McGowan finds a gem in Emerald

In a town of less than 13,000 Gary “Gazza” Sands barely needs a transmitter. Once you have seen the “Big Van Gogh Sunflower” (below left) in the park and fossicked for gemstones at Sapphire and Rubyvale there is not a real lot to do at Emerald in Queensland.

dscn0752_267Emerald is a place you go through if you are heading east to Rockhampton from Longreach or south to Roma from Charters Towers. Right now Emerald is very “tourist unfriendly” mainly caused by the influx of miners who have taken most of the accommodation. What’s left is outrageously priced. 

When I spilled my guts to the local Tourist Authority they looked at me without expression and asked if I would put it in writing to them. I told them I would, once the lady agreed that what I was saying was in fact correct and a problem for them.

Emerald is a spot in the middle of nowhere. 883Ks from Brisbane. 271Ks from Rockhampton. 416Ks from Longreach. 403Ks from Roma and 561Ks from Charters Towers.

It’s home to less than 13,000 people one of whom is Gary “Gazza” Sands who does breakfast and lots of other things on  4HI.  “I left school aged 15 in Port Augusta, got a job in a factory and the day I started they all went on strike,” Gazza recalls. 

Aged 17 Gary joined the Army and was in uniform for just on 19 years most of that time in the SAS. When I asked him what he did and where he went Gary declined to answer me. You get the feeling he might have done ‘something, somewhere.’

Back in civvies Gary was employed as a bouncer in a pub, and was soon the DJ playing the music. Gary told me, “It was then I enrolled in the Vaughan Harvey Radio School at 5KA and that led to me going to 4RRFM at Charleville in 1997.”

Essentially 4RRFM is an Indigenous broadcaster, but it does have a wide appeal and with 4VL the local commercial station mostly on relay, my finding when in the town was that 4RRFM has become the most listened to.

After a year Gary moved on to 4ZR Roma where he stayed for five years, then to 4HI Emerald for another “four or five” then back to 4ZR for “three or four” years and in 2011 he moved back to 4HI.

Gary Sands started in radio a little later than most of us, and is nudging 60. But his youthful enthusiasm is infectious and his understanding of “local” radio impressive.

On air from 0600 to 0900 and again from 1200 to 1300 each weekday Gazza talks Emerald and what’s going on around the place – lots of weather, local news, birthday calls, funeral announcements, discussions with the Mayor, community service information and more. He also runs an informative Facebook page whilst on air.

emeraldgazzatruck_250Gary Sands is the “Regional Local Controller – Central Highlands Unit – SES.” “I’ve held that position since returning to Emerald  and everyday the SES takes up a couple of hours of my time, but I love it,” Gary told me. “I’m on call all the time and even if I’m on air, I can direct things by two way radio if needed,” he added pointing to the communication device hanging off his belt. 

The Ray Hadley, Alan Jones and Chris Smith programs are all broadcast on 4HI and the “Miner’s Overnight” is heard from midnight. The only other Emerald voice heard is Cameron Stallard on weekends. 

4HI is housed in a purpose built building and the studio lacks nothing now that Gary has installed his own fridge and coffee percolator. I did not see what was in the fridge, but he did make me a coffee. 





Keith McGowan