Book tells of remote NT life through radio


Barry Coles on air at a government contractors' camp, Northern Territory 1960s [Royal Flying Doctor Service donation to CDU Nursing Museum].

Barry Coles on air at a government contractors' camp, Northern Territory 1960s [Royal Flying Doctor Service donation to CDU Nursing Museum].

A new book will ask its readers to take a step back to a time before World War II when the pedal wireless began to revolutionise communications in Australia’s remote Northern Territory.

Written by Charles Darwin University Nursing Museum curator Janie Mason and Senior Lecturer in Business Dr Susan Bandias, “Life in Radio Land - Stories from the bush before the mobile phone” will be launched this week (Tuesday, 5 September).

The book is a collection of 32 stories from nurses, doctors, cattle station families, teachers, missionaries, radio-telephone technicians and operators, as well as a pilot, construction worker, tourist operator and hydrologist, from pre-World War II to the early 2000s.

Ms Mason said high frequency radio revolutionised communications for remote communities, not only in terms of education and access to medical services, but also in all aspects of remote living.

“The radio schedules known as ‘skeds’ or ’scheds’ were a routine part of life for operators and supporting technicians within a 24-hour radio service,” she said.

“Organisations from missions to aerial medical services had regular on-air schedules for calls.

“Whether good times or a medical call, whether on the sked or a ‘galah’ session, everyone heard. Everyone knew everyone else’s business.”

She said the book was an important record of how radio impacted life, socialising and surviving in the bush until the final closure of shortwave radio in January this year.

“Radio helped to build a unique community and the community expanded radio use beyond its original purpose and expectation,” she said. “We wanted to record some of the stories before they disappear.”

She said the stories also told of some of the challenges and shared solutions of living remotely in the NT and for those in need it was often a lifeline.

“For people awaiting aerial medical services, it could be a long wait until the morning when help would arrive as often night flights and landings were not then possible on short and poorly kept strips,” she said.

“Everyone shared their stories whether they were family tragedies, private business or personal health, how to cope with primitive living and work conditions or news of new a boyfriend.”

The book will be launched by the Honourable Kezia Purick, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory on Tuesday, 5 September from 5:30pm - 7:00pm at the Members and Guests Lounge, Parliament House. The book has a foreword by the Minister for Tourism and Culture, Lauren Moss, who with the President of NT Historical Society Mr Matthew James will speak at the event.

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