The Short Path from Australia
Issue 38 Six News, July 1993
By Steve, VK3OT

The North West 50MHz short-path to Europe from Eastern Australia.

My 6M station of the eighties was an IC551D and a 5 or 6 element yagi cut for 52.050MHz. There were also a few KLM clones of 8 and 11 element LPYs, which were great dummy loads with no gain, little directivity but a great VSWR. To further cloud the issue, no one had really listened to what the PTT had said about the return of 50MHz to the amateurs following the closing down of Band 1 channel zero in Melbourne and Sydney.

In fact the situation in Victoria was really frustrating because the high power channel 0 closed down in the mid eighties only to return to air in less than two years as the new SBS 0-28 ethnic channel in both Melbourne and Sydney. Then some bright engineer in the 0-10 network decided to shift the Brisbane channel zero to Mount Mowbullan near Toowoomba and convert it to stereo sound as well, which is the main reason it occupies 46.172MHz, which allows the second stereo sound carries to occupy 51.950MHz just below the exclusive amateur band of 52-54MHz in this region. Much of the development of 6m stations was centered around summer Es, few operators had F2 experience of any sort and little was documented before 1978 and was mostly hearsay. The long distance record from Australia to Mexico existed from when it was set in 1959 for almost 20 years and then was only extended a mere 300km. Two years later the record was broken again and extended out to 16,663km to VP2VGR in the British Virgin Islands and on 52MHz to make it even more significant.

Apart from these unusual contacts not much happened in cycle 21. We worked a few Americans (I worked 3 in total) and some intermediate distances of around 8000km to 12000km. The VK6 area had a couple of crossband contacts with Europeans but it was never fully documented and few on the east coast ever got to hear about it. So it was quite a surprise on December 23rd 1988 when Seppo OH1VR/2 reported via Jan OH1ZAA that he had briefly copied CW signals from a VK3 station calling CQ on 50.110 between 0743 and 0745 UTC at up to 559. In hindsight that could have been the first two-way 50MHz QSO between VK and Europe, had it been co-ordinated at the time and not hours later. About 15 minutes earlier I was copying 48.250MHz TV video and logged it as Malaysia because experienced operators had told us that Malaysian TV occupied those frequencies and although we were aware of European TV allocations, no one in their wildest dreams imagined that TV from Europe would propagate into VK east.

So the reason for the CQ call was probably to grab a QSO with VS6. We had also been having very strong openings to JA in October and November 1988 along with Korea and JR6 Okinawa, so amateurs were aware that the F2 was on the increase, but no one had taken dramatic steps to improve or upgrade stations. My own station was a 5 element yagi cut down from the old thirty foot 8 element I had used to set the VK distance record some 7 years earlier. The rig was an old FL/FR101 and FTV650B transverter running 75 watts and pretty deaf as well. At 0750z my log shows that FM TV sound was clearly audible on 53.750 and carried a very loud echo, which sounded like a church service, but I did not twig to it coming from Europe. At 0755z I hooked up with Paul P29PL on 50.100 SSB at 59+ and then JA3EGE and ended with JF2MBF at 1045z.

Around 1055z OH1ZAA called frantically on 28.885 to relay the information from OH1VR/2. A group of Australian amateurs were very skeptical about this and did not believe that such an event could have taken place. All through the summer Es I was subjected to shouts of "CQ Greenland" or some such rubbish and these shouts only ceased when about six months later someone in VK6 made a contact into Europe. It is interesting to note that since that occasion I have only heard FM sound from Europe on two other occasions and both during fantastic openings, so one can only imagine how much was missed during the October to December period in 1988 when no one was aware or looked for rising MUF indicators from Europe.

Courtesy of a local amateur who imported containers with aircraft in them I was able to import one 11 and two 9 element Mike Stahl M2 yagis at near cost price, a new TS680s as well as a new Mirage A1015 solid state amplifier with U309 preamp. The TS680s was modified for a direct 50MHz socket and the M2 yagi erected at 60ft and fed with Kyushin RG10FB low loss 3/4 inch foam cable. This was all finished by the equinox of 1989 and some spectacular contacts were made into the Caribbean, including the first contact between VK and KP2A, which took my long standing distance record out by a mere 15km and was not worth counting. Although the equinox was great, the north west path eluded everybody so liaison was set up with OH2TI at the Helsinki University and all the information on the location and frequency of every Australian, New Zealand, Asian and European TV station was exchanged by FAX or mail. I purchased the World TV Handbook and studied the location of all the listed TV stations. Peter VK1RX who was a manager in the DOTAC extracted reams of frequency listings from the ITU database and all the data was plotted on grid square maps obtained from the RSGB.

Despite all the preparations the path remained mute and although contacts were made with SE Asia all through 1989, Europe remained out of range. OH2TI was rewarded with vigilance, when the radio club finally contacted Australia and although it was 3000km short of the east coast it was Australia. The second reported reception from Sth/Eastern Australia was made by Ken Ellis G5KW who had to contend with very strong VK8 stations shielding his path into VK3. He was sent a 559 but sent out a 319 in amongst QRM when VK8ZLX worked G4CCZ simultaneously and then G2ADR, G4FXW and G3ENZ. Ken said on his card that he was very unsure of the contact, but the numbers matched my loggings so I rang him on the phone to let him know he had in fact worked 2000km further than PG66 Alice Springs. He was delighted and I am proud to have him in my log as the first VK3 to G QSO on 50MHz, October 11 1989 at 0932 UTC. Eight days later at 0900z I received a response to my CW sending and scored PA3BFM and PA0HIP in succession and then worked HIP on SSB at 5 by 5 and was heard by Peter PA3EUI. In fact I was heard by lots of people who usually told me about a year later or the next day, at some time when action could not be taken. It was to take a few more weeks before everything really got sorted out.

The VK4 tormentors stopped writing poison pen letters about the time I worked 4 or 5 french stations on SSB on October 29th 1989 between 1045z and 1105z. Its pretty hard to say rude things when 5 screaming French stations all come up in turn on 28.885 to proclaim they had just worked into East coast VK. I could not have orchestrated that kind of response even if you could create an imaginary contact. I must profess I was at a loss to understand the antagonism and skeptics that I encounted over these 50MHz contacts. No doubt those of you in Europe who received the accusing letters saying that we were cheating, have their own ideas as what should be done to the person concerned.

If it is any consolation after the magnificent opening to the UK on November 11 when I worked G3WOS, G3JVL, G3VKW and G3RFS along with The Netherlands, the "ratpack" stopped being concerned that what I was claiming was false and became concerned that if they did not get their act together they might miss out. Comments from VK4 about "those 48.250 carriers can not be TV stations" were not heard any more and VK4 stations began to appear in overseas despatches, which took the heat off me to some extent.
I became actively involved with The UK Six Metre Group and found a wealth of information available to me, for this reason, I attribute my success from Victoria. 6m Group members such as Brian G3HBR, were always helpful, particularly with liaison and QSL card enquiries. Ian Cornes RSGB awards manager was very supportive and encouraged me to apply for various awards. That is why you see my callsign in the 6x6 table and RSGB listings. I believe I also broke the UK distance record on no less than three occasions when I worked GJ4ICD, G4UPS and GW3MFY during the openings in 91 and 92.

It is nice to hear G stations operating from our region such as G4SMC and G3ZSS (V85PB), where we can chew the fat and relive our experiences in cycle 22. Unfortunately I believe that cycle 22 is really over, as February 1993 did not produce a damn thing, despite all the preparation, so we may have to wait until 1999 to do it all over again! Unlike some of you who made DXCC in two or three years, it could take me another two or three years to work the last two or three. However without the help of the UK6MG I think my confirmed total would be about 10 down, at least. Seppo, OH1VR, if you read this, glad you told me and stuck with what you thought you heard, yes I finally worked him as OH3MMM. Just to prove it was not a fluke I worked G3WOS and G3RFS three times over three years. We also did tricky things like working in November, December and January, just to upset the antagonist in VK4, who still accuse me of having some phoney contacts in my country total.

My only regrets are not working W6JKV/CT3 on Nov 23rd 89 who I heard in QSO with N6USV/DU3. This was the first observed Antipodal signals anywhere in VK and it was not until 1992 that the path was again noticed allowing N6AMG/CU3 to work VK2QF and VK2FLR. No doubt by 1999 we will all be at it again and all of the above will be ancient history.

My European contacts can be summarised as following.. 18 Gs, 19 DLs, 10 Fs, 5 ONs, 5 YUs, 12 SMs, 9 OZs, 11 OHs, 17 PAs + IS0LYN, 9H1CG, LX1SI, LX1JX, OE3OKS, SV1EN, LA9ZV, IK1EGC, IK2GSO, OK1DDO, OK2ZZ, OK2PZW.

73 from Steve Gregory #622 UKSMG, VK3OT

To return to the archive page click here