Guest Blog – Fiona Luckhurst
Writing this article has been a great example of connectivity issues in rural areas. My internet isn’t working so I can’t email it!! I will have to drive 100 km to get my laptop looked at to see if it is the problem as Telstra says it is not theirs! One positive example of connectivity though is that I read about the Dunedoo CWA in our local paper, the Coolah Diary, which does a great job of connecting local people to broader issues, events and services. So old fashioned paper and print wins over the worldwide web in this case.
Contemplating connectivity in the bush I thought first of mobile phone reception. Telstra and Government agencies ask for black spots to be reported in their coverage. Well I have renamed black spots black holes … they can hardly be called ‘spots’ when the lack of coverage area extends for vast areas of rural Australia, especially hilly areas. Telstra markets its coverage saying it covers 99% of the Australian population. However, the coverage for the non-coastal fringe dwellers … those in the bush, is well under this. I would say in my area, once you get out of town it is rare to have mobile phone coverage. Telstra, which is the only provider in my area offers specialised Yagi aerials and Smart Antennas to increase mobile signal at homes, however these are expensive (about $1,000) and no guarantee they will work. I have a Yagi aerial at home which I have to plug my mobile phone into … it works well, however, there is an issue that the aerial connecting plug doesn’t fit well into the aerial socket and so the adapter in the phone breaks after about twelve months of use, requiring me to purchase a new phone. There is only one smart phone available in Australia with an aerial socket, the infamous Telstra Dave phone which has numerous software issues and instabilities.
So when my phone is working I can use the phone as a wifi hot spot, except now, because it’s not working with my laptop … and … it is expensive to use internet in this manner with data costing $10 per Gigabyte. My other alternatives for broadband at home are the Telstra Wireless unit which was installed but failed consistently and again was expensive as it charged mobile data rates … or the new NBN broadband. This seems to be working well for people at the moment but I wonder if the satellite has the capacity once more people connect to it in their internet deprived glee of downloading and surfing where previously there was sinking sinking in slow slow not even speeds. Even the mobile phone network doesn’t seem to have enough capacity at times.
I am very appreciative the local library has free wifi so even though the library opening hours are limited, I can use their hotspot.
Other connectivity, hmmm, TV – I don’t have TV reception at home. My house in Coolah had poor reception for digital TV even with a booster. Guess I could get satellite TV… more cost, more objects on my small roof which already has two aerials and solar panels. If only I had good, cheap, unlimited broadband like my friends in the city and regional towns I could watch online TV. I am only 20 km from town …
Radio, yes, before digital radio there was radio reception at home, now it is poor and requires an aerial to access only two radio stations – 3 rivers FM and JJJ. Neither of which I would listen to if I had a choice.
Well I guess that leaves me with Face to Face connectivity. It’s a pity my road only gets graded every three years due to Council budget limitations. I have just had to spend more money on getting my car repaired due to the bad condition of the road and I fear my new tyres won’t last long. The wildlife hazard on the road has increased with the rain – last night in the 6 km of my dirt road I came across one wombat, seven kangaroos, several wallabies, a rabbit and two separate herds of feral pigs. Luckily I did not connect with any of them!
When I got home I had a warm soy milk. Home is a pleasant place, free from the incursions of the rest of the world through phone, TV adverts, radio, internet. I am the only person living on my road. My closest neighbours are 6 km away. Except the Jehovah’s Witness that managed to find me here, and, surprisingly the census collector, the only other incursions are from the illegal hunters who think it’s OK to shoot on private roads and even spotlight and shoot on my property. Unfortunately this issue is not addressed in any real, meaningful way by either police or Local Land Services.
Luckily if I do get accidentally shot by illegal hunters we have a great ambulance service which can transport me 150 km to the closest full hospital. Gosh, here in Coolah we are so grateful for the limited health and other services (oh, that’s right we don’t have a bank, Centrelink, Medicare, youth services, disability services, government offices, court house … but we do have part time dentist, counsellor, RMS office … and a few other services, of which we are very grateful).
Three weeks ago the water pump on my bore broke. I am not on town water. It is expensive to get someone out here to fix the pump. I can live without running water at the house for a while, but it is rather inconvenient. Maybe being connected to town water (if it was possible) would be cheaper and more reliable, but the nearest water pipe is a long way off. Same with power. I installed off grid solar here as even though the house is 100 years old there has never been electricity. When it goes bung the closest registered solar electrician is one and a half hours away. Again, I can live without power, but it is inconvenient … and I can’t charge my phone!!!! So, I need to solve the problems myself, and feel grateful for the initiative and resilience this kind of problem gives me the opportunity to develop.
Well, according to my brother, a senior executive in the public service in Canberra, I should never whinge about the difficulties of living in the country because I chose to live here. So true. So even with all my seeming whinge over lack of connectivity, I am still here, and choose to be here. But I can’t say the ongoing issues outlined above about connectivity – phone, internet, power, water, road funding, lack of health and other services – are likely to attract people to live in the bush, or to encourage young families or youth to stay in the bush.
I wonder where our food will be grown in the future if the population continues to decline? It will be harder to keep coal mines and gas explorers out of good farming land soon. These money grabbers don’t have what most people here have and what keeps them here – a strong connection to the land, a caring for the land, this land that provides our food, textiles and oxygen we breathe. Surely the contribution made by rural people in producing the food and materials other folk need is valuable enough to throw some dollars into supporting basic connectivity of people on the land to the rest of the world – services, roads, telecommunications, radio. It is hard to run a business with poor internet, let alone do your personal banking, find out important information and function in an internet centric world.
Connectivity in the bush is not just about personal issues, it’s about people contributing to society, accessing services, earning a living and being active informed citizens of our nation.