Australia Day is a celebration of the foundation of our nation. Depending on your view, it’s either a day to get excited about all things Australian, like having a barbeque in the park or smacking the English in the cricket, or it’s a day to mourn the arrival of white Europeans and the subsequent destruction and dilution of one of the longest and oldest cultures in the world. Being South African by birth, I tend to sit somewhere in the middle, hating watching Australia win anything in the cricket, but liking the country I live in. In any case, Australia Day is merely an excuse to exercise our right to use the AX prefix instead of VK, and, with the blessing of the family, I was able to head up a mountain, kids and wife in tow, and try to work DX from the top of a mountain. A sort of AX/DX moment, to borrow one of our more famous bands.
In the spirit of AC/DC – oops, AX/DX – it’s a long way to the top just to set up a dipole. Mt Macedon is about an hour and a half from my house, and the kids were difficult to wrangle into the car in time to meet my 0700 UTC alert. By the time we arrived, it was closer to 0730, and I had to walk down Francis Road to clear the activation zone. GPS heights are notoriously inaccurate, and Androzic seemed yet again to increase my elevation as I descended. I turned back once I was reasonable sure I was clear of the activation zone, and double checked the map when I got home. Just outside, but outside nonetheless! Once I started climbing back up, my elevation started to descend again, so I no longer trust Androzic. (I’ve never really trusted GPS heights either, for what it’s worth)
Once I was back, I set up in the picnic area with the family around, but had no end of trouble getting my squid pole stable. In the end, I had to jam it in, tie off one end of the dipole to a fence, then use the other end to straighten it up and put tension on again. I expected it to fall down during the night, but it held for the whole time. In any event, it had added plenty of time to my set up time, and I was almost 50 minutes late by the time I got on air.
I started on 40m on 7085 kHz, largely to make sure of the activation, and worked 15 people in 15 minutes. I started with Bernard VK2IB/3 on VK3/VE-019 for a S2S. All of the callers were very strong, with a good mix of VK1, VK2, VK3 and VK5, all at least 57, most 59. I had to check to see if I had the pre-amp on, but no, all genuine reports. I also worked Andrew VK1DA on Mt Ainslie, VK1/AC-040 for another S2S and an Andrew-to-Andrew contact. I was actually very pleased to work AC-040, as I can now look at my chaser uniques and have a sequence from AC-033 up to AC-043 inclusive. Not really important, but important to a number nerd like me. If anyone wants to activate AC-032 (and 028, 029 and 030) I and my OCD would be grateful…
I switched to 20m and worked Adam VK2YK first before the pileup started. I heard a muffled sound like “VKGolfZeroDeltaMmmFLimaAX3zrssssssh”. I processed the VK as if it were local, and the Golf Zero as Golf Oscar, before it suddenly dawned on me that Golf Zero was a country prefix. I called for the G0 station, and Don G0RQL came back with a 55 report both ways. As a new ham, I haven’t had much DX experience (a ZL and OH9XX from Mt Buninyong), so it was good to add another DXCC entity to the list. I added another shortly after with Mike DJ5AV (54 received, 59 sent), and then Austria with Franz OE7FMH, who received me 58 and sent a 59 signal my way. This was unbelievably good after the last effort, and probably a good thing I’d turned up late as Europe was clearly open on 20m 🙂
A string of VKs followed, with Matt VK2DAG, and John VK6NU. I’ve been trying to work VK6 for a while, so it was good to grab one of the two chasers there, but Mike VK6MB couldn’t hear me unfortunately. Next time, Mike, next time! I also worked Paul VK2KTT again who had forgotten he’d worked me on 40m earlier, before adding a new entity from Quique EA1DFP.
Glenn VK3YY grabbed me after arriving home from his summits earlier in the day, before plenty more DX. First was Marko OH9XX for a second contact and then Rudolf HB9MKV. Both reported my signal down low (44 and 41 respectively), suggesting the band was closing a little into the more easterly parts of Europe. I also got a second German contact with Tom DL1DVE and then got a call from Colin G4UXH when disaster struck.
Suddenly, the radio stopped, a few power relays started clicking and it looked like I’d exhausted my battery. I’d have believed this too had I not had a voltage monitor on the LiFePO4 battery showing healthy voltage. I tried a few different things, getting annoyed, knowing Colin was there for the contacting. Eventually, I worked out there was something wrong with the pseudo-jury-rigged connection between the battery and the radio, so I removed the pseudo- prefix and jury rigged up a connection with duct tape. It worked. Colin was still waiting, and we successfully completed the QSO. I also worked Swa (Francois) ON5SWA in Belgium for another unique DXCC entity, before finishing with Nev VK5WG.
I intended to QSY to 15m to give Mike VK6MB another go, and maybe some JP DX, but I noticed my wife was sitting in the car with the kids already, and decided to pack things up at that point. I’d asked for an hour, and gotten almost exactly that. It took a long time to pack up to undo all the stuff I’d done during set up.
Once packed up, I quickly checked out the lookout and the memorial cross. There’s a long history around the cross, and for me it tends to revolve around friends who live in the area driving up there as youths and generally being delinquent as all youths try to be. Despite that, I’d never seen it up close, and it was very impressive in the setting sunlight.
All up, I worked 31 stations, 15 on 40m, and 16 on 20m, with UK, Germany, Austria, Spain, Finland, Switzerland and Belgium, as well as VK6 (DX!). I was extremely happy with the outcome, and thanks to all those who woke early to work me from afar. I think Phil G4OBK was the furthest I worked, but I haven’t sat down and worked it all out yet. Hopefully SOTA Mapping will help with that.
The AX prefix was hard to use, with my tongue’s muscle memory more than once choking out “VK..AX3” as my callsign, but it is a privilege to live in Australia, even if you disagree with many of the current policies of the government (I was a political refugee once). It’s a privilege to live in a country where you can disagree with the government, and while I don’t buy the rhetoric about Australia being the best place to live, or the “love it or leave” or “f**k off we’re full” fundamentalist nationalism that occasional rears its head, there’s plenty of worse places to live. So Happy Australia Day everyone, and I’ll try to work the AX prefix on ANZAC Day, where we can debate the navigational skills of the Royal Navy in and around the Dardenelles 😉