Friday, August 24, 2012

Can Amateur Radio still impress in the age of the Internet?

I recently had the privilege of 4 nights staying and working at Scotia Sanctuary in far western NSW.  This site is one of many run by the Australian Wildlife Conservatory, a private conservation group.  I was there as part of my conservation and land management course, along with 2 teachers and my fellow students.  We were there to map the locations of Mallee fowl nests and learn about the ecosystems of the arid Australian interior and their unique flora and fauna, which are quite different what most of us are used to.

However, I also took the opportunity to take along some HF amateur radio gear, mostly to test some systems for emergency and public event use, and to provide a basic email link back to home.  On the third day I got to setup the radio and computer interface, and exchange a few messages.  A couple of the other students and one of the teachers watched with interest, as I explained what was happening at each stage.  However, more was yet to come.  I tuned across 20 metres (14 MHz), and heard a Scottish station (GM) talking to someone in Western Australia (VK6).  The VK6 signed off shortly afterwards.  While he was signing off, one of the other students asked if I could talk back to these guys.

When the western Australian station signed off, the Scottish station put out another call.  I answered, and he acknowledged.  We chatted for several minutes about the weather, where we were and what each of us were doing for the day, as well as the usual signal reports and details of the stations at each end.  During the conversation, I noticed I had a few people nearby listening in, as well as some "oooh wow" comments from further away.  A few people asked me where the other guy was.  In an area where Internet has to be provided by satellite, a number of people were blown away at being able to talk to someone on the other side of the world with nothing more than a bit of wire strung across to a nearby tree!

Yep, there's still something magic about being able to communicate vast distances without the help of modern network infrastructure, and some people still recognise that magic when they see it.  The vastness of the Outback tends to emphasise that magic.