2018 is coming to a close - Merry Christmas

Many thanks to all who have read and supported the blog though out 2018 and since it’s inseption.  December has been a busy month with a Emcom exercise named “Magpie” held in the Gippsland / Latrobe Valley area on the 10th which was a success.  Like any exercise there was plenty of learnings coming out of it.  For me one of the projects centred around the Emcom work I do has been a 80M vertical antenna that’s light weight, easily deployable and of course highly effecicient.  Can’t say I don’t want much.


Issues around antenna mounting, repeatable VSWR and the elimination of RF back into the radio / pactor modem has been a work in progress for me.  With the kind technical assistance and patience from John VK3ZRX who has been mentoring me with this journey I’m hoping to solve the RF issue with in the next few days.  I’m sure we’ll feature a blog post early in the new year about my experiences and how I chose to solve it.


 Two weekends ago we were able to get away to Lake Eildon, to the large pine plantation property a friend owns and I took the family along for this adventure.  On a very hot 33 Deg C. Morning I was able to get a hike in to “Blood Bone Mountain.  Which is not really a mountain just a hill behind the main camp site.  It takes around 30 minutes to walk up.


I took along the FT-817 and the 20/40m linked Sota Beams Dipole.  With plenty of trees available up went the dipole.  The bands were quite being a Saturday morning but I was able to check into the 40 M 10.30am smoko net via a replay station in VK7 as the VK5 net controller (not VK5FUZZ) on this day could just hear me as I was QRP 5W. There maybe a chance for some more portable radio play before the new year and were looking forward to it.  With some new tyers fitted last week, BF Goodrich K02’s were eager to get off the black top, air down and get away somewhere quite for a few days.

Merry Christmas, have a safe and enjoyable new year celebration and may Santa bring you all the radio equipment you need. 



Exercise Wonga declared a success


Local Government & other Emergency Management Agencies on the Mornington Peninsula, in the event of an Emergency Event, may ask for WICEN ’s assistance to supply alternate communication circuits and/or relief operators for their own equipment. Pre-Planning of contingencies will enable WICEN to provide professional and timely operations.  With the heightened threat of Bushfire on the Mornington Peninsula this season, this exercise has been planned to help prepare WICEN in the event of an activation.


 The Municipal Emergency Management Planning Committee (MEMPC) of the Mornington Peninsula Shire suggested that we could adopt the naming convention used for emergency management exercises on the Mornington Peninsula. ‘Wonga’ the name to be used was the traditional name for the Arthurs Seat area.


On Saturday the 10th November WICEN put to test these alternative communication circuits utilising local repeaters including those as far away in Geelong and Mt Macedon.  Simplex 2M and 70cm, HF 40 & 80 meter bands as well as HF digital modes were also tested.  Seven teams were deployed in the field covering ten strategic locations from Dandenong to Sorrento and in between.  I was deployed to the Sorrento ERC (Emergency Relief Centre) which was a great place to spend the day as the weather amazing and I had only a few curious visitors enquiring as to what I was doing.  It’s always important to give the elevator pitch and do some PR.  Other operators werestation at; 

- other Emergency Relief Centres (ERC)

- Shire Offices (MECC)

- Incident Control Centres (ICC)

- Police Stations

- CFA Stations


With the HF data modes emails were able to be sent from field stations as well as photographs.  Emails are important because lots of data can be sent such as registrations from people and families taking refuge at a ERC for example.  The EMCOM field station has the ability to be remotely tracked via GPS, send email messages, transfer files and direct message chat with other field stations or a fixed station(s) nodes.  Messages can be posted and displayed on a web page for agencies to obtain updates on a map rather than by traditional email which many prefer as many can access. 


 Data from the exercise is yet to be fully analysed however my observations suggest Exercise Wonga was a huge success.  There was effective coverage across all the tested circuits from all stations based on the bands they operated.  This means in the event of an activation we have plenty of communication options available. Our job is to effectively provide communications in and out of the affected area.  In fact, under the Victorian State Emergency Management Plan WICEN is to provide communications when traditional communications are not available.  This is why we train so when called up we are ready in case of a real-world activation.

Stockmans Rally 2018


The Motor Cycle Racing Club of Victoria on Sunday 28th October Sunday held the Stockmans Rally in the Biger River State Forest near Marysville in Victoria.  WICEN Victoria were on hand to provide the logistics and emergency communications support for the event.  Around eleven WICEN members attended to support the communication efforts.  Three hundred and ninety two riders in total headed off around 9:15am on the two loop eighty kilometre ride.  The night before WICEN members enjoyed the traditional weber roast put on by Ian VK3SV and Alan VK3FABT.  A pre race briefing was held after dinner on the Saturday night and then it was time to hit the swag.   Most operators are packed up and heading out to their control points by 7am the following morning.


With every event there are lessons to be learnt.  The Big River State Forest was to be one of them as it has some tracks that are not for the faint hearted.  One of those is Petroffs track that leads up to our check point named “Petroff”.  This my third Stockmans had me the year prior having to leave my AWD SUV three quarters of the way in and getting a ride with one of the other members to the actual CP location.  This year equiped with a new 4WD and some local knowledge from the year before so I took the other side of Petroff track that enabled me too reach my CP without any issues.


My fellow operator for the day was not so lucky.  On the section of the Petroff’s track which was used by the bikes on the 2nd loop about a third of the way in to the CP his rig while strateling the ruts to get through the 4th and final washes out his vechile slid into and the rut.  Now stuck and needing recovery he was able to make contact via the WICEN mobile repeater that had been deployed and made operational early Sunday morning for the event.  A very capable recovery 4WD was despatched and with in the hour he was out and escorted to the control point.   


Our first lesson is tracks will change from year to year.  Ensure you have your maps electronic or paper (prefably both) and have your recovery equipment with you as well as a air compressor and deflater so you  can air down to provide better traction and protection to your tyres.  Travel in pairs were ever possible and if your unsure just don’t do it, find another route if possible.  You also need to remember sometimes despite the best endeavours there will be unplanned outcomes just remain calm and review all options not making any rash decisions that could make your predicament worse.  This track is marked on the HEMA mapping system as easy.  It may have been the last time it was mapped.


The 2018 Stockmans was a huge success as it is every year.  The event is non competive and used to raise funds for McDonald House.  There were a few minor medical mishaps and with rather dry course this year unlike last year this was a good outcome considering the higher speeds.  Our check point had excellent comms on the 2M repeater back to AWI needing no more than 5 watts into the 2M yagi.  At Petroff’s we also had good general UHF CB comms so we’re able to assist the event organisers with the passing of messages that they couldn’t pass.  We even had some time available to provide Pierre one of the event medical team riders with a coffee and assist pump up one of the officials bike tyres.  


With 5 WICEN field check points as well a AWI (headquarters) we had reliable comms across the complete course.  This is very important ensuring all competitors, officials and WICEN operators get in and out safely.  Looking forward to the 2019 Stockmans.  As a side note the Pajero 24hr Challenge will be held in February of 2019 and it’s being held in the Big River State Forest as well.  So the local knowledge WICEN has built up over a decade and just as importantly most recently will come in handy for the Pajero Challenge.




61st JOTA 2018


Another JOTA Comes to an end and again this year I was running VK3SAP from the 1st Mont Albert Scout Hall in Box Hill.  This, my second year running the amateur radio station for the Scouts from this location.  Unfortunately propergation was poor and we could only hear several weak VK2 signals on the Saturday afternoon.  Thanks to Alan VK3FABT who was operating VK3SAH at the Treetops site for the 2M simplex contacts throughout the day.  Also to Jarred at VK3SCH for the D-Star contacts through reflector 1C.  A quick D-Star refresher was required the day before and thanks to Allan VK3SLR  for the phone tutorial.  Later on the Saturday evening John VK3XRZ came to the rescue working us on 80M from a Scout camp past Sale, VK3SCD.


To fill in the time when signals were poor we spun the dial around listening to ATC (Air Traffic Control) and watched the planes we heard on the radio using the plane finder app on a iPad.  The Scouts helped put up and down the OCF antenna we used as well as gained some basic radio skills.  Withvthe conditions the way they were the Scouts needed to listen carefully to understand the other station and be mindful that the other station may have even worse conditions trying to listen to us.  I’m always impressed by many of the scouts I met with their extended knowledge on many subjects.  One Scout this weekend had a great knowledge of rockets and satellites and we spent a lot of time talking about ISS (the International Space Station) and other amateur radio satellites watching their tracks using HRD (Ham Radio Deluxe). 

For the Scouts heading to Jamboree in January I hope you have a awesome time and I look forward if invited back to helping out again next year.




Oceania DX Contest Cancelled


The Ocenia DX Contest was cancelled.  Well only by me and due to being away on a WICEN Digital comms training weekend in Lauriston, North West Victoria.  The weather was amazing for this three day two night adventure.  A large group of WICEN operators from across Victoria gathered to be accredited / re accredited in the digital operating modes WICEN uses which is mainly TRAK, Winlink and Winmor. 


While many of the attendee’s are seasonal pro’s with these digital modes getting together for the training was far more than just showing what you may already now.  Personally for me having the mentoring available from other members to work through several problems that i’d not been able to resolve was invaluable not to mention the free edification on hand.  

Getting to know your fellow operators whom you rarely see in the field was also opportune.  When not sitting in on the formal training sessions there was plenty of opputunity to work on your portable station if needed and chat about many of the other aspects were involved in which Is far more than just radio.


Being a emcomm ready responder means if deployed there may be the need to be self sufficient for possibly the first 48hrs of a activation.  Discussions around vehicles, mapping, hiking, camping and many other subjects are discussed informally over a meal or around the camp fire.  When deployed the agencies whom we may be working for don’t care how much technical stuff you may know all that matters is getting messages out and in of the effected area.  Radio knowledge is just one part of being a good emcomm field operator.  Being adaptive, a problem solver and diplomat are just a few more requirements that go with the job title.  


WICEN Vic runs two training field days annually as well as participates in many other real world events each year providing emergency and logistics communications support.  These events enable us to put into practise the knowledge we have so we learn what works and what doesn’t work.  We take away these lessons and change our setups, operating procedures and knowledge gaps so the next time we go out or if we are activated we know we can get the job done.



Mark - VK3MDH

PS: While driving back from Lauriston I started working those Oceania DX stations.  I worked about nine in total across VK2, 3, 4 & 5 and then from the home station a few VK’s as well as Germany, England and Spain.

Escaping the Melbourne AFL Grandfinal


Why not.  With the kids and Kate away it was an opportune time to escape for a 4 day, 3 night adventure.  Marshall VK3MRG had provided the coordinates for a great camp site located along the upper Yarra river which we call the clean end of the Yarra.  Being the first to arrive on the Thursday I quickly set about getting the camp site in order.  Arriving around 3pm this gave me a three hour head start before Marshall would roll into camp.  The weather forecasted was to be average with on and off showers and overnight lows of zero degrees celcuis.  We would not to be disappointed.


Our first night like and our last day (Sunday) provided awesome weather but everything in between we found ourselves going from being under the vechiles awing to siting around the fire.  This went on for 3 days and I’m not complaining as at least we were out there enjoying the outdoors.  There was plenty of firewood available so we were able to keep the fire burning around the clock.  Not only did the fire provide warmth but we cooked all our meals on the fire as well as heating our water for the much needed coffee and the less excising hot water for doing the dishes. 



Our location only really avails itself to HF operations so on our trusty Yaesu FT897D we used our Sota Beams linked dipole at 6M in height in an inverted V configuration.  The 6M squid pole from Sota Beams was secured using the Sota Beams drive on car mast mount plate.  We mostly operated on 40 meters with some 80 metre operations on the Thursday night.  With the rain being on and off the there was little motervation to link and unlike the dipole for band changes.  Properagation was mainly east coast with good contacts into VK2 and VK4.  I managed to work several FT8 stations state side and VK5.  


With the special event call sign of VI Marconi in operation we were able to snag VI3, 2 and 4 on 40 metres.  As a bonus we were also able to work VI100 Marconi on 40 meters in Sydney too.  Some great voice contacts made and one very strong signal was from Nick VK4FMAG on Magnetic Island.  Our 30 watts was all it took to hold a awesome QSO with Nick.  We were also able to work Ade VK4SOE as well as park activator Gerard VK2JNG portable.  There was many others but just a few memorable ones to mention.  It was challenging with the 100W solar panels to keep the 34amp hour battery charged but we managed to keep our station on the air getting what sun we could when we could, keeping our operating power as low as possible.  

It was a balanced time away with radio, food and talking crap washed down its the occasional adult beverage.  Can’t wait for our next trip away.   Oh and we did listen to the AFL Grand Final.  Commiserations to all the Collingwood supporters.....




It’s up to you what you get back


Many radio operators are not fans of the new digital modes citing it’s not very personal.  Some have suggested the same can be said for CW and even contesting.  However I find the use of  QRZ.com when making digital contacts and even when contesting to find out more about the other person / station I’m working can be real beneficial.  Recently while using FTcall I made contact with Ian, VK5CZ in South Australia.   This was the longest FT8Call QSO I had made to date.  I looked him up on QRZ which lead me to his blog page(s).  I think an hour later I was still reading many of Ian’s adventures.   I’ve done this so many times looking up stations your working and learning so much about their station and the operator.  


With a FT8 digital station of late I’m noticing the station asking you to read their QRZ page as there only wanting to work you once on FT8.  Personally I find this a little insulting.  Would you do this on voice?  What if your testing a new antenna, rig or different RF power setting.  Seeing if propergation is open in there direction and your signal report is better than the last contact you had with them.  Remember all up it’s only a 60 second exchange that’s fully computerised.  For example while working Ian on FT8Call I was able to reduce power as Ian was running 5 watts.  I needed 10 watts to appear on his screen.  A simple but worthwhile little experiment between our two stations.  I mean that’s what the hobby is about right, experimenting, well one aspect.

Let me know if you think I’m wrong on this and I encourage any operator not to be short sighted about modes other than voice.  Remember it’s up to you what you get back. 



Mark - VK3MDH


Happy Fathers Day


Hope all you Hams and non Hams had a wonderful Fathers Day.  What I love about this hobby is the diversity.  While waiting in the car for a family to arrive at a local park were I was taking their family portraits I tuned around on the various band and frequencies.  From the car I was able to connect to VK3BL’s C4FM node and connect to the America Link room.  I was able to listen in on their weekly net.


Then on 40 meters I heard VK2IO calling CQ as Gerard was activating a park in NSW.  I was able to make a 59 contact with Gerard.  There is always something happening in the world of ham radio and while at times like any hobby you need to take a break or find the balance that works for you I can’t say it’s boring.  Getting home a few hours later and there’s an email announcing the release of the new version of FT8Call.  Like I said there’s always something happening.

73 & Happy Fathers Day


Two Bays Walk - Overnighter


Why do we walk?  We’ll leave that for another blog but what makes a hike a good hike?  I’m sure that’s different for everyone, but for me a good hike is one that challenges and this walk had it’s fair share of challenges.  Day one in particular as the distance, terrain and pack weight combined to push me to my limits, with physical exhaustion wanting me to quit but the mind saying just keep going.  To those we met and spoke with on the trail, if you do find you way to this blog we thank you for taking the time to read.  Our readership has now doubled.  So we began the Two Bays Walk.


Day 1 - Michael VK3FCMC, Marshal VK3MRG and myself were dropped at Arthurs Seat around 10.45am by Michael’s wife.  It was from here our journey would start.  Finding the trail head leading to the Two Bays Trail at Arthurs Seat was a little difficult but once found it the trail was well marked and we had no difficulty staying on track.  Our original planning suggested Day One would be around 12kms but our final distance walked was 15.8kms.  The weather for our walk was picture perfect around 15 Deg C., no wind and no rain predicted.  There was a early morning haze which we thought was from a bush fire in Hastings but a friend who was out on his boat that morning in the area said it was fog.


The track changed every few kilometres from forest to open plains to residential, rain forest and back to covered bushland.  Michael and Marshal being stronger walkers went ahead but we kept in contact using a 2M simplex frequency in digital mode.  This allowed us to know the exact distance between us and each other’s GPS coordinates.  I was also carrying a QRP HF radio and additional water as we were unsure if water was available to our camp site.  My pack weight of 20KG was far too heavy for the distance and my pack, a Carribee 80L, not comfortable for it.  I have carried this weight in this pack before but only for a max of 5~6kms on our French Island hike and Mt Erica adventures.  A lesson learnt. 

I arrived at Lightwood Creek camp ground around 5pm.  So the 15.8kms covered taking me close to 7hrs with a average speed of just under 3 kms per our.  Marshal and Michael were well set up having arrived an hour earlier.  So first order of business was to get my shelter (tent) set then attend to getting dinner underway.  Tonight it was a MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) a mountain house Lamb and Vegetables. With the sun now set temperatures had dropped and we were heading for overnight temps around 5 Deg C.  We were all exhausted and headed for bed around 7pm.  Not long after 9PM I was woken by a large brown kangaroo up on one of the benches near my tent wanting to get into our packs. After scaring him away a young grey and very tame wallaby visited.  He just wanted to play and would not leave even with a torch in the face and me standing about a meter away.  FInally he left after realising there was no food to be found.



Day 2 - The HF radio a Yaesu FT-817 and the SOTA Beams 20~40M dipole was set up for a few hours but there was little early morning activity.  We did hear VK5LOL and tried to make contact but it wasn’t until after picking up my truck and driving to the home QTH later in the afternoon I made the contact with Lesley.  After a cooked breakfast, yes another MRE, Mountain House cooked breakfast it was time to pack up camp.  The walk to Cape Schank light house would be just under 10 kilometres.  We headed out around 10am and it wasn’t long before I was sending Michael and Marshal ahead as the body was feeling some pain from day one.  


Another lesson was the sock and underwear selection.  The socks selected did not seem to breathe and became damp causing blisters.  With daily highs of 15~16 Deg C. and minimums overnight nearing zero degree celsius my hiking pants and socks were selected for the later.  However throughout the walk I was sweating, thus the formation of blisters on several toes.  The chauffing also became painful with the nylon underwear starting to cut into my inner thighs.  Time to get rid of these as they have never been great for hiking despite being purchased for the task after reading some reviews.   


The guys were waiting about 5Km’s from camp for me at Borneo Rd again keeping in touch by radio along the trail.  It was decided, well I decided, it was best I ended my walk here.  The final 5kms Michael and Marshal could complete on their own without their packs and I would stay at the picnic area with our packs.  Michae’s wife would collect them from Cape Shank and come via my location to collect me and the packs.  Around 12.30pm the guys with our transport arrived and we headed back to Melbourne. 


With this being our first overnight hike since French Island earlier in the year what did we learn?  If it’s all about the mission and completion of the hike then these need to be actioned. 

1.  Pack weight - Based on a hiking distance of 16kms pack weight needs to be kept under 15KG.  The radio, accessories, battery and antenna weighed in around 2.8kgs and I was carrying around 4KG of water.  There was a water source at camp and we were able to filter water.  The warmer jacket carried wasn’t needed and a few other items could have been removed from the pack such as GPS, binoculars and a second torch.  I could have also carried my smaller and lighter head torch.

2.  Clothing selection - Socks and jocks we’ll keep to what we know works and with the warmer day time temps wear the lighter hiking pants.  We’ll also think about our layers and not carry the heavier jacket for hikes of this distance.

3.  Was the HF radio important?  For this hike no but if you were staying another night and it was part of the reason while you were hiking then you obviously take it but I would consider making day one of the hike a shorter distance. 

4.  Reasses my current pack.  Is the Carribee 80L the right pack?  While this pack and the 70L of the same design I own have mollee webbing and several other features I like, it may not be the most comfortable pack.  I may also need to recheck my set up as the straps were cutting onto my shoulders not getting any of the padding.   I’d like to try another pack such as the Blackwolf McKinley 85L https://www.tentworld.com.au/buy-sale/blackwolf-backpack-mckinley-85l

Thanks to Michael’s wife for dropping us off at Arthurs seat and more importantly picking us up on the Sunday.  With some warmer weather approaching it’s time to plan our next hiking adventure.


Rememberence Day Contest

The weekend of the 11th and 12th of August was the WIA’s Rememberence Day Contest weekend.  It’s a single or multi operator contest between VK, ZL and PN operators on HF, VHF and UHF bands.  It’s points drive with bonus points for certain bands and operating times (1am to 6am).  The contest ran from 1PM Sat local time to 1pm Sunday (24hrs).


Some HAM operators don’t like contesting as it’s impersonal.  True but you get out of it what you put in right?  For me I like the challenge of the contest as well as the effort that may or may not pay off that has gone into building your station be it a home or portable setup.  Over time (many contests) I’m sure relationships develop between like minded operators but taking the oppurtunity to look at other operators QRZ pages brings inspiration and aspirations while contesting.  


I made 137 contacts on the 40 & 80M bands.  Disappointed at least from my home QTH there was no 2M, 70cm or 6M activity.  Some extra points from local stations would have been appreciated.  I worked VK2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 stations with a lot of QRN and QSB at various times.  The lightning crashes on Saturday later in the day and evening were quite noticeable.  

My strategy was to chase rather than be chased and to work the 1am to 6am block for the extra points.  Using the VK logger software this contest which was easier than when I used it for the Winter VHF/UHF field day contest due to my now familiarity of the software.  However I’m having issues uploading the contest file with a error message being received.  I’m sure I’ll resolve it.

Enjoyed it, got a lot out of it and look forward to the next contest.   


Mark - VK3MDH