Woomera, an Aboriginal word meaning spear-launcher, was established as a long-range weapons’ research facility by the Australian and British governments. The site located in the far north of South Australia was established in 1946.
The centre provided employment for Army, Navy and Air force personnel from both Australia and overseas. It also provided work for newly arrived immigrants from Europe as well as civilians from all Australian states.
By the 1960s the population of Woomera grew to 6 000 and had all the essentials such as churches, schools, a picture theatre, hotel, hospital and police Station. The surrounding land is dry and arid and Woomera boasts around 3 000 hours of sunshine per year.
The site was surveyed by Len Beadell to establish the Rocket Range and the town. The first ten years was harrowing with souring temperature of around 40% Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) and no air-conditioning. The workers lived in tents and worked in these extreme temperatures. The wages were high as one would expect under these conditions. Each man was issued with two bottles of beer per day and a voucher for tobacco.
Obtaining good drinking water was a problem as the local water was too salty. The Morgan-Port Augusta-Woomera pipeline was built to supply the town’s residents with water from the Murray River.
Woomera rose out of a desert plain into a major city with several hundred thousand trees and all major facilities. In its hay day Woomera was a bustling city. It was also the home of the Anglo Australian (English Australian) Joint Project. It has the biggest land range in the western world reaching to the North West coast and the potential to become an international space power.
On 2 October 1999 a plaque was unveiled commemorating the Rocket Range and its important engineering heritage, which reads:
WOOMERA ROCKET RANGE
“Established under the Anglo-Australian Joint Project following the Second World War, this range and the associated Weapons Research Establishment in Salisbury were the largest and most expensive scientific and engineering activity ever conducted in Australia in peacetime. The equipment used and tested here was at the forefront of technology and especially in fine mechanics, advanced optics, telemetry and rocket fuel chemistry. While participating in programmes conducted here, Australia was in the forefront of scientifically and technologically advanced nations. The successful launch of the WRESAT satellite from Woomera in 1967 gained Australia international recognition and membership of the exclusive ‘Space Club’”.
Dedicated by The Institution of Engineers, Australia, 1999.
Over the course of half a century, many missiles have been launched from Woomera.
|1st April 1947||Long Range Weapons Establishment formed between the United Kingdom and Australia.|
|24th April 1947||The name Woomera selected for the new town associated with the rocket range.|
|22nd March 1949||First missile launched from Woomera.|
|13th February 1957||First SKYLARK rocket launch.|
|7th September 1858||First BLACK KNIGHT launch.|
|5th June 1964||First EUROPA LAUNCH – modified Blue Streak. Launched to the northwest.|
|24th May 1966||First Europa launch with dummy upper stages and satellite. Flight terminated after 136 seconds. Launched to the north.|
|29th November 1967||WRESAT 1 satellite launched on a US Redstone rocket. First Australian satellite.|
|23rd April 1969||The decision was announced to build the US Nurrungar Defence satellite monitoring station near Woomera.|
|12th June 1970||Last Europa launch from Woomera. All stages fired but the Italian satellite failed to orbit.|
|28th October 1971||British Prospero satellite launched into orbit on a BLACK ARROW launch vehicle.|
|22nd December 1972||NASA’s Island Lagoon deep space tracking station closed.|
|January 1982||Woomera village became “derestricted”.|
|March 1991||RAAF’s Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU) assumed management of the Woomera Prohibited Area and the Woomera Instrumented Range from the Defence Science and Technology Organisation.|
|1994||The RAAF handed management of the Woomera Prohibited Area the Defence Support Centre Woomera while keeping management of the Woomera Instrumented Range.|
|1996||The Japanese Aerospace Laboratory (NAL) and the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA) conducted their Automatic Landing Flight Experiment (ALFEX) project trials to gather data for a planned Japanese “space shuttle”>|
|1st October 1999||US Nurrungar tracking station closed.|