Benloch resident Gary Deer has a lot to say about the mobile phone tower that became operational in May 2020, but most of it is summed up in a single line: “Now we can contemplate a new reality.”
This new reality includes fire and farm safety, work opportunities, more efficient farming practices, reduced commuting time, telehealth options, more resources for education, social interaction and improved peace of mind for the entire community.
The Benloch community, around 84km north of Melbourne, is centred on a 250-strong township and encompasses surrounding properties and farms.
In 2017, a mobile phone tower co-funded by the Victorian Government through the Commonwealth’s Mobile Blackspot Program with Telstra was built, but while it covered the road in and out of Benloch, most residents still had no mobile coverage. The community advocated for a second tower that would enable a more reliable residential service. The Victorian Government co-funded this tower with Telstra and it went live in May 2020.
“It’s created a monumental change to what we can do in the community,” says Gary. The timing, which coincided with the pandemic and the need for schooling and work to happen from home, demonstrated just how profound a change the technology could make even in a small rural community.
“From a point of view of my personal safety while I'm farming, if anything’s wrong I can alert someone. I can raise help and people can find me. From a liveability point of view, it's a monumental leap forward.”
In terms of work-life balance, Gary finds greater connectivity means more flexibility in how he works, which leads to more family time and a lot less stress.
“Connectivity helps overcome some of the big challenges around travel and distance. We’re able to live, function and contribute to our employment and organisations reasonably effectively in that remote environment. We couldn't do that before. Now we can contemplate a different future.”
Gary thinks his children will benefit too, not simply from access to online games and being able to play videos.
“With kids, their ability to access video and other content and find information will become more and more important to their schooling as they grow.”