"Wavescan" is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave). Adrian Peterson is a highly regarded DXer and radio historian, and often includes features on radio history in his program. We are reproducing those features below, with Dr. Peterson's permission and assistance.
Wavescan N414, January 29, 2017
Goodbye, Radio Australia
At the end of the broadcast day next Tuesday (January 31, 2017), the shortwave transmitters at Shepparton in Victoria are scheduled to be switched off, for the last time. Radio Australia will be silenced, gone forever. Gone also will be the three companion shortwave transmitters located in the Northern Territory, which will also end their Outback Service for scattered and isolated communities throughout Australia's vast desert areas.
We go back to the beginning, and it was on Wednesday, December 20, 1939 that the new international shortwave service in Australia was officially inaugurated under the title, Australia Calling. Considerably less than a quarter of a century after the end of the Great War (1918), the war to end all wars we might add, a new war had just begun, a war that would soon develop into a massive conflict of unimaginable proportions and devastation.
We read a sentence from a doctoral thesis that presents the opening history of Radio Australia: "Australia's Prime Minister Robert Menzies presented the opening speech from Melbourne, the chief announcer John Royale spoke from Sydney, the signal was transmitted from Pennant Hills and Lyndhurst, and the program was received and heard around the world."
That program began at 5:00 pm local time on Wednesday, December 20, 1939, and Australia Calling was on the air. In this edition of Wavescan, we begin to take a brief look at each of the continental shortwave stations that have carried the programming of Radio Australia to distant countries overseas.
Pennant Hills, New South Wales: AWA VLQ & VLI
The large AWA shortwave communication station at Pennant Hills, a dozen miles from downtown Sydney, operated three broadcast transmitters at the time when Australia Calling was inaugurated in 1939. These three transmitters, each rated at 10 kW, had been manufactured by AWA, and they were in use for communication traffic under the callsigns VLJ, VLK, VLM and VLZ. For the broadcast of radio programming, the callsign in use had been an amateur call, VK2ME.
These three locally made transmitters operated for Australia Calling initially under the new callsign VLQ. However, four years later, the VLQ callsign was transferred to a new regional shortwave transmitter located near Brisbane in Queensland, and the new call for Australia Calling at Pennant Hills became VLI.
The Radio Australia usage of the Pennant Hills transmitters lasted for five years and ended in 1944, soon after a new and dedicated shortwave station was inaugurated at Shepparton in Victoria. The Pennant Hills shortwave station itself was closed in 1955 and the original transmitter building is now the Assembly Hall for the Carlingford Catholic Primary School.
Lyndhurst, Victoria: ABC & Radio Australia VLR, VLG & VLH
At the time when Australia Calling was inaugurated, there was just one small shortwave transmitter on the air at Lyndhurst in Victoria, with an experimental 2 kW unit under the callsign VLR. Over the years, many 10 kW transmitters were installed progressively at Lyndhurst for use by both the ABC for their Home Service as well as by Radio Australia for the Overseas Service, and these were on the air under the callsigns VLR, VLG and VLH.
The Lyndhurst shortwave station was closed in 1987 and the actual station property has given way to part of a housing complex, now on a street with the name Towerhill Close. This street name, Towerhill Close, is reminiscent, at least a little, to its erstwhile shortwave station that had presented radio programming to the outback areas of Australia and into the Pacific for s period of nearly 60 years (1928-1987).
Wanneroo, Western Australia: VLW, VLX
A few months after Australia Calling was inaugurated in December 1939, another shortwave transmitter at another and quite distant location became available. A new mediumwave and shortwave facility was under construction at Wanneroo on the edge of suburban Perth in Western Australia, two and a half thousand miles across to the other side of this continental island.
Transmitter VLW at just 2 kW was taken into part time usage for Australia Calling on April 7, 1940. No wonder Nazi Germany disparagingly described the new international shortwave service from Australia as the penny whistle in the Pacific, with a total of just two shortwave transmitters at 2 kW and three at 10 kW.
During this early era, programming from both the ABC and Australia Calling was broadcast by the single 2 kW transmitter at Wanneroo, and both organizations developed their own system of alpha-numeric callsigns. This double usage of the same callsign series became quite confusing. For example, under the ABC, callsign VLW2 operated on 9615 kHz to the Outback; but under Australia Calling, VLW2 operated on 9650 kHz to South East Asia.
Over the years, the Wanneroo station was rebuilt and shortwave transmitters at 10 kW and 50 kW were installed as VLW and VLX. This station was closed in 1994, and the entire estate is now a protected bushland area. However, the main and emergency towers for three ABC mediumwave stations still remain on site: 6WF (50 kW 720 kHz), 6RN (20 kW 810 kHz) and 6PB (10 kW 585 kHz).
Shepparton Victoria: VLA VLB VLC VLD VLE VLF VLY
The first new transmitter in the newly constructed shortwave station for Radio Australia at Shepparton in central Victoria was taken into service on May 1, 1944 under the callsign VLC. This first transmitter was an American RCA 50 kW unit which also carried a relay of the Philippine Hour on behalf of the Voice of America for a period of just one year.
At the time of the Japanese surrender at the end of the Pacific War in August 1945, two additional shortwave transmitters were quickly pressed into service. These two units were manufactured locally by AWA and STC in Sydney and they were identified on air as VLA and VLB.
As time went by, these three original transmitters were split, and with the insertion of supplementary new equipment, they gave birth to additional new transmitters with the callsigns VLD, VLE and VLF. At the time of the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, an additional though temporary 10 kW transmitter was also installed at Shepparton, under the callsign VLY.
During the past three quarters of a century, many shortwave transmitters, rated at 10 kW, 50 kW and 100 kW, have been installed progressively at Shepparton, though only three at 100 kW are currently in service. The Shepparton shortwave station carried the many Radio Australia language services that have been heard regularly almost worldwide. In addition, in times of local weather emergencies in northern areas of the Australian continent, ABC Home Service programming has been beamed on shortwave to the stricken areas.
The large 77 year old shortwave station near Shepparton in Victoria is the last remaining transmitter base still on the air with the programming of Radio Australia. On the last day in January (2017), this station also is closing, and come the beginning of February, Radio Australia on shortwave will be no more than a highly regarded and widely appreciated slice of Australian history.
In our program today, we have presented a brief outline of the first four shortwave stations that carried the programming from Radio Australia. Next time, we plan to present the story of the remaining five shortwave stations that also carried the programming of Radio Australia in previous eras.
The Quaint Story of Waltzing Matilda: Australian Anthems
It is suggested that there are four different anthems in popular usage in Australia. We investigate the story of each, and the first is the British anthem, God Save the Queen.
God Save the Queen
The earliest origins of the Royal Anthem God Save the Queen go so far back into medieval England that the real beginning is lost in the mists of antiquity. The first known published version of what is almost the present day melody appeared in 1744 in the Thesaurus Musicus, at that time a one volume collection of songs and music.
Over the years, many different sets of words have been written for various occasions, though the melody remains generally the same. In the United States, Samuel Francis Smith wrote a set of four verses under the title My Country 'Tis of Thee in 1841, though the melody is the same. In Australia, God Save the Queen was officially adopted as the Royal Anthem in 1984.
Song of Australia: Patriotic Anthem
Back in the year 1859, the Gawler Institute in country South Australia conducted a colony-wide competition for a new patriotic song. The winner for the words was English born poetess Carolyn Carlton, who earlier left England with her husband and two children, though the two children died en route. The melody for the new patriotic song was composed by German born Carl Linger.
The colonial premier, Mr. Charles Kingston, applauded the melody and the words of the new creation, Song of Australia, and he required that the teachers in all of the schools throughout the colony should teach it to their pupils. The Song of Australia almost became Australia's National Anthem in a nationwide poll in 1984, but instead, it is listed as a Patriotic Anthem.
Advance Australia Fair: National Anthem
In 1878, Scottish born Peter McCormick attended a musical concert in Sydney's newly erected Exhibition Building in which the national anthems of the world were presented by large choirs and brass bands. During the rendering of worldwide national anthems in this building that was described as the Pride of Sydney, McCormick noted that an Australian anthem was not presented.
During the journey back home by bus that evening, he wrote the words of the first verse; and next morning he completed the composition of the patriotic poem with another verse, all of which he set to music. Later in that same year, the first performance of his new creation, Advance Australia Fair, was presented at a Highland Society function in Sydney on November 30, 1878.
As a result of a nationwide poll in 1984, Advance Australia Fair was adopted as Australia's National Anthem.
Waltzing Matilda: Unofficial Folk Anthem, Bush Ballad
And next, we come to the story of Waltzing Matilda, the popular melody that has been heard around the world as the tuning signal at the beginning of each shortwave transmission from Radio Australia.
The most famous melody in Australia, one that is known almost worldwide, is Waltzing Matilda, a bush ballad that tells the story of an itinerant worker, a swagman, who makes a drink of billy tea at a bush camp and captures a jumbuck, a sheep, to eat. The owner of the jumbuck is a squatter, a wealthy landowner, and he brings three mounted policemen who pursue the swagman for theft.
The origin of the melody for Waltzing Matilda goes back to medieval Scotland, almost as old as God Save the King in England. The tune was known in Scotland in earlier times as Thou Bonnie Wood of Craigielea, which may have been based on a still earlier melody. Thou Bonnie Wood of Craigielea was subsequently adapted into The Craigelee March.
In April 1894, 31 year old Christina Macpherson attended the horse racing events in Warrnambool, Victoria where several times she heard the brass band play The Craigelee March, the melody of which she memorized. In January of the following year (1895), Christina was visiting family members at Dagworth Station (ranch) near Winton in Queensland.
Christina played the melody of The Craigelee March on the zither, for the benefit of the 30 year old Australian poet Andrew Banjo Patterson, who was also visiting Dagworth Station at the time. He set his own words to the melody, based to a certain extent on recent local events.
In honor of the Waltzing Matilda story, a Waltzing Matilda Museum has been established on Elderslie Street, the main street in Winton, the nearby small town. And that's the story of the popular Australian bush ballad, Waltzing Matilda.