Callsigns and six degrees of seperation

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.                                                                                                                 


Fighting Fish and Grass Jelly

On the hunt today for Rendang curry paste which until recently has been on the shelves at the neighbourhood supermarket, but now sadly seems as rare as hen’s teeth. (I hope my mate Su isn’t reading this, she will be horrified to read I’m not making it from scratch!) The paste I’m looking for is perhaps as authentic as you can find in a jar and when it is slow cooked with beef, shredded coconut, coconut milk and tamarind paste it really is good….really, really good.

No luck either at the Vietnamese veggie shop, bulging with bok choy, choy sum, pak choi, bunches of spring onions, coriander, lemon grass, curry leaves and baskets of bean sprouts, snow peas, tiny white Thai eggplants and chillies. Red, green and glossy, some of the chillies the size of baby carrots and others are innocently tiny and punch above their weight and size. Tucked in the back corner are shelves of pickles, pastes and marinades, cans of pilchards in sauce, pink pickled ginger, dried salty-sweet anchovies, bottles of fish sauce and pungent shredded shrimp. Sacks of rice in decorated, zipped hessian, packs of noodles  pencil thin and glasslike, thick and dried egg yellow and yet more chillies. Pulped and mixed with fermented black beans and steeped in glossy yellow oil it is a mouth watering experience wandering through this tight aisled area. Between the vegetables and fruits… an exotic salad of apples and plums, dragon fruit, papaya and lychees…a couple of freezers are stocked with pork buns for steaming, spring rolls for dipping and snowy, white slabs of fish. In the fridge are cans of chrysanthemum tea and grass jelly and tubs of slippery tofu. No rendang  though.

Staying with the fishy theme the little deli I dropped into on the way home with a vague hope they may have a rendang  stash has a real surprise in store.There amongst the deli counters, newspapers, odd little collections of brushes and brooms and shelves of cans, sweets, incense and biscuits is a fish tank full of goldfish. Perched on top, are jars of Siamese Fighting Fish, gloriously coloured with fins floating like silk scarves. They look so cramped and solitary in the jars, eyeing each other up through glass. Of course they can’t be together in tanks because they are fighting fish and it would be on for one and all. In the wild they live anywhere there is water, even tiny puddles which is why the male is so aggressive, protecting his tiny pool. Known as labyrinthine fish they can not  only breathe through gills but through a breathing structure (the labyrinth) that allows it to absorb air gulped in from the surface. This is a big deal in fish evolution, next step the lung fish.In captivity they are bred as both ornamental and fighting fish though in Australia wagered fights are strictly illegal. It seems like a terribly sad existence.For these aggressive but very pretty fish there is another, if still, solitary alternative. Special tanks called ‘Betta Barracks’ separate the males with clear dividers so they can still see each other and show off their finnage in displays. Apparently this is the way to go when keeping fighting fish and a solitary fish should have a mirror in the tank. I read they are great pets for those with ‘little spare time or space’… no walks around the hot weather park then.

Just to add to the intrigue in this curious little shop with its very curious content is a sign about cannabis. This above the stacks of incense cones and sticks, I’m still trying to work out if there is a connection. There again joining the dots in this particularly unusual deli is fishy business!!

Oysters and Bubbles

This one is for you Mum!!

I’ve been in London for  five days and every time I think of starting to write some words there has been so much going on it’s hard to know where to start.Where better then with half a dozen Cumbrae oysters and a glass of very lovely bubbles at the Champagne and Oyster bar at Selfridges for lunch today.

Staying right in the heart of Marylebone  a stone’s through from Oxford Street and walking distance from the British Museum,  Regent’s Park, pubs and shops, restaurants and cafes it really has been such an amazing experience to be quite so in the thick of things. Thank goodness for maps though .. the maze of streets and lanes and mews leads  for interesting short cuts and discoveries of a cheese shop which has a cheese room,  lunches of soups drizzled with truffle oil and platters of thin sliced smoked beef, salmon and oozy cheeses with charcoal biscuits. There’s the book shop with a down stairs brimming with travel books and maps and a little bakery with a carpet hanging on the wall and Gravadlax or pickled fish and egg rolls for breakfast with lingonberry juice.

 So today it was off to the National Portrait gallery and the lovely surprise to find the Photographic Portrait Award in full swing and more portraits of queens, kings , princes, important and some not so important people than you can poke a stick at.Yesterday was a day at the British Museum and one of the most interesting and moving exhibitions I’ve certainly seen for a long time. Grayson Perry?? An unfamiliar name for me anyway , the show curated by the artist with his new works, ceramics , potteries and sculptures of found objects, a motorbike  and the inimitable bear Alan Measles alongside pieces made by men and women throughout history-‘The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman’. Then lunch across the table from a sturdy  grey- bobbed hair lady munching her way through a prawn salad, swigging from a bottle of Appletiser. She has taken up card making and shows me a bag of ink pads and stamps for her first attempts and tells me about Grayson Perry.

And talking about lunch, today into Selfridges….now that has to be one of THE shrines to consumerism…. and trip though the food hall to a stool at the oyster bar. Enough said, it was delicious and beautifully presented , even down to the half lemon clothed in muslin.