Max Emery is in heaven when it comes to communicating with the world. Up until six months ago, the 68-year-old bush tomato grower was hardwired to the fax machine. That’s how he sent invoices and did business from his bush block, south of Alice Springs. “I had a computer but it wasn’t connected to the internet,” Max says. “I’d do some writing, print it off and put it on the fax.”
Not one for complaining, Max completed no less than 146 courses in biology around the world in his bid to learn how to breed soil-fertilising bacteria, so he could eke more out of the desert soil that grows his outback delicacy for a Melbourne bush-food wholesaler. He did the courses by fax and mail. Then in September last year, the communications revolution turned up on his doorstep, bearing a satellite dish for the roof of the little tin house Max shares with his wife Ruth. Up it went and 21st-century Max was born.
His new satellite dish links him to Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN), the high-speed internet link being laid across the nation. Old ways of connecting to the internet – via copper wires buried underground up to 70 years ago – will be made redundant as this ganglionic Goliath reaches into our homes delivering videos, data, images, information and as yet unknown developments at knock-out speeds. For Max and Ruth, who’d skipped much of the frustration in rural and remote Australia associated with staggeringly low speeds afforded by creaking dial-up on copper lines and previous forms of satellite and wireless broadband, this was really something. They could now email.
But if you believe the scientists and the spin doctors, there’s more than merely faster email ahead. This new link presages a revolution in bush health care, education, business, tourism and more. Even for the most remote places in the country the possibilities may only be limited by imagination – and hardware and software development. While remote surgery might be out of the question for a time yet, doctors are already seeing patients thousands of kilometres away thanks to digital technology. Patients in Ingham, Qld, have chemotherapy under supervision from Townsville Hospital via tele-health links. The director of medical oncology at the Townsville Hospital, Professor Sabe Sabesan, says it saves patients days in travel, car parking and accommodation costs as well as emotional and personal upheaval.