Page 166


Have you ever seen a frogmouth?

You probably have; frogmouths are quite common in Australia. However, their nocturnal lifestyle and excellent camouflage make them difficult to spot. They blend perfectly with the bark of some trees and their first line of defence, if a human approaches, is to freeze. A very effective defence it is too. Last year there was one nesting in a tree in Bell Park; even knowing where it was didn't help a lot in spotting it, so good was its disguise.

Photo: Tawny Frogmouth

This Tawny Frogmouth used the 'freeze and they won't see me' technique even though sitting in full view
on the ground. Memo to frogmouths: When approached by humans
while sitting on the ground, go to Plan B. That's what wings are for.

A strange looking bird, a frogmouth is not an owl though related to the owl family. It lives on mice and other small creatures. A pair will bond for life and share the incubating of the eggs and raising of the chicks.

Frogmoth in tree

Not hard to spot when enlarged and positioned in the centre of a picture, but imagine this tree
among many and you're searching from the ground below; not so easy then!

Emu Park

Apologies for abandoning this site for so long. I received an email this morning from a friend who wasn't able to discern where we are from the site. Sorry, Cindy, I've become really slack lately. We've been in Emu Park (on the coast just north of the Tropic of Capricorn near Rockhampton) since early June. Pam has become involved in a group practicing T'ai Chi and another group which plays Mah Jong. She also spends a lot of time with groups of ladies from the caravan park indulging in morning teas, coffees and lunches to name but a few of the things she gets up to.

As for me, I took on a project which I've found engrossing. The television signal here at Emu Park comes from the Mount Hopeful transmitter sixty kilometres distant. When it was an analogue signal it staggered over nearby hills and flopped, exhausted, on to the caravans' antennae. This gave everyone a picture of sorts. When the change-over to digital transmissions occurred, the incoming signal was so weak that the foliage from local trees was sufficient to kill it stone dead. Our own caravan antenna won't pick up a single station and many others are in a similar situation. Some receive two or three stations but even then the pictures tend to pixilate and reception varies enormously with the weather.

The park manager, Jim, was most concerned; he could see attendances dwindling as patrons changed their allegiance to a park with good television reception. This park is owned by the Rockhampton Regional Council and Jim requested that a Viewer Access Satellite Television (VAST) system be installed in the park. A VAST dish obtains its signals from a geostationary satellite orbiting 36,000 kilometres above the equator. Those signals are processed and then transmitted at low power to (in this case) the caravan park. It costs a lot of money and the Council put the project on hold. The fact is, a couple of hundred or so retirees in caravans that can't receive television rate very low on a council's priority list. Meanwhile, discontent grew in the caravan park; there's little to do after dark in Emu Park and the temperature plummets once the sun sets.

I was sure that there was a cheaper solution to the problem if a sufficiently high quality signal could be obtained somewhere in the park. In fact, there were quite a lot of 'ifs'. That most wonderful of inventions, the Internet, makes researching almost anything quick and easy these days and, hey presto, there was the answer! There existed signal processing equipment designed to receive television signals on one frequency and re-transmit them on another. If we could obtain a strong signal somewhere in the park it could be processed and then transmitted to the caravans. We'd have our own broadcasting station with the signal only having to travel 200 metres, not sixty kilometres as now.

On the roof of the park's barbecue area there was a mast with two antennae. The signal from there should have been strong . . . but it wasn't. We discovered that the signal booster amplifier had corroded badly. A new booster made a huge difference but the signal was still not quite quite good enough.

Photo: Antenna

The old antennae. Even with the booster replaced it turned out not to provide a good enough signal.
Too many years corroding in the salt atmosphere. The new mast will be three metres higher and have three brand new antennae, two for receiving and one for transmitting.

Having ascertained that a new mast and antennae would do the job, we costed the whole project and put it to Council in a most persuasive way. It went something like this:

To implement this scheme would cost the income from two caravan sites for one year. To reject the scheme will result in the loss of income from a large percentage of the park’s sites indefinitely.

That worked. Within days we received a visit from the relevant council officer and things started moving. We've had one setback after another but they were in the nature of unavoidable delays. We are amateurs at this, as is the Council, and we can't anticipate everything. We now know that Mount Hopeful broadcasts on five channels (frequencies) and that the signals on each channel are multiplexed to give a total of twenty three stations. This means we need five channel processors. We've spoken to the appropriate federal government department, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) several times and they have been most helpful. Because we will be re-transmitting five channels on five new frequencies we need five broadcast licences. Each of the new frequencies has to be allocated by ACMA after performing a search to ensure that we won't clash with another broadcaster in this area.

Things never go as fast as we'd like but we're getting there and the council officer is our greatest ally. More as things develop.

Later. Much Later.

Pam's Birthday cake

Pam's 60th birthday fell in the interim. What a night! More details in her journal.

We have now been in Emu Park for over three months and winter has come and gone with warm, sunny days and cold nights. We are well into September and have scarcely seen a drop of rain since arriving; no wonder people flock here from the southern states for the winter. The television signal re-transmitter scheme is presently held up. Nothing serious, just a two week delay in manufacturing the transmitter antenna apparently. We're now set to go on 22 September; nine days away at the time of writing.

What has been utterly amazing is the response of the Rockhampton Regional Council. We had expected hostility and anticipated a fight. We were ready and prepared with a petition all signed and ready to go. We had letters ready to send to the mayor, the Council C.E.O. and every elected councillor. Our financial argument was sound and easy to understand. We were determined to win this one . . . but there was no need!

Three officers of the Council's Corporate and Technology Section immediately accepted our reasoning, both financial and technical. Having confirmed the scheme's technical feasibility they took over the scheme and have gone flat out to make it a reality. These three, all ladies, have organised the broadcasting licences from the Federal Government and obtained five new frequencies on which we'll transmit to the park. One in particular, Courtney Abell, has relentlessly chased up the contractors and the installation engineer. I'm really glad she's on my side! At all stages, Courtney has kept Jim and myself in the loop so that we are fully conversant with the situation and able to relay progress to the rest of the caravan park.

Courtney Abell

Courtney. If only every council in the land had a few Courtneys.

The people in the park are nearly all elderly and their response to all this was mixed. Some were supportive, a few were sceptical but the majority were unable to grasp the concept but prepared to back us if it would bring them twenty three perfect television pictures. Time was of the essence; to ensure people would return to Bell Park next winter we wanted the scheme up and running before they departed south. In this we largely failed. Had Jim and I been going it alone we could have done it but we'd also have had to find the $10,000 to implement the scheme. Councils are, by their very nature, slow and cumbersome organisations but the Council was picking up the tab and Courtney and her friends were, and still are, worth their weight in gold to us.

It's quite amusing really, my involvement in all this. I'm just a guest in the caravan park with no authority whatsoever. This project came along at a time when I needed something to get my teeth into and Manager Jim needed someone like me to take on his employer, though that proved unnecessary as it transpired.

Last year Jim involved me in another project, that of building a web site for the caravan park. My first attempt was very amateurish. During the interim months, however, I learned a great deal about web design and ended up by completely rebuilding http://www.bellparkcaravanpark.com.au. That's a link if you'd like to look at my other web site.

Where was I? Since we weren't going to have television in Bell Park before many winter regulars had left, Plan B was to try and persuade as many as possible to stay in touch via the web site, not only with developments on the scheme, but also with the people still in the park. To this end the Bell Park web site includes a News/Mail Page. The news section is easy; I write it. The mail page is not so easy as it involves people writing in and people seem disinclined to do that.

Why take on all this? What's in it for us? The answer is quite simple: a sense of achievement. I didn't realise what a big hole retirement would leave in my need for job satisfaction. All this, including getting to grips with HTTP and CSS for web site creation, has provided plenty of satisfaction.

Unfortunately my memory has so deteriorated that everything I learn, I tend to forget almost immediately. But, hey, I guess that's life after three score and ten.

Rosslyn Boat Harbour

Just to change the subject, this could be a scene from Wales on the day it didn't rain.
The boat marina at Rosslyn Bay is in a beautiful setting, overlooked by a nice little café

I've lost my train of thought again. Oh, yes, I was boring you to tears about web sites and television. Well, last Saturday it all came together and look what we got:-

Television set

For four months this screen was blank. Not one television programme was availabe. Then in went $10,000 worth of antennae and signal processing equipment and, voila! Bell Park has rejoined the 21st century.

Oh, and there's more good news. Mrs Frogmouth is sitting on a nest in a nearby tree. I don't suppose we'll be here to see the eggs hatch but it's kinda nice to see life going on around us.

We can't leave Emu Park until . . .

We were preparing to leave Emu Park ahead of the hotter, humid weather but we had a small problem with our good old Pajero, now ten years old. The engine temperature gauge was behaving a little erratically. Not all the time, just occasionally. The proximity of a motor mechanic, naturally, caused it to work perfectly. Sometimes I thought I was imagining it. Perhaps it had always behaved thus and I'd just not noticed; you don't watch such a gauge like a hawk until something goes wrong, do you?

The local mechanic and I discussed it and unanimously decided it must be a faulty 'sender', the bit that screws into the cylinder head and tells the gauge how hot the engine is. We replaced it with a new one. The gauge's behaviour remained erratic.

What next? We visited Mitsubishi in Rockhampton and discussed this relatively minor problem at length. The gentleman in the smart suit behind the Service Counter was of the opinion that the cause was a voltage regulator supplying the gauge. I was of the opinion it was the gauge itself. Thankfully the engine management computer wasn't involved in the operation of this gauge; I'd already eliminated the engine cooling system itself.

What to do, what to do? Replacing either suspect part meant pulling out the instrument panel, not an operation for the faint hearted. Decision! Replace both components while the panel was out. Do it before I change my mind. A few days later saw us doing some extensive window shopping in Rockhampton while the mechanics had their way with our beloved Pajero.

The parts had been replaced by the time we returned and faced the cashier. If pulling out the instrument panel was not for the faint hearted, paying the bill required more than a little stoicism. To fix that little problem cost us a total of $991.55 and the best part of a box of tissues to mop up our tears on the drive back to Emu Park. However, the temperature gauge was performing faultlessly.

I know what you're thinking. Why bother? To answer that I have to ask you to place yourself in the driver's seat of a car towing 2.5 tonnes of caravan up a hill on a stinking hot day, perhaps with wind the against you too. If you are not to risk wrecking a perfectly good engine you have to have a temperature gauge that is telling you the truth. It's as simple as that.

We'll be leaving Emu Park in three days. This seems as good a time as ever to start a new page and resurrect pete-n-pam.com which has been neglected for far too long. If you click on Next Page (below) and get bounced back here (to that wretched frogmouth) you'll know I haven't got to Page 167 yet.

Footnote: This re-working of Page 166 was completed on 4 April 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.