Communication. Everybody needs it to survive, yet it will always come more easily to some than to others. Not simply the words to shape an idea, but the infrastructure to shape a network. In the world of communication, there is no such thing as complete equality.
It was Rev John Flynn himself, back in 1929, who first connected the people of the outback by way of a simple High Frequency (HF) radio. Revolutionary technology for its day, the pedal wireless was the invention of Alfred Traeger, who worked alongside Flynn to fulfil the vision of a ‘mantle of safety’ for the people of the outback. At a cost of £65 per unit, the radio was distributed to families throughout the outback, enabling them to communicate with one another in a world of almost complete isolation.
“The realisation of the vision of Flynn, and the genius of Traeger, meant the end of isolation for many who were lonely in the outback, women especially,” writes Di Forsyth of Three Rivers Station, near Meekatharra, in 1989.
“For some, who didn’t see another woman for maybe two years (or more), but who knew there was a neighbour 50-60 miles away, the vastness was suddenly not quite so huge.”
Fast forward eighty years, and the need for a champion of remote communications is just as pressing. 10% of Australia’s population lives scattered across 85% of its land mass. For the majority of these communities, geographical distance no longer means isolation from other human voices for days on end. It means exclusion of a different sort altogether.
Increasingly, government, the corporate sector and banks are all moving online, as are emerging jobs and industries.
That means that in order to complete education, participate in society and generate wealth, digital access isn’t an optional extra. The gap between those who have the technology and those who don’t is much more than simply a gulf of ‘geeky’ technological knowledge.
It represents a gulf of opportunity for the future – a gulf with the potential to keep remote Australia living in what amounts to a communications stone age.
John Huigen, CEO of Desert Knowledge Australia, says: “The reality is that the people who would benefit most from big improvements to communications infrastructure – like the implementation of the National Broadband Network (NBN) – are going to have the least access to these kind of services.”
“The cost involved in getting the high speed fibre based NBN infrastructure to the most remote areas is just so huge that it’s simply not going to make it to the most isolated areas. That’s inevitable, but it does have long term national impacts. It means that once again, those who are furthest behind will stay there.”
Flynn’s commitment to the people of remote Australia was informed by a genuine belief that they were indeed equals within the community of the nation.
He believed that all should have access to the support and services they needed to truly be part of an inclusive Australia.
Today, we need to ensure that the potential of changing technology reaches those who could so easily be regarded as just a little ‘too far’.
Nothing has changed except the technology. Today, Frontier Services vision for justice and equity remains at the heart of our mission – for exactly the same reason.
This is an excerpt from the May edition of Frontier News which is out today. You can read the story in full here. You can also receive your own copy of Frontier News by mail every quarter. Send an email to subscribe now.