Coming of Aeradio - Part 2
On arrival at Alice Springs a gang of Public Works Department (PWD) labourers awaited my directions. They erected the 80-foot steel masts and anchored them to concrete blocks, which had been installed in anticipation. The radio equipment was installed in the Guinea Airways passenger rest room. The work took three and a half weeks, and at about 4.30pm on a Saturday afternoon, the first tentative call was made on 6540 KHz by Morse key to Adelaide. To my surprise and relief, they came straight back on voice with a reading you five report. Charlie Magee, a PMG Radio Inspector from Adelaide, acted as the Stations first Aeradio Operator until DCA appointed Jim Jack permanently to the position.
With Alice Springs a going concern, I packed up my tool kit - nothing missing - and headed up north by Guinea Airways Lockheed. Passing through Daly Waters I was told that the Aeradio station was being constructed by a Post Office Engineer from Adelaide, but I had no chance to meet him as the equipment was being installed in the local Post Office some distance from the aerodrome. The Postmaster, Jim McMahon, doubled as the Aeradio Operator.
Arriving at Darwin I found that all available accommodation in town was taken by RAAF construction crews working at the four mile aerodrome. The civil aerodrome manager, Alan Collins, suggested that I sleep in the radio room-to-be, and he provided a bed - with mosquito net - and arranged for me to have all my meals at the Parap Hotel.
Next day I checked out all the materials which AWA had shipped up from Sydney and found it all there with the exception of one 20-foot section of mast. I went to the PWD and asked that a search he made for it at the wharf and freight sheds, and for a working gang to be sent out to the drome in a couple of days time. A motley gang of eight labourers were delivered by truck at 8.30 each morning and recovered at 4.30 in the afternoon. By good luck, they succeeded in assembling the first mast on the ground which they painted, attached 64 foot-steps, guy wires and obstruction light cables. With fingers crossed the mast was pulled up and anchored to concrete blocks in the ground.
The second mast was then started but the missing section of pipe was causing a delay. The PWD had no success in locating it - even to checking on trucks standing at sidings along the Birdum railway line. Finally I went to the freight shed to have a look around myself. A wharfie sidled up and asked if I was "still looking for that bitta pipe," and when I nodded he said "I know where it is - its in twenty-five feet of mud and water alongside the wharf." It had slipped out of the sling during unloading.
The only replacement piece available was 18 inches out of true. That bend just had to come out. With four men holding each end we just positioned it, bend uppermost, over a slight depression in the ground and I drove the local ute over it, back and forth, for about 15 minutes. After that treatment it was perfectly straight.
With this problem solved the second mast was up in much less time than the first, the communication antenna was strung between them and the direction finding (DF) loops hung from the second one. Finally the various leads were attached to the feed-through insulators on the radio rooms outside wall.
The AS9 aircraft transmitter and receivers were installed, as were the 6 volt and 24 volt battery banks and the Delco charging unit. Finally the DF receiver was calibrated with the help of Max Vincent - the launch operator from the flying boat base.
Good radio communications with Alice Springs, Daly Waters, Groote Eylandt and Koepang were possible with this low- powered installation. The six-weeks stint at Darwin had been hard work and a lot of frustration, but this was offset by a successful conclusion to the exercise.
I returned to Essendon where I resumed duties with the technical maintenance unit which had been set up to handle our own problems instead of farming them out. There were four of us - Ted Betts, Mason Chapman, Rod Torrington and myself. We handled mainly problems associated with the new Lorenz Radio Range.
I was back again in the northern areas in October 1940, where I was on loan to the RAAF to indoctrinate all DCA operators in the mysteries of Defence Services communications procedures. I visited all Aeradio stations from Brisbane north to Cooktown, then west to Karumba and Groote, down to Charleville and Cloncurry, on to Daly Waters and finally south to Alice Springs. I spent about a week in each place, depending on the number of operators there and including the time involved in lectures and exercises.
I never did complete the second half of the project as more important things had come up. I was back in Darwin in January 1941 on my way to Portuguese Timor to install a typical AS9 transmitter and battery operated receiver at Dilli. The station was required there when arrangements were made for Qantas to operate a weekly service by deviating the Darwin/Koepang sector via Dilli; westbound one week, and eastbound the next. The only other radio facility in Dilli had been ship-to-shore, and Qantas operations refused to go in there unless Aeradio communications and a homing beacon were provided. Canberra agreed to this, and DCA provided the equipment free of cost to Qantas.
I left Sydney by Flying Boat on 17 January 1941 after collecting the necessary equipment from Qantas and I over-nighted at Townsville where antenna items came aboard. Arriving at Darwin next afternoon via Karumba and Groote, I completed the equipment pickup before departing next morning for Dilli where I was met by the Governor. After three weeks really good radio contact was established with Darwin and with flying boats on departure from Darwin or Koepang.
Ivan continued to work in the Darwin area, installing the Lorenz 33 MHz Radio Range for the purpose of assisting Guinea Airways aircraft into Darwin at night time. He returned south just nine days before the Japanese bombed the town. The Aeradio facility was later relocated at Daly Waters. He finally retired as Examiner of Airmen (Radio) in 1964, and after an active retirement at Myrtleford (Vic), Ivan passed away in 1995. His collection of writings, tape recordings and photos are in the archive of the Civil Aviation Historical Society.
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