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Passing of a Renaissance Man – Wally Watkins VK4DO SK

Date : 13 / 10 / 2015
Author : Roger Harrison - VK2ZRH

It is rare to post a Silent Key announcement here, but this marks the passing of a significant figure in Australian amateur radio, Wally Watkins VK4DO, late of Townsville.

Wally stamped his name on many fields of amateur radio endeavour across some five decades. First, as VK5ZWW he established himself as one of the stalwarts of six metres. With a 10-element Yagi and quote – adequate power - unquote, Wally ran single sideband on six metres in that era when AM still held sway - the 1970s. Such was his signal, the band didn’t need to be open for you to hear him in Sydney - or Brisbane. VK5ZWW could be heard via ionospheric scatter alone.

Wally became one of the mainstays on six metre meteor scatter skeds during the 1970s, helping to promote and popularize this intriguing weak-signal mode. He gently badgered all and sundry to give it a go – myself included. Apart from meteor scatter, he was prominent in reports of 6m VK-ZL and other long-haul DX worked over the years. Wally subscribed and contributed to “6UP”, the VHF-UHF newsletter I edited and published through the 1970s. We launched a VHF-UHF ‘State of the Art’ Contest in 1973, over 16 July to 5 August. Wally VK5ZWW was the inaugural winner. When he moved to Orange in New South Wales in the late 1970s, Wally upgraded to VK2DEW and added chasing DX on the HF bands to his activities, focusing particularly on 40 metres and 10 metres, pursuing both CW and voice contacts.

No matter what interest Wally took up, he pursued it to the hilt, leaving no detail undiscovered or unexamined. So it was when he took up amateur radio contesting in the 1970s. Wally became WIA Federal Contest Manager and wrote the Contests Column for Amateur Radio magazine over 1980-81. In the sport of Amateur Radio directing finding – a combination of foxhunting and orienteering – Wally gained global notoriety. He developed simple, practical kits for ARDF receivers, and antenna designs, which many enthusiasts built across the years. He applied himself to promoting ARDF in Australia and in the Asian countries of Region 3, becoming a widely recognised mainstay competitor in events in the Region, particularly in the People’s Republic of China.

Along the way, Wally became a Sinophile – a person having an interest in, and love for, Chinese culture and its people. In characteristic fashion, Wally and his wife Dorothy travelled often to, and around, China. Naturally, Wally became fluent in Mandarin and quite knowledgeable about Chinese history, politics and society – and amateur radio in China. He produced VHS videos of his China travels, and gave talks at amateur radio clubs over the 1980s and 90s. Hence, he was a valuable delegate on the WIA team that attended the IARU Region 3 Conference in Beijing in 1997. Naturally, he was our ARDF specialist along with contributing in other areas.

Having moved to VK4 in the 1990s and changed callsign to VK4DO, Wally organised the first Region 3 ARDF Championships event in Townsville in 1996, attracting participants from some far-flung corners of the world. Wally was involved in WIA affairs from his time in VK5. In NSW, he took up the role of Alternate Federal Councillor for the NSW Division, as well as joining WICEN.

When amateur examinations were first devolved from the licensing authority in the early 1990s, Wally became an invigilator and helped bring ‘new blood’ into amateur radio. Again, when the new examination system was set up by the WIA following the revision of Amateur licences and introduction of the Foundation licence, Wally became an assessor.

Wally was a consummate and engaging presenter, giving many talks on his favourite pursuits at amateur radio clubs across the years. Regrettably, it’s not possible here to adequately cover all that Wally pursued and achieved in amateur radio, let alone his life apart from it. He was a warm, engaging person, with an unfailing interest in the lives and ideas of others, and who would not hesitate to help out someone who needed a hand, in whatever way was within his abilities.

He could be truly described as a renaissance man; a rare being.

Vale Wally Watkins VK4DO.

Pictured Above - Closing ceremony for the 1st R3 ARDF Championships in Townsville, organised by Wally Watkins VK4DO, seen on the far right. (Image by Kelly N6QAB).


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