindilyakwa people of Groote Eylandt. Talk about six degrees of separation. From a chance meeting of the HARGs in a park through John Moyle to Alice Moyle and Groote Eylandt and Elayne,(soon to be daughter-in-law, who with my son Andrew lives on Groote Eylandt) who works with the Anindilyakwa Land Council. It is a small world.