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Hamming Among the Kangaroos

William A Rosburg, NØDYF

Kangaroos, Kookaburras and Koalas — Oh My!

In August of 1986 I accepted a 6 month assignment to work with my company’s Melbourne, Australia distributor. This was well before the advent of the Internet with its wealth of information and there were fewer resources available back then to learn about my destination.

For many years during the 1970s and ’80s I had listened to Radio Australia’s programs on my general coverage receiver and had picked up bits and pieces of information about this country located “down under.” I especially enjoyed hearing the Radio Australia signature tune with the “Waltzing Matilda” melody and exotic kookaburra bird calls.

One particular broadcast on a cold and snowy Iowa winter evening in 1980 really caught my imagination. The radio announcer had talked about the summer heat wave in Melbourne and how some residents were taking their blankets down to the beach to sleep at night. It sounded like paradise compared to our Midwest winter weather, so I had no hesitation when, 6 years later, I was offered the opportunity to visit this fascinating place. I could hardly wait to see if the country was as magical as it sounded over the radio.

In addition to meeting the people and seeing the country, I was looking forward to operating an Amateur Radio station from such an exotic location. Within a few weeks of arriving in Melbourne I had applied for, and received, my Australian reciprocal license with the call VK3CEV.

A Down Under Rig

I had no radio or antenna with me so my next task was to find a suitable rig. After many days of searching I finally decided to build a monoband 75 meter SSB 20 W transceiver kit from Dick Smith Electronics. The price was reasonable and the kit was a nice challenge. It took several evenings and weekends to build the little radio and test it.

Since I was living in a small single story motel with no outside area to put up antennas I decided to try operating mobile. I purchased a 75 meter mobile whip antenna and mounted it on the bumper of my company car. Learning to drive on the opposite side of the road while shifting a manual transmission and operating the radio was a real challenge. Being left-handed seemed to help, though. Unfortunately, the 20 W signal and inefficient mobile whip did not perform well. I only managed a handful of contacts and each one was difficult. My next antenna was a homemade full size dipole.

I had to balance my Amateur Radio activities with my busy work schedule. Whenever I had the opportunity I would leave the city and take Ferntree Gully Road (I really liked that name) and drive up to the Dandenong Ranges about 35 km outside Melbourne. There I would search for a spot to set up the rig and erect the antenna while at the same time enjoying the beautiful scenery.

The Dandenong forest with its wide variety of trees and exotic wildlife including koalas and kookaburras was completely different from the rolling fields of corn and soybeans that I was used to seeing back home. The distant views of Melbourne and Port Phillip Bay were fantastic. The tall trees provided good support for the dipole and on one occasion I even found an unoccupied watchtower to use as a temporary antenna support. As you would expect, the performance of the dipole was much better than the mobile whip and this setup worked well over the following weeks. I was also getting more comfortable with the local dialect and my communication skills were improving. (G’day mate; Don’t have a dummy spit [get angry]; Grab your esky and sunnies [cooler and sunglasses] and let’s go down to the beach; Don’t forget your cozzie [swimsuit].)

Vacation with Radio

Eventually my work finished and in March 1987 I bid goodbye to my new colleagues and friends, and scheduled my return flight to the USA. I decided to take a short vacation on the return trip and stop at Hinchinbrook Island, located off the northeast Queensland coast. It was advertised as Australia’s largest island national park. A limited number of guests were allowed at a small resort on the northern tip of the island. The remainder of the island was uninhabited and undeveloped.

It was a perfect place to relax and unwind after 6 months of hard work. The travel from Melbourne to Hinchinbrook included a short flight from Townsville to the resort via a small single engine floatplane. The friendly pilot helped load my luggage and I couldn’t help but notice his casual attire: baseball cap, shirt, shorts — and bare feet. I could already tell this was going to be a relaxing vacation.

The resort was exactly as advertised in their brochure. There was a main lodge where all meals were served, with wild kangaroos sometimes hopping up onto the dining veranda to beg for handouts. Guests were housed in small cabins scattered in the tropical jungle surrounding the lodge. There were kilometers of pristine beaches and numerous hiking trails. It was all very remote and very quiet with no TV or telephones.

After exploring the beaches and a few of the jungle trails the first day, (and getting the worst sunburn of my life), I decided to try the radio, battery and dipole that were packed in my luggage. I tossed a rock tied to a light line up into the trees surrounding my cabin and pulled up the dipole, then connected the rig and tuned around the band. I was pleasantly surprised to find a quiet band and several strong signals.

I managed to make several successful contacts with good signal reports including a very nice contact with Brian, VK9ZJ, on Willis Island about 400 km off the coast. Brian answered my CQ but mistook my call as a Canadian VE station. (He was probably confused by my American accent.) He seemed a bit disappointed to learn my location was not Canada, but we ended up having a nice discussion about his work at the weather station on the island.

Search Party

I was so engrossed with the radio that I lost track of time and was surprised when I looked out the window to find that it was already dark. A few minutes later I saw what appeared to be headlights bouncing up the rough dirt trail toward my cabin. It was a jeep with one of the resort staff who stopped and walked over to knock on my door. Oh no, my first thought was that my powerful 20 W signal was causing some interference problems at the lodge. I found out quickly that the unexpected visit was indeed due to my radio activity but not because of RF interference. The polite young man explained that the resort used the evening meal as a way to check their headcount and verify that no guests were lost or had gone missing during the day. Dinner was delayed and while the other guests waited he was sent to check on me.

Oh my goodness, how embarrassing!

I apologized for causing concern and inconvenience for everyone, explained about my radio and told him I would not be joining them for dinner. After he left I went back to the rig and managed to make a few more contacts that evening.

(This was not the first, or last, time that I’ve skipped meals to play with radios. Sometimes this hobby is just too much fun to take time out for food.)

The next day I ran into a few of the other guests who were curious to know what had happened to me and I explained again about my radio. For the remainder of my stay on the island I received some good-natured kidding and was told a rumor was circulating that I was a Russian spy transmitting to a submarine hiding off the coast. Someone in the resort sure had a wild imagination, but I guess only another Amateur Radio operator could really understand my explanation.

For me, my adventure in Australia was a dream fulfilled and one of my more memorable experiences with the Amateur Radio hobby. If you are dreaming of a faraway vacation have a look at their Web sites Hinchinbrook Island National Park and Hinchinbrook Island Wilderness Lodge. Have a good trip down under and remember your radio!

Photos by William A. Rosburg, NØDYF.

William A Rosburg, NØDYF, an ARRL member, was first licensed as a Novice in 1975 while working for Collins Radio in Cedar Rapids Iowa. He has held his current call sign, since 1981. William has been fortunate to have lived and worked for several years in the Asia Pacific region after his first visit to Australia and has operated in various locations with the following call signs VK2DYF, 7J1AQS and 9V1BR. William can be reached at 2300 East Hart Ave, Unit #3, Des Moines, IA 50320.


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