“At any one time, we didn’t lose any major services for any large amounts of time without being able to come up with an interim service. It is going to take many months to repair some of our transmitter equipment but during this whole period, it has been absolute minimal downtime, particularly around local radio,” said Ms Matthews.
A tower in Batemans Bay, transmitting to 58,000 people in the region, was badly damaged on New Year’s Eve. Regional radio company Grant Broadcasters subsequently allowed the ABC to transmit from their nearby antenna as an interim solution and the Australian Defence Force has helped to repair the tower by clearing debris.
“We couldn’t get anywhere near it and it’s not just a matter of getting a generator out there, it’s a substantially damaged service,” said Ms Matthews.
“We’d lost Radio National and NewsRadio, we just focused on local radio to get that moving. We were the only service that was able to give that breadth of information immediately. And it really comes down to life and death. The fire was still raging, people needed to know where to go, where was safe, what roads were blocked and not blocked.”
While the tower remains offline, local radio was restored by January 3. Radio National, News Radio and TV were back up by January 9 thanks to the interim measures, although services are still not at full capacity.
TV and radio transmission in Mallacoota was knocked out on New Year’s Day. Services in nearby Genoa and Cann River lost power and technicians have been unable to access the facilities because of 150 kilometres of road being carpeted with burnt trees. The military has been working to clear the debris.
As the ABC and ADF co-operated to restore the Mallacoota outage, a local man with technical experience volunteered to help install an interim satellite dish. Fighting fires in the area, he came forward to say he would be able to connect the dish that had been delivered by the ADF.
During the emergencies, the ABC has worked closely with BAI Communications, which owns the broadcast towers and charges the ABC to use them under a longstanding commercial arrangement.
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher praised the ABC, military and Grant Broadcasters for their efforts during the crisis.
“Many people have worked tirelessly – in extremely hazardous conditions – to keep the ABC and the local commercial broadcasters on air during the bushfires and I thank them,” he said.
Mr Fletcher said the ABC was doing an “excellent job” providing accurate emergency information.