Halfway house video
In this video, Nhill locals Max Carland and Merv Schneider recollect their experience of visiting the aeradio base during the early years of its operation.
As well, civil aviation historian Roger Meyer explains the significance of the Australia – New Guinea aeradio network and the special value of the Nhill aeradio building as a largely intact relic from this particular era in Australian aviation history.
[Station sends out zigzag beams]
In late 1938, the Commonwealth Department of Civil Aviation established the Air Radio Organisation a network of radiocommunication stations across the main air routes of Australia, so that pilots could talk to a ground organisation throughout their flight. One of the early stations of this type was at Nhill, which is halfway between Adelaide and Melbourne, and it was installed so that pilots flying between Adelaide and Melbourne could communicate with the Nhill air radio station.
[Tall radio mast]
Nhill is remarkably rich with archaeological material. You can kick the soil back and find the footings of the original radio masts, the rotating beacon and also the Lorenz Radio Range, which was a navigation beacon adjacent to the air radio building.
I can well remember the air radio station being here because when I was very young, we used to build model aeroplanes, and the best place to launch our model aeroplanes was from the top of the big Lorenz beacon that was here. So we used to climb up there and launch our model aeroplanes out over the old aerodrome.
[Aeroplane soars through sky]
Aircrafts were just coming into their own in the early '30s, and when the aircraft started to come and go on the route from Adelaide to Melbourne, they'd call in here for fuel. When I finished school in 1940, I went to work at the Williams' garage. They had a contract to refuel the aircraft that landed here. So, I'd be called out at all hours to come out and fuel the aircraft when they landed here. They used to taxi right up to the air radio building where we are now, and you could tell they were operating even from outside.
[Interior of station, radio equipment]
You could hear the conversations going on and you could hear the background noise and the static. Far from the touch screens of today, it was very much key switches and faders and knobs and controls to operate the equipment.
[Air radio operator]
There would've been five air radio operators at Nhill working on shifts around the clock. It was a point of first contact with incoming and outgoing flights. People transferring perishable goods, of course, would want to know when an aircraft was arriving or departing, and the air radio men seemed to have knowledge of an awful lot of things about the comings and goings in a rural town. It was a very important part of the rural community.
[Headphones and radio equipment]
I was always interested to hear where the aeroplanes were, and what time they'd be coming in and what height they were flying at, and what weather conditions they were striking, asking whether Essendon - 'cause that was the main airport then - whether it was open. Sometimes you'd hear that they were returning to Nhill because of bad weather.
[Aeroplane flies through fog]
The aircraft, especially during the war, they were heavily laden, and with just enough fuel to get to their destination, so they would have to return to Nhill if the weather was bad in Essendon or at Parafield.
[Air radio operator]
It was a totally overlooked part of aviation, because the emphasis has always been on the pilots. But behind that was a massive network of radiocommunications, and navigation that... that... How many people's lives have been saved over the years because of facilities like this?
[Beeping and radio static]
[Nhill Air Radio Station]
The Nhill air radio station was a standard design used at 12 sites around Australia, and it is, as far as we know, the most original and best preserved of all of these air radio buildings still surviving, which makes it a very important building in the culture of the air radio and flight service organisation.