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The idea for a children's picture book about the pedal radio first came up at a meeting I attended in Melbourne in 2013, with publisher Susan Hall, literary agent Jacinta Di Mase and illustrator Robert Ingpen.
I had heard of the pedal radio but didn't really know much about the when and where, or the details of the radio itself. I started my research on the internet, and then borrowed every book I could find about it from the local library. My stepson, who lives with his family in Alice Springs, is a real radio buff, so I tapped into him and, on our next visit to the Alice, I visited the Royal Flying Doctor Service Museum, where I saw one of the old pedal radios, and visited John Flynn's grave marker on the road out of town.
I also bought two very informative books: Traeger: The Pedal Radio Man by Fred McKay and Outback Radio from Flynn to Satellites by Rodney Champness. These two books were invaluable to my research.
On the way home from the Alice, we stopped at Wadlata Outback Centre, and there visitors can actually pedal on an old pedal radio and send a Morse code message.
Once I had filled my head with all of this information, I began writing the story. On reading the initial draft, Robert really wanted the story set back a few years to include Morse code, so I adapted the story to the 1930s. This meant that, at the homestead, a message could only be sent out by Morse code, but a voice message could be received. I checked with quite a few other radio buffs to find out why this was so. They told me that home radios were not yet, in 1930, powerful enough to send a voice message.
On a later visit to Alice Springs, my stepson said he had some old Traeger radio sets, which I could have. Well, I was beside myself with excitement! We went to a storage shed where Mark unpacked a box full of radio gizmos, which included what I reckon are Australia's first mobile phones! They are a pair of huge handheld radios, in leather cases, with extension antennas. At the moment, I am working with another radio buff to see if we can get them functioning, even if only for demonstration purposes.
Since then, I have been on pedal radio alert, and anything I see or hear about them I studiously note down or take photos of.
The book has come together in another beautiful NLA production, and once again Robert's illustrations are so evocative of the outback and the isolation the people living there experienced before the pedal radio.
I am currently in the process of tracking down any of Alf Traeger's relatives. So far, I have discovered that his daughter and grandson live in Tasmania. The investigation continues.