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Article from Issue 22 (June/July 2001)

Great Barrier Radio alive and well
by Keith Ingram

Over the last couple of years or so there has been some concern as to whether Channel one, Great Barrier Radio, would continue with the fine service which it has provided to Auckland's commercial fleet and recreational boaties who frequent the Barrier.

This privately funded, subscriber-based marine radio service operating on channel one from Whangaparapara on the Barrier was established by the island's renowned local identity, George Mason.

George needs little introduction to anyone in the marine industry who needs to know. He is after all recognised as an institution which developed from his early days as the island's policeman. Seafarers will remember many a night when trying to seek shelter when George would turn out, get into his vehicle, drive to a position which would give a safe lead, and shine his headlights to guide a storm-tossed vessel through safe waters to shelter.

Institution or not, humans are mere mortals, and age has a habit of taking its toll. Unfortunately George is no different, and in recent years his health has started to deteriorate, which in turn has caused concern to all seafarers who have relied upon or use the services of Great Barrier Radio.

On a recent visit to Great Barrier I took time out to visit this old and respected friend, only to be greeted with  "Not so much of the old," which gave me heart that George, although a bit slower, is still in fine fettle, and so we shared the latest scuttlebutt over a cuppa.

"The control room is as it should be," he said, "but it is in the operations room that you need to talk." And so it was with much pleasure that I met Allison Cox for first time. At last there was a face to the cheery voice we had experienced on the airways for the past 12 months. Ali had taken on the task as radio operator of Great Barrier Radio.

What would make a young lady of the world want to seek isolation at Great Barrier, I pondered. As though reading my mind, she said she couldn't really explain exactly why she chose to move to Great Barrier Island. But she liked the style of channel one. She enjoys the lifestyle which Great Barrier has to offer, and she enjoys maintaining contact with the sea.

On delving further, we find that she is also no newcomer in the sea-going department, having spent five years with the Spirit of Adventure Trust sail-training vessels, particularly the Spirit of New Zealand. She has also amassed a fair amount of blue-water sailing, and has sailed around the Horn to the Falkland Islands in a small yacht. With a love of the sea and the need to take time out to complete her degree by correspondence, she saw Great Barrier Radio as a challenge, where she could maintain an active contact with the sea, continue her studies and enjoy a lifestyle while maintaining an important link for seafarers' safety and communication. From her own first-hand experience she has an excellent knowledge of the Hauraki Gulf, its islands, bays, nooks and crannies.

In talking with her, it is easy to understand why this young lady has already endeared herself to mariners from all walks of life by the many compliments she receives. When we ask what the key is to this success, Ali replies "Probably because I am a female, I'm friendly, and I can relate to the problems or difficulties, the good times, the humour, and the frustrating situations those at sea are experiencing.

"Men tend to treat me differently" she says, "probably because I am a female. There is no aggression or macho bravado which can sometimes prevail when men are explaining some problem or other with another male radio operator."

From a seafarer's position it has to be recognised that Ali has a very clear voice on the radio, she is unflustered and professional in the manner in which she goes about her duties on air. For the old hands who still want to have a chat with George, he is always available in the control room and maintains a listening brief.

Great Barrier Radio provides an excellent VHF coverage on channel one throughout the inner and outer Hauraki Gulf, across the Mokohinaus and up the north-east coast and south into the Bay, the Coromandel coast and the Mercury Islands.

At NZ Professional Skipper magazine we encourage all commercial operators operating this area, and the wider boating public who tend to use channel one, thinking it is a government-funded service, to consider joining Great Barrier Radio and support the fine service they provide.  The annual membership fee is $50, and payment may be made out to Great Barrier Radio, RD 1, Claris, Great Barrier Island.

As they have just upgraded their radio equipment at some significant cost, corporate donations and new members are welcome.