Whale Stranding at King Island and the Local Radio Scene

Three weeks ago here in Wavescan, we presented the story of another mass stranding of whales on the west coast of the Australian island of Tasmania.  In the middle of September two years ago (2020), 500 Pilot Whales were stranded at Macquarie Harbour and Ocean Beach.  Tragically 400 died, though 100 were safely returned to deeper waters.

Strangely two years later, on the very same day in the middle of September this year (2022), another mass stranding of 230 Pilot Whales occurred at that very same location, Macquarie Harbour and Ocean Beach,  Tragically nearly 200 died, though 35 were returned safely to deeper waters.

King Island location map. Image: Wikipedia.

However this year an additional 14 Pilot Whales were stranded and died on the shore of King Island, nearly 200 miles further north.  News reports state that the King Island stranding occurred on the rugged south west coast of King Island; that is in Surprise Bay, south of the main town, Currie.

There are two inhabited main islands in Bass Strait between Tasmania and the continental mainland of Australia, and both are approximately the same shape, the same size, and the same distance from the Tasmanian mainland.  North of the northeast corner of Tasmania is Flinders Island, and north of the northwest corner is King Island.

King Island is 40 miles long (north to south) and 15 miles wide (east to west) with a population of 1500 people.  There are three towns on the island; Currie as the administrative capital, and Grassy and Naracoopa.

The first European to sight King Island was Captain Reed aboard the schooner Martha in 1799. Two years later (1801) it was named King Island by Captain John Black aboard the Harbinger, in honor of the governor of New South Wales at Sydney, Governor Philip King.  Then during the following year (1802), Commander Charles Robbins aboard the ship Cumberland hastily claimed the island (as part of Tasmania) for Great Britain in order to forestall the visit by the French Captain Nicolas Baudin with his two French ships, Géographe and Naturaliste and his Australian made Casuarina.

At the time, King Island was uninhabited, though evidence would indicate that Australian Aborigines had visited the island.  Other temporary inhabitants have been the crews from passing ships (some with Aboriginal wives), ship wreck survivors, and occasional scientific personnel.  Over the years, more than 60 ships have been wrecked against the island with the death of more than a thousand people.

Cape Wickham lighthouse. Photo by Michael Harrold on Google.

The first permanent settlers arrived at King Island in the 1880s.  However additionally some subsequent ship wreck survivors have remained on the island and intermarried into the local population. 

The tallest lighthouse in Australia, standing at 157 feet high, was erected at Cape Wickham at the northern tip of King Island in 1861, and a second lighthouse was built at Currie in 1880.

The island is noted these days for tourism, its specialty cheese production, the mining of scheelite tungsten, mineral sand deposits, and the harvesting of kelp.  In 1955, there were 18,000 cattle on the island, 15,000 sheep and 1500 pigs.

The first wireless communication station on the island was erected by the Catholic Priest Archibald Shaw.  He had established his own wireless factory in suburban Sydney (New South Wales) and in order to demonstrate his system of wireless telegraphy, he installed an experimental wireless station on King Island which was granted the official callsign VZE.

The new wireless station was installed on the grounds of the Primary School at Currie and it was taken into experimental service during the year 1911.  Government approval was granted to station VZE to transmit paid messages under the same conditions that applied to the AWA coastal stations surrounding Australia.  In addition, Shaw also operated the VZE wireless equipment as an amateur station with the callsign XPO.

In 1914, the government offered to buy the Shaw wireless station, without success.  However the historic King Island station VZE was closed in 1916 when the government operated AWA station was opened.

Now, going back to the year 1908, we find the first occasion when King islanders made an appeal for a government operated wireless station, a station that would ease their inherent sense of isolation.  Finally, after several such appeals, the government announced that they planned to erect their own station on the island during the year 1916.

Undated postcard of Currie. Image: Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies

The new wireless station was installed on vacant property a little inland from the town of Currie and it was taken into service in January 1916.  Even though the AWA callsign VIK had been reserved for use by the King Island station, yet instead they took over the Shaw station callsign VZE, which they retained for many years.

In 1928 station VZE, along with the entire network of coastal stations around the continent of Australia, were sold to AWA.  During World War 2 the station was used for wartime security purposes; in 1947 the network was taken over by OTC, the Overseas Telecommunication Service; and soon afterwards the King Island station was closed, forever.  Google Earth currently shows the station location from a satellite perspective, and it is now a private dwelling in farmland country.

Currently, there are ten radio and TV stations operating on King Island, they are all unattended slave relay stations, and they are all clustered at the same location on top of the hill known as Gentle Annie.  The ABC operates four of these FM relay stations each with 200 watts, and an additional relay station with 1.6 kW under what was the familiar mediumwave callsign 7NT.

The only local radio station on King Island is a community FM station with studios in a residential home near the village of Naracoopa.  This FM radio station KICR on 100.5 MHz also operates a remote studio in the Science Building at the high school on George Street in Currie.

Screen shot of the website of King Island Radio https://www.kingislandradio.com/

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of November 13, 2022

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