Tourists exploring some of South Australia’s Mid North and Yorke Peninsula towns might find the metal towers in many people’s yards a bit odd.

Port Pirie residents Stewart and Annette Craker were no exception when they arrived 27 years ago in the Mid North town, 230 kilometres north of Adelaide.

“When we first came to Pirie I remember coming over the bridge on Three Chain Road and it was just a sea of aerials,” said Mr Craker.

“They’d had a storm prior to us coming here and all the tops were bent in the same direction.”

The Crakers’ property was one of thousands in Port Pirie with a television tower, until about five years ago when they got it taken down.

The Crakers are using the top half of the TV tower that once stood in Ms Craker’s mother’s yard as a garden feature.(ABC North & West: Viki Ntafillis )

“It was just too far over on the driveway and you had to get around it to get into the carport,” Mrs Craker said.

“My parents’ was getting cut down as well two doors up … theirs was a bit more sort of rustic, so we thought, ‘we’ll have their top.'”

Mrs Craker said the TV tower’s top now makes for a unique garden feature.

“We love reusing, recycling things, and having it in the garden hiding, so you can’t see it unless you actually get there,” she said.

“Mum is very envious that she didn’t keep it.”

When did these towns get TV towers?

The towers were once used to detect the analogue television signal from Adelaide.

Port Pirie local, and a former broadcast worker who used to install the towers, Dave Carwana said it all started in 1959.

“Channel Nine started to broadcast in 1959, September, they were the first in SA,” Mr Carwana said.

“Local Pirie people couldn’t be beaten by the city having TV and us not, because TV was very exciting at the time.”

Port Pirie local and former broadcast employee Dave Carwana has converted his TV tower to a amateur radio tower.(ABC News: Viki Ntafillis)

Mr Carwana said some local entrepreneurs began installing the towers in people’s yards.

“In those days, every man had his tower basically, even if you were renting a place.”

He said the towers had to be built to certain ratios in order to stay standing.

“There was a ratio of how deep the footings had to be, and how tall the tower was — if it was a 50 foot tower, you had five foot deep footings … if it was a 60 metre tower, it had six foot footings.”

Why were TV towers not in all regional SA towns?

The towers were used in towns such as Port Pirie, Port Broughton, Wallaroo and Moonta.

Mr Carwana said the towns’ locations determined whether the towers would work.

He recalled that one local installed an antenna on top of Port Pirie’s Federation Hotel, which was believed to be the highest point in town at the time.

Many TV towers can be seen from the top of Three Chain Road bridge in Port Pirie. (ABC North & West SA: Viki Ntafillis)

“The idea was that Channel Nine was transmitting from Mount Lofty in Adelaide, which was the highest point around Adelaide and, we thought, the highest point in Port Pirie, maybe just maybe, could get a signal,” he said.

“The television signals were designed to go as far as Port Wakefield, and that was the cut-off area, or the fringe area, of Adelaide TV,” he said.

“Mount Lofty is up high, Port Pirie is up high, but the curvature of the earth was still in the way.

“There’s a path through the Hummocks, through Lochiel, where they think the signal bounces through the hills, that’s why it gets to Port Pirie so well.”

He said if a tower received a signal, “it was purely fortuitous”.

“You had to accept any interference that you received and if you got a signal, great, and if you didn’t, bad luck.”

Are the towers a safety risk?

The towers could pose a safety risk, due to what they were made of.

“The towers were made of water pipe, and the top of the towers … either had cork stuck in them, or they were welded up to stop water getting in,” Mr Carwana said.

“If the cockies [cockatoos] ate the corks out the top of the tower, water would get in, collect in the legs of the tower, and eventually you had a corrosion issue from the inside of the tower.

A TV tower in Port Pirie has been taken over by a vine.(ABC North & West SA: Viki Ntafillis)

In strong winds, corroding towers were then in danger of falling and taking out power lines and trees.

Mr Carwana said other dangers included being called upon to repair the towers.

“A fellow went to the top of a tower to replace an antenna,” he recalled.

“He undid the bolts to lower the pole that holds the antenna on … but he forgot to tighten up the pole that holds the antenna.

“The pole slid down through the centre of the tower and left him standing on the very top rung of the TV tower with nothing but the antenna, that was connected to nothing, and over he went, with severe injuries of course. We had a few of those.”

Why do TV towers still exist?

The federal government switched off the analogue television signal in Australia in 2013.

However, Mr Carwana said they towers weren’t entirely obsolete.

“My tower has been converted to a radio tower, I’m a radio amateur,” he said

“You can still use those towers today to watch Adelaide digital television, not very well, and you need to be in a good reception area.”

Another view from Three Chain Road in Port Pirie shows there are dozens of TV towers around town. (ABC North & West SA: Viki Ntafillis)

But Mr Craker warned that when used as a garden feature, the TV tower could be dangerous if kept at its full height.

“Having things growing on the tower just adds to the weight, and in storms they have a tendency to have too much weight and then blow over.”

What can councils do about them?

Barunga West Council CEO Maree Wauchope said if a tower was unsafe, the council would “inspect it straight away” and ask a resident to remove it if needed, and then issue them a notice if they refused.

“It’s their property … so we usually ask the owner to deal with it, or fix it and make it more stable,” Ms Wauchope said.

“I’ve only had one unsafe tower in my time in local government and that’s four years, and the property owner was quite happy to remove the tower.

There are still many TV towers in Port Broughton on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula. (ABC North & West SA: Viki Ntafillis )

“I live in the Copper Coast region and there’s towers all over the place,” she said.

“My memories of the towers was they were fantastic play equipment, my brother and I used to climb as high as we could.

“[If] we got a ball stuck up on the roof, it was an easy way to get up to retrieve our balls — [the towers] were just something we grew up with and climbed on a daily basis.

“There’d have to be thousands in my local government area.

“My parents still have a tower.

“I reckon we’ll see these towers in regional South Australia for the next 50 to 100 years.”

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