The need for communication between Invercargill and field parties first became evident in 1970 when school parties began to visit Deep Cove. Initially three sets were bought from a garage in TeAnau - one base set, a Tait 102, and a Marlin Oscar. A basic HF radio link was established with the base installed at Rosedale School, the Marlin at Deep Cove and the Tait used as a large portable.
Southland Field Radio Service was spearheaded by teachers Bill Reynolds, Colin Dymock & Stan Gallagher with radio enthusiast Tony Harraway .
The need for small portables soon became obvious and over the next year or so three Tait HFP1 sets were bought. Tait Electronics then donated left over bits and pieces from their production run and members assembled four more sets.
A daily sked was established of either 6.30p.m. in winter or 8 p.m. in summer. At this time the weather forecast for the south was given to field parties and each party called in turn. Messages were given and taken.
To meet the need for larger sets for hire four AWA TR80 sets were bought.
In 1977 a repeater station was installed at Invercargill and the standard of the service improved greatly.
The Service changed over to Single Side Band (SSB) in 1982 and servicing Deep Cove was still the major focus.
Interestingly Deep Cove is now serviced by Satellite Phone and internet.
By the mid 1980's the number of sets for hire had reached twenty-four.
About this time Graham Johnston came south to farm at TeAnau and soon discovered to thrill of hunting wapiti in Fiordland. He hired a radio for one trip and on his first call had poor reception. The next night they had moved their camp further up the mountain. The operator remarked how much better the reception was. Graham told him that if went any further up the hill he would be high enough to throw the radio down to Invercargill. On his return Graham was supplied a base radio and began a long association with Wapiti hunters during the bugle period coming on sked every evening and morning to manage messages or chat. G.O.as he is known or by his call sign FK50 is instantly recognisable on radio for his slow drawl and his keen interest in wapiti and Fiordland.
Until the time of his death Tony Harraway took care of all the hires and servicing. Tony became well known to hunters and always seemed to be on sked.
By the late 1980's the service had fallen into disarray and a change of personnel was required.
By this time most of the teachers had retired and new group of volunteers began to do the skeds. These operators were all from a hunting or tramping background. Most of us knew little the technical aspects of radios, repeaters, transmitters etc. and this was left to Ray Phillips.
Ray took over as secretary/treasurer and managed the bookings and maintenance of the radios.
John DeLury joined as an operator in 1991. Within a few years number of sets for hire was increased to 72. During the peak periods of March/April all these sets will be in the field.
Skeds could be busy. Messages passed were many and varied. Some were happy like advising parties of the birth of grandchildren, we relayed negotiations in the sale of multi million dollar dairy farm, on more than one occasion we arranged for flowers to be sent to a wife whose birthday had been forgotten before the hunter husband left home. On a number of occasions we advised of deaths at home but the toughest assignment must have been when Tuatapere helicopter pilot Trevor Green crashed killing himself and a party of hunters during the roar. Trevor had flown a large number of parties into southern Fiordland and advising them that he would not be coming to pick them up was a tough call to make.
We arranged medical treatment to sick and injured hunters and trampers some of whom would not have survived without SFRS being able direct emergency services to them. The Service provided communication for rescues and evacuations from all over Stewart Island and Fiordland and on one occasion, a seriously ill scientist from Snares Island. One night Invercargill doctor Kevin Tyree travelled to Stan's house to give medical advice to a party deep in Fiordland.
For a while a number of Australian hunters had a roaring competition at the end of the sked. It is no wonder they were not very successful getting stags.
Southland Field Radio Service has always been a voluntary organisation. The availability of radio communication has been viewed as a safety issue and the hire rate was kept low to encourage radio usage.
Cyril McLeod ,Ken McDonald, and Ian Drage joined as operators in the mid and late 90's. Ian moved north and Cyril died in fall while hunting in 2008.
Steve Hunt became an operator in 2005 but circumstances forced him to move to TeAnau three years later.
Down to four operators the Service faced the problems of many voluntary organisations. It is difficult to get people to step up unless there is something in it for them.
Ray Phillips and his wife Karene had been doing bookings for over 20 years. The commitment these two gave was huge. Every set was tested and batteries replaced before issue. Hunters expected to be able to uplift a radio when they were travelling through Invercargill and Ray & Karene gave up a large amount of personal time to make this happen. Ray also travelled to TeAnau with radios for the Wapiti ballot. It was the cavalier attitude of some of these hirers who signalled the end of Southland Field Radio.
By 2008 Ray had had enough and we advertised for someone to take over the Service. We had a couple offers from local interests but we felt they the best result for all concerned was to sell the Service for a token amount to Canterbury Mountain Radio.
Radios continue to be available from Invercargill and TeAnau but all bookings are now done through Canterbury Mountain Radio booking office in Christchurch. For most hires a radio will be sent to users by courier.
Canterbury Mountain Radio run a constant listening watch on the radio frequency and their radios have a radiotelephone link, which allows users to phone home. These were functions Southland could not provide so the decision was made and Southland Field Radio Service had its last sked on 16th January 2009. Graham (FK 50) will still be on sked for the bugle period but the rest of us, including founding member Stan have all signed off for the last time.