1968 was probably the year that it all began for me. I was living in an outer Melbourne suburb in Victoria Australia. As an 8 year old I had been playing outside on a balmy evening. On my way back to the house I spotted our neighbor on his porch with a shortwave radio tuning into D.Welle and the BBC. I was absolutely fascinated at what this guy was doing, picking up radio stations from the other side of the world. I spent half an hour with him and it was probably at this moment that the seeds were sown for years of enjoyment in the hobby of Dxing.
Eight years passed and I never really thought much more about the hobby. It was during my senior days at school the bug really bit. Friends of mine were into the CB radio craze. We all had 27Mhz transceivers. CB’s at that time were illegal and as kids we thought that every Post Master General mail truck was the enemy and that radio inspectors in tracker vans were out to get us.
At school we started a Radio Club during our lunch breaks. But that was banned by the school master after a while when he discovered that we were transmitting illegally and we were stringing wires up flag poles and out of windows. At first it looked like we were destined for amateur radio as a hobby. However my radio hobby was about to take a twist.
One afternoon while riding home from school I saw this huge radio tower in a backyard. I was fascinated with this tower and some weeks later my curiosity got the better of me. I parked my bike up against the fence and peered over. The huge Tri-bander beam was in action and I could hear dx coming from the backyard shack. All of a sudden this guy yells out.. “What do you think you are doing”. Well I got such a fright that I fell off my bike and came a thud on the concrete lane way.
I peered up and there was this man looking at me with a quizzical look. It turned out to be Dennis Harkin VK3ADJ. Dennis took me inside and showed me his shack. I was in radio heaven. Here was this guy, chatting to yanks on 20m. Dennis took me along to meetings of the Western Suburbs Radio Club in Melbourne. It was mainly amateur guys and a lot of them were in their 50’s. I suppose they saw it as a good opportunity to get new blood into the hobby.
The problem was that I never really felt comfortable doing the ham thing. I enjoyed the technical side of things but not the talking on air. I actually found it a bit boring. Unknown to Dennis, he was the one who probably turned me away from being a ham. One afternoon he was having a clear out of his shack and presented me with a National HRO Receiver.
I lugged my prized possession home on my bike with all the coil boxes. I fired it up that evening with a bit of wire up the tree. Wow.. I was totally blown away. There was so much to hear and so many bands to tune into. I remember being in awe of it all. The very first station I ever heard in 1976 on the old rig was Radio Japan on 15160 kHz. They were asking for reception reports and I thought.. well what the heck. No frequency, program details or return post.. My letter simply said.. “Enjoyed your program – Please send QSL card” Much to my surprise a fortnight later a huge parcel arrived with all these goodies and a prized QSL card. I thought to myself.. this is so cool.
I started writing to every station I could hear in English. I was doing 20 hand written reports a night and often I never made it to school because I was so exhausted from the nights work. In next to no time I had 100 countries verified. The next few years I was more intent on just SWL and really didn’t fully understand what DXing was all about. Even technically I was a bit naive and would string longwires up trees, I even tried mums clothes line and actually heard Uganda on it.
I recall nights of sitting in my bedroom with thunderstorms approaching and watching the static discharge between the coax core and the braiding. That was quite a scary sight.
As years went by I learnt a bit more about antennas and strung a few rather large dipoles up. The yard in Thornbury was quite long and fitted a 90 and 60m half wave dipole in quite well. That Thornbury site yielded some great dx in the early days from home. It went against all logic because we lived 300m from a railway with overhead wires and we were just a 100m away from tram lines. It was a very good Asian site and in particular for Indonesians. I just wish I had of known about Ewe antenna’s back then.
Dampier North-West Western Australia
In 1977 as a young single guy aged 17 I moved to Dampier in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. I worked for the Iron Ore mining company Hamersley Iron. It is a very unique part of the world, very isolated and hot during the summer months never dropping below 40c. In fact the only relief we ever had from the heat was when cyclones would come in off the Indian Ocean. Being on the Indian Ocean it was a fantastic dx location. I remember Indonesians all over the place on MW and also on the 27Mhz CB band.
The really sad and unfortunate thing for me was that I was in my early years of DXing and in fact I was more a SW listener never having been exposed to dx clubs or even other dxers. I was content on listening to the RSA’s and KOL Israel’s etc. Sadly I had no interest in MW and that is something I deeply regret now. Imagine the dx that would have been possible for me not only on MW but the tropical bands, NDB, FM etc. I have often wondered what the possibilities of Sporadic E would have been at these latitudes.
It would have been nice to return to Dampier one day for a dx trip. I have always wondered what the Indian signals were like. I know they were great on the Tropical Bands but not on MW. Some parts of Asia have always been tough for me. Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Burma etc. Maldives would have been nice as well. But I will never know now.
For a few years I worked at the Parker Point mine site at Dampier, Western Australia doing maintenance on electrical equipment which included the complex conveyor belt system and even the Ship-loader etc. Later I would move to Parks and Gardens and I must say this was a really wonderful job. My life became derailed in 1979 after a very bad motorbike accident and I must say from that point on my heart was elsewhere and I traveled to Europe before settling back in Melbourne. For a single guy though it was tough living there and I decided to leave around 1981.
Back to Melbourne
In 1981 after a tour of Europe I returned to back to my Thornbury home. I was only 21 at the time and I must say it was always nice to go back home to the family house and living with my dear old mum again. The property we had in Melbourne was quite large as far as suburban properties go. I had many dipoles up. 60 and 90 m dipoles fit quite comfortable and amazingly the noise levels were quite good. I would often listen to the tropical bands all night. Many latins and Indonesians. Mediumwave was wonderful also.
It was during this time that I joined the Australian Radio Dx Club. Being a part of the club taught me so much. Guys like Peter Bunn, Geoff Cosier and Mike Willis took me under their wing and showed me what real dx was all about. Learning about propagation and seeing what bands and and equipment others used opened so many doors to me.
Back in those days Melbourne was the hub of Australian Dxing and the monthly dx meetings at members homes would pull in 20 – 30 dxers. It was great to look at all the QSL cards and share news with other guys. I miss the social aspect of these early years of the hobby.
Australia also had a very splintered dx scene due to some bizarre and fiery individuals. Ego’s made sure that we never had one united dx club. There was ARDXC, DX Australia,
Southern Cross DX club and in later years OZDX and SPUD. In 1982 I had my first DXpedition with Peter, Geoff and Michael. We traveled to Cape Otway on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. I was to travel to this dx location many times after this. It was from that point on that I knew that the only real way to do serious dx work was to get away on a Dxpedition, away from noise and from local stations. This was when I took a real interest in MW. These guys were hearing yanks.. How cool was that!!
In 1983 Peter Bunn, Geoff Cosier and I had a major falling out with the ARDXC and decided over a few pints at The Loaded Dog hotel in Fitzroy to form OZDX. For the next 10 years Peter Bunn and David Martin were the editors of this fine newsletter. Over the next decade I had stints as MW Editor for Dx Australia, Southern Cross Dx Club.
(The alternative to Radio G’day International)
I was also involved with Radio Australia and did spots on Spectrum, Talkback and Communicator with Mike Bird and Brendan Telfer. In 1990 or so, my SW Dxing took a big back seat to Mediumwave. Its funny because in my early days I had no time for MW dx at all. I had no interest in it whatsoever
Radio Australia was great fun. In those days the studios were way out in East Burwood. You would sit in the studio’s and stare out to the beautiful Dandenong Ranges.Mike Bird to this day reminds me of my famous broadcast when Brendan asked me what I’d been listening to.. I remarked I’d been giving the 20 tinnie band a fair old nudge. Ha.. those were the days. I miss a lot of those Radio Australia characters and presenters. I miss those famous Indian curries at Mike and Sandy Birds home with Peter Bunn. The Birds always put on a damn fine meal. After a few ales and bottles of red we would sit around the lounge room doing some hilarious impersonations of some infamous dxers. Over the years we have met up with visiting dxers..
Mike Bird and I will never forget the time Gordon Darling flew in for a quick visit and we had drinks at the Mountain View Hotel in Waverley. I’ve never seen so many jugs of beer disappear so fast except for maybe Nhulunbuy. At midnight we were still going and the Darling’s were flying out at 4am back to Papua New Guinea
DXpeditions have been the major part of my Dxing for the past 15 years or so. Getting away from noise has been the main factor but up until recent times it was also because of the need to use long beverage antennas. I’ve always been an experimenter with antennas. Craig Edwards has called me “The Fiddler” because of my desire to try and tweak things and try something new. I’ve always been looking for that edge in an antenna. The one thing about comparing antennas though with MW is that you never really know if it’s the antenna or conditions.
Dave Headland and I have tried some interesting antennas over the years. One year at Woodside Beach before we had use of Foatie’s Hut we tried running out a whopping 1400 meter beverage right onto the beach and virtually in parallel we put another out at 550 meters. It was interesting to note that the 550m beverage far out-performed the 1400m one. I suppose the theory is that the longer the antenna the more directional it becomes. And in a true dx sense unless you are targeting one particular station or city in the world then you go for an antenna that is broader. (Have always liked Broads)
There are so many factors to take into consideration with beverage antennas. The geography, soil, height of antenna, dips and rises and of course whether there are any other considerations such as electric fences, power lines or power sources in the direction of the antenna. At Woodside we had whacky currents in the ground from the nearby Omega station broadcasting on 13 kHz. I’m sure that must have been doing something to the antenna. I always had the suspicion that it somehow threw the directivity out of whack by a few degrees. It was an interesting place to listen from.
We have tried running beverages on top of fences and I’ve even tried using barbed wire fences. I’ve tried running antennas high off the ground at 10 meters, I’ve run wires down cliff faces and if it were possible to get a 300m vertical with a weather balloon etc I would have tried that as well. I love playing with antennas and its an important and fun part of the hobby for me.
These days a lot of the work has been taken out of DXpeditions with the Ewe. The beverages would take quite some time to erect. Making sure that all the poles were straight and the wire not drooping too much. Cattle and wildlife were always a concern in Australia. But the beverage has always remained a favorite of mine. It’s the romantic or spiritual antenna of the dxer even if they are a bugger to reel in.
The Years roll on
After those early trips in the 80’s to Cape Otway and Marlo with Mike Willis, Peter Bunn and Geoff Cosier I then had a few other trips away in the mid to late 80’s. Peter Bunn, Robin Howell’s and I went to Apollo Bay not far from Cape Otway. There were then trips to Willow Creek in South Australia. Bunny and I made the trip to S.A with a guy called David Heathcote who could have very easily been at home on the Formula One race track. That trip to Willow Creek was where I met Craig Edwards for the first time.
Craig made the trip across to Victoria on quite a few occasions in the 90’s. To Marlo, Cape Otway and we even did a trip in the old Mustard Bus up to Bega on the New South Wales Coast. I still recall the nights sleeping on the beach and getting stuck into some Arrack that Sarath Weerakoon had sent me from Sri Lanka. There is nothing better than drinking warm Arrack and mouldy old cheese dips with sand to dampen the spirits of even the most hearty dxer. I have never forgotten the sand fly bites either.. That’s what you get for falling asleep on the sand.
Oh and I will never forget the same trip on the way back to Melbourne, Craig and I spent some time at Woodside Beach. I was half way across the dunes stringing out several hundred meters of wire when all of a sudden this vicious thunderstorm swept in across the coastline. Craig reckons to this day that my feet didn’t touch the top of the grass as I sprinted back to the car. We took shelter at a nearby car park as lightening bolts and cracks were coming down around us. I said to Craig (In shear panic) lets get the hell out of here. I reversed back destroying the esky of beer, not bothering to stop we just took off down the road back to the Woodside General store with lightening dancing and chasing us along the road. Is it no wonder I have a phobia about lightening.
Another trip to Cape Otway, Dave and I had been DXing in a tent. One of those types that is supposed to withstand all sorts of weather conditions in Arctic temps. We had several hundred meters of wire coming in from everywhere, terminating in this very little tent perched high up on a hill, the highest point in the area. Sure enough we heard the rumbles.. I tried to ignore my fear.. and bury my head in the sand.. Yep.. we’re alright.. its okay David.. Stay calm.. hehehe. Well I can tell you.. several hundred meters away.. CRACK! the lightening struck nearby and I busted out of that tent so fast.. headed to the car and just sat there. Dave was braver than I.. well until two minutes later another huge crack and Dave was sitting in the seat beside me looking quite pale. We both sat there watching this huge storm all around us.. Saying to ourselves.. don’t touch the sides of the car.. hahaha What a night that was.
Cape Otway was a place where things happened. Craig Edwards and I nearly blew ourselves up one year when we had a leaking LPG cylinder in the Tarago Van as we merrily sat there drinking VB around the open fire.. That was scary. Then there was the trip where we borrowed an old Valiant from a mate of mine after my car had a sudden mechanical problem that couldn’t be fixed in time. It was back in the days when I had a moment of madness and thought having a smoke was a cool thing (I have not smoked for 17 years).
The old valiant as we discovered by the time we had reached Geelong had developed a hole in the petrol tank.. It absolutely stunk of fuel and here we were cruising around the cliffs of the Great Ocean road.. me with a smoke in hand.. not a care in the world.. Edwards already into is 12th can of VB into a 150km trip. Boy that was a mad trip. Then we broke an axle on the way home and had to be towed back.. only to discover it was only a bad puncture.. hahahaha Oh we were lads back then.. Every trip was full of adventure and life threatening situations. And there were always mechanical breakdowns.. or getting bogged. Carlos Monje 200km from home at The Cape did his automatic transmission line.. we tried all sorts of things like using cloth to mend the hole but to no avail.. It took Carlos about 8 hours to limp back to Melbourne in second gear.. Wow what a trip that must have been.
Cape Otway also threw up some unexpected things. I’ll never forget the time while putting a Beverage out that I stood in this muck on the ground which turned out to be the Torso of a dead woman. As it turned out she had committed suicide and animals had dragged her remains. I’ll never forget the smell. As per usual we were in the middle of nowhere and out of range of the mobile net. Dave and I had a chat to decide what to do.. Do we call the police and wreck our DX trip by having Police crawling all around the place. We had visions of a CSI investigation. Or do we just keep on Dxing and report it on the way back? Well we scrambled up a hill, the same one where we had the lightening strikes trips earlier and we called the Police. Three hours later a 4 wheel drive arrived with two slightly bemused officers. They went to the back of the car, grabbed a shovel and garbage bags and off they drove into the sunset leaving us to continue with our listening. Needless to say we were not quite focused on the listening that evening and I can tell you those shoes are still buried somewhere down in those Cape Otway dunes.
The Coorong was always the source of good fun. Smithy (John Smith from Adelaide) and Craig’s uncle was for always losing his way and ending up in the middle of the paddock or the car ended up on its side in some ditch. Lets say we used to celebrate pretty hard at Long Point. That trip home from the Meningie Hotel some 25km away was often hilarious as Dave Headland once found out trapped between two rather intoxicated dxers.
There were the midnight cricket games when we would nearly cripple each other batting with fence palings and bowling pine cones which took wicked deviations. I still have scars from those trips. And yes once we were warriors.. We had some big test matches at the MCG (Meningie Cricket Ground) where Craig, myself and even Dave Martin tried to take each others heads off with balls bouncing and ballooning at over 100 kph. I’d be dead these days if I padded up.
Craig will never let me forget the time after about 10 hours of dx planning in the Meningie Hotel we staggered out into a nearby park to be confronted by ‘Brother Bruce’ an indigenous native to Meningie. He was quite a likeable fella who thought it would be fun to engage in some wrestling with a couple of “Captain Cooks”. It was all a bit of a blur but somehow I ended up being tangled in a wire fence. Craig wore a couple of nice corkies and Brother Bruce.. well he was Brother Bruce. Being in a rather silly mood.. we had seen Brother Bruce put a flagon of wine behind the BBQ. As Craig distracted old Bruce I shot behind the BBQ, snatched the flagon of chardonnay and headed into the scrub. It probably went down in history as the first time a white man had snatched a flagon from a Indigenous gent. Well lets just say that when our hangovers had worn off we only realised the seriousness of our actions. Fearing we were going to have a Kadaicha Man come after us or point the bone, we decided to return the flagon to the park later that day. We really did spook ourselves.
The Onley’s in Switzerland – Summer 2011 – David, Matthew and Karin