The Mount Bellenden Ker cableway located in Far North Queensland celebrated 50 years in operation on 9 June 2022. The BAI Communications (BAI) team maintaining the broadcast transmission site and its unique mode of transport have been keeping communities connected for just as long.

BAI operates one of the most extensive broadcast networks in the world across 752 sites. In a country the size and geographic dispersity of Australia, it is no surprise that our transmission sites vary in terms of location, topography, weather conditions and accessibility.

Located 60 kilometres south of Cairns, Mount Bellenden Ker, the second highest peak in Queensland at 1,597 metres above sea level is unique. Not only is the site remote, but the Bellenden Ker Mountain range is also aligned in a way that it intercepts the prevailing south-easterly winds, receiving more than eight metres of rain per year on average and maximum annual rainfall of more than 12 metres, making it the wettest meteorological station in Australia.

When it was opened in 1972, the Mount Bellenden Ker cableway was the longest single-track in the world at 5.3 kilometres (km) long and 1.6 km high above ground. During construction, most materials for the aerial cableway and transmitter buildings were transported up the mountain by helicopter used as ’flying cranes’. A total of 2,000 flights were completed during construction, using up to three helicopters during peak periods.

Today, the Mount Bellenden Ker site provides essential broadcast services across Far North Queensland to approximately 550,000 people. The cableway continues to provide an integral link for the operation and maintenance of the broadcast equipment at this site. Once on the mountain, access to BAI’s transmission tower is only via the private cable car, by helicopter or as a last resort, a five-hour hike up the mountain through dense rainforest. The cable car trip takes 23 minutes, and it makes the journey to the peak an average of five times a week.

Wet tropical conditions, rugged terrain, no road access and working within a World Heritage listed area make this site one of a kind. The BAI transmission site has been purpose-built for the local climate, capable of withstanding tropical cyclones with winds over 200 km per hour and it can be fully remote controlled. Despite the access challenges, the location is ideal for broadcast transmission as it enables an optimum coverage area, being in line of sight of Cairns, the Tablelands and beyond.

BAI CEO Peter Lambourne visited the team at the Mount Bellenden Ker transmission site for the anniversary.

He says, “BAI and our teams are committed to safeguarding the delivery of services for communities across Australia, playing a critical role in keeping people connected, informed, entertained, and safe in times of emergency. I am extremely proud of how dedicated our team is to the operations and maintenance of this often-demanding site and I welcome the opportunity to be here with them to mark this occasion.”

Keeping the site and cableway maintained and fully operational is vital for the large community it serves. It is particularly important during cyclones and other emergency situations as broadcast services can quickly become one of the only means of communication, making the site a crucial piece of infrastructure for the region and its local communities.

Our BAI technicians and engineers have well established continuity plans for the site to ensure services remain on air during emergency events. For example, should the site lose its main power source, there are two generators with 10,000 litres of fuel in place to keep services on air for up to 10 days.

Given the tropical and wet conditions, the cableway steel wire line is vulnerable to the effects of its environment which accelerates deterioration and necessitates regular upgrades and diligent maintenance from the BAI team. There is a fixed team of three riggers and two technicians on site with regular support and backup from other BAI teams. The Mount Bellenden Ker team have extensive experience in their respective fields of expertise and have intrinsic knowledge of the site and equipment.

None more than Spiro Buhagiar, who is celebrating his 40-year anniversary working on Mount Bellenden Ker. It is not just a job for him; he still enjoys every single trip in the cableway. He says:

“I love going up there. There is always something to see. You can always see animals in the treetops, have a magnificent view over the vast rainforest, and once you are at the top the views just get better – if it does not rain. It is great to be part of a team and company that provide important services to my region, and I am proud that we are part of a bigger system that keeps everyone connected and safe.”