Yaraka toasts mobile phone access

Long-promised mobile phone access comes to western Queensland town of Yaraka

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Cheers: Queensland Country Life senior journalist Sally Cripps (centre) helped toast the new mobile phone tower at Yaraka along with motivational speaker Helen Everingham and Longreach friends Rachel Bock, Liz Lynch and Jane Tinknell. Picture: Sally Cripps.

Cheers: Queensland Country Life senior journalist Sally Cripps (centre) helped toast the new mobile phone tower at Yaraka along with motivational speaker Helen Everingham and Longreach friends Rachel Bock, Liz Lynch and Jane Tinknell. Picture: Sally Cripps.

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Yaraka rides mobile phone introduction without trouble.

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The scene in the bar of the Yaraka Hotel was much the same as always on Friday night - patrons were ordering pizza, watching the Cowboys on TV, sharing conversation over drinks - but for the first time ever, they were also making and taking calls on their mobile phones.

Equipment on the tower installed at the top of nearby tourist attraction, Mt Slocombe, was activated on Thursday afternoon and residents were quickly sharing their excitement on social media.

One of those was lifetime resident and community activist, Susan Glasson, who rang her three daughters straight away.

“We were all pretty excited,” she said. “We had the ability to send and receive texts from our property, but it's so pleasing that and more has been extended to more isolated people.”

Susan was among those from the small western Queensland town writing letters to politicians and making submissions to telecommunications reviews over a number of years, culminating in a visit by then-Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull in April 2015.

“We were one of the first black spot announcements made just after that, in June,” Susan said.

When then-parliamentary secretary to the Communications Minister, Paul Fletcher visited Yaraka in June 2015, distance education student Sydney Carter gave him a run-down on the difficulties that limited communications options placed on her education. The family has since left the town, with these pressures adding to their overall decision to move. Photo by Mary Killeen.

When then-parliamentary secretary to the Communications Minister, Paul Fletcher visited Yaraka in June 2015, distance education student Sydney Carter gave him a run-down on the difficulties that limited communications options placed on her education. The family has since left the town, with these pressures adding to their overall decision to move. Photo by Mary Killeen.

The project was delayed for over 18 months, said to be because of technical issues, but the federal MP for Maranoa, David Littleproud was able to announce last December that the work would go ahead at last.

There were plenty of reasons for his and the community’s lobby - to open up a variety of educational opportunities, for RFDS needs, to enhance the safety of people working in their own on properties, and to encourage travellers wary of a lack of connectivity.

“Hopefully with a booster, the signal will reach more people to the south west,” Susan said. “It should keep more of our young ones here too.”

One of those is Fiona Greer, whose father ran the local store in Yaraka for a number of years.

Fiona lives in Longreach but was in town for a night with friends on Friday, and was ambivalent about her newfound ability to text from the location.

“I didn't mind not having service,” she said.

“It meant we all interacted more.

“So I'm a little bit sad, but it will be good from a safety perspective.”

New owners of the Yaraka store, Mark and Vikki Lomman weren’t among those celebrating on Thursday, only because Telstra isn’t their service provider.

“It seems I’m the only one in town with no mobile internet,” Vikki said. “Everyone else’s phone went mad yesterday, when the word went round that we’d been switched on.”

Yaraka’s only other business with a street presence is the pub, and publican Gerry Gimblett was in two minds about the town’s “loss of innocence”.

“I’m thinking of putting a sign up in the bar, saying ‘no wifi, talk to each other’,” she laughed.

At the same time, she thought tourists would be happier to venture out their way, knowing they’d still have a connection with family.

She said the actions of the Telstra installers in driving 200km each day to accommodation at Isisford, rather than staying in Yaraka, where there was no mobile access, told its own story of why the town was celebrating.

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