Danielle Weston, Rob Edwards, Trudy Gorringe, Marilyn Simpson and Ben Cross reflect on mobile reception. (ABC Western Queensland: Harriet Tatham)
To most of us, the ping of a text message is a sound that has dictated life for years.
But in a small outback Queensland town 1,200 kilometres west of Brisbane, the mobile phone is a new development.
Windorah “entered the twenty-first century” in late November when mobile services were switched on as part of the $21 million Barcoo–Diamantina Fibre Optic Project, which was jointly funded by three levels of government.
Six months on, locals are reflecting on life with mobile reception.
“I kind of enjoyed being disconnected from the outside world to some degree,” said senior constable Rob Edwards, who is the sole officer in the Windorah station.
“It was like living in a little bubble.”
But from a policing perspective, Constable Edwards said mobile phone reception had been an important upgrade.
“We do get a lot of tourists coming through here and some of them are quite elderly, and there are times where people want to keep in contact with those that are travelling,” he said.
“If they don’t hear from them they get a bit concerned and contact the local police … so it just makes it more accessible for people to keep in contact with each other, so for us, that’s probably an advantage.”
Senior Constable Rob Edwards says from a policing perspective, having mobile phone reception has made the region a safer place to live and travel. (ABC Western Queensland: Harriet Tatham)
Fines for using mobile in the pub
For pub owner Marilyn Simpson, the transition was not as smooth.
She was initially opposed to the upgrade in services because she was worried about the impact it would have on the conversation-driven pub culture of Windorah, but she has since devised a solution.
“There is an impact but I don’t think it was as big as we anticipated, but we also brought in some stuff to try and compensate for that,” she said.
“We have a sign in the hotel that says there will be a fine if you use your phone in the hotel, so most people now exit the hotel itself to use it.
“It’s a gimmick and it’s a good thing, but we notice that people read the sign and walk outside and use their mobile, and go back in and the interaction is the same as it always was.”
Marilyn Simpson and Ben Cross say penalising phone usage inside the bar has been effective. (ABC Western Queensland: Harriet Tatham)
Better service for tourists
Petrol station owner Danielle Weston said she had always been supportive of the upgrades because they would bring a tourism benefit.
“I thought it was a great idea because you often get tourists come through … they’d stop longer if there was cover, so hopefully it does the trick and keeps them for a bit longer,” she said.
Six months on, Ms Weston has not noticed a change in tourism numbers, but said it had gotten the grey nomads talking.
“They’re just starting to get going now, and everyone’s talking that they’re glad about the mobile phone reception,” she said.
Danielle Weston is hopeful the mobile phone reception will keep tourists in town for longer. (ABC Western Queensland: Harriet Tatham)
Information officer Trudy Gorringe spends most of her day talking to tourists about the region, and is a fierce supporter of being able to use a mobile phone in the town.
“I think it’s a vital thing for the outback and isolated areas,” she said.
Ms Gorringe believed being able to use social media to market Windorah would bring a significant boost to the economy.
“Now we are able to incorporate social media into our own advertising with the Barcoo Shire and the Diamantina Shires, which is only going to be fantastic,” she said.
The fibre optic project has now connected Birdsville and Bedourie with 4G mobile services.
Trudy Gorringe believes the connection of mobile services will greatly improve the council’s ability to market Windorah online. (ABC Western Queensland: Harriet Tatham)