VJY was a coastal radio communications network that was based in Darwin prior to Telstra. The open pedal-operated network serviced the whole of remote top end Australia as the only communications network relaying medical, civil, legal and defence information between remote communities, stations and Darwin. It was housed at different periods with VID (Darwin Radio), Australia Post and Telecom before being shut down in June 1999 with the upgrading of all outposts to satellite communications.
My initial research in 2008 found there was very little public information available and with the support of film-maker Naina Sen, I undertook to document the many incredible stories directly from the radio operators and telegraphists that manned and serviced the critical remote network, including the Indigenous outstations at Maningrida, Angurugu and Galiwinku.
The filming brought together VJY operators for the first time in 20 years for an emotional reunion to view a painting at the Museum and Art Gallery of NT, that everyone had thought lost. Attending the veiwing were ex-VJY operators: Pat Martin-Stuart (Aunty Patti), Maureen Crabbe (Muddie), Dottie Daby, Marg Marron-Adams and Chris Roe.
The bark painting by Maningrida artist Brian Nyinawanga is titled ‘VJY Telephone Operators’ and depicts the telephone operators of VJY at their switchboards. The artwork is unique in that it is purportedly the only traditional bark painting of ‘white women’ and even graced the cover of Time Magazine (Australia) when it was first presented to the ladies in 1982.
Under the direction of Naina Sen, the 26 minute Operator’s story has developed beautifully; really showing the humanitarian sentiment from all the wonderful women who manned the top-end open radio service in the 1970’s and 80’s. Sadly, VJY Operator and Supervisor Marg Marron passed during prodcution, before she could see on screen what an incredibly powerful contribution she made to the VJY team. There was much tears and laughter as memories were re-lived through the presentation and a unanimous decision was made to continue production to include other sensitive parts of the VJY story, with Telegraphist’s interviews about VJY Fretlin contact in 1975.
When completed, the final cut with all supporting documentation will be donated to NT Archives, NT Museum and Art Gallery and the National Australian Archives. Opportunities for national TV broadcast of the VJY story will also be explored and secured.