The last time I used a payphone was back in
the summer of 2001.
I remember it being a cool summer filled with constant rain, a
summer in which seeing clear sky was a rarity and it was tough to
get the mould out of your clothes. You'd see bright blue
butterflies flit through the dark and leafy undergrowth, while
exotic birds cried wildly overhead.
Of course I wasn't in Sydney.
I was on a trek deep into the rainforests of Costa Rica, on a
quest with other young people of idealistic bent, determined to
build rainforest trails to preserve the environment and dig
aqueducts to pipe potable water to the local villages.
I kid you not.
The only method of communication from this jungle paradise
back to my worried parents in Broken Hill was via the humble
payphone, one of which was situated on the edge of the village we stayed at.
Although the cost was prohibitive (my parents told me it was
in the hundreds of dollars per call), I fully appreciated the
power of these magical devices as they conveyed to me the aural
reality of my parents' voices from the other side of the
Cut back to Australia in 2006.
I can't remember the last time anyone I know used one of these
contraptions and for the life of me I can't understand why such a
hullabaloo has been raised about Telstra's seemingly sensible
idea of removing some 5,000 of them.
Looking at the reality of the situation, yes payphones are a
pretty core resource for some individuals and communities.
But most of Australians (unlike a lot of Costa Ricans) would
probably never think to use a payphone unless their mobile was on
In addition, it looks like Telstra is pretty interested in
keeping payphones operating where they are actually in use.
"Telstra last year increased the number of rural
payphones...Telstra previously closed or relocated over 1,000
payphones every year, but community feedback has seen Telstra
reverse its position in about 10 percent of cases," said a
statement from the incumbent which landed on my desk this
If you're worried about Telstra taking away your community
payphone...the answer seems clear: make your case to the incumbent
through its normal processes and you'll have a pretty good chance of success.
On the other hand, I suspect the majority of us wouldn't notice if our neighbourhood payphone quietly disappeared.