A celebration of Len’s 100th birthday
This is a small profile of Len's life, to highlight his many achievements and celebrate what would have been his 100th birthday on 21 April 2023.
Len’s early life shaped him into the person he was to become. He was born at The Glen, a rural holding with an orchard, chickens and cows in West Pennant Hills, NSW on 21 April 1923. His mother described him as a ‘darling little boy’ who was compassionate & unselfish with a cheerful, happy disposition. He attended Gladesville Public School, Ryde in 1928 then Burwood Public School in 1930.
Len attended 1st Burwood Scouts on the suggestion of a school friend and met the Scout master, John Richmond (Skip or Mr Mond to the boys) who taught him astronomical observations and how to use a theodolite. Many weekend survey trips in Scouts were spent learning the craft that he would rely on in Australia’s outback 20 years later. Len finished his formal education at Sydney Grammar School in 1939, before going into a surveying position with the Sydney Water Board.
His surveying career continued throughout his war service, which included his service in New Guinea with the Army Survey Corps, and then afterwards for the British and Australian Governments.
1947 saw the start of the Woomera Rocket Range Project that included the initial Woomera airstrip, town and launch sites surveys. In the years to follow, he led a gang of roadmakers, the Gunbarrel Road Construction Party, to create over 6,500 kilometres of access roads for scientific observations relating to Woomera, Emu, Maralinga and the subsequent worldwide geodetic survey.
The best known of these roads is the Gunbarrel Highway which runs from near the Stuart Highway west to Carnegie Station, a distance of 1500 kilometres. Conditions in the Australian Outback were harsh and Len faced many challenges such as flat tyres, mechanical issues, health concerns and of course flies!
Len was more than just a surveyor - he was an author, cartoonist, storyteller and, above all, a great family man. He married Anne Rosalind Matthews on 1 July 1961 at All Souls Anglican Church, St Peters and settled in Salisbury close to his work at DSTO (formerly WRE). Anne and his first daughter, Connie Sue, joined Len during his surveys of the Anne Beadell and Connie Sue Highways. The second baby followed with Gary, and Len named the Gary Highway and Gary Junction after him. Jacqueline was born at the end of the bush projects, with Len naming Jackie Junction after her.
Len wrote six books about his adventures, with Too Long in the Bush being first published in 1965. It has not been out of print since then. A compilation book, Outback Highways, was published in 1979 and Around the World in Eighty Delays was published posthumously in 1997. A special commemorative hard cover edition of Outback Highways is being released in May to coincide with the Centenary Celebrations.
Len continued working at DSTO (WRE or LWRE) until he retired in 1988. He was busier than ever going on bush trips and giving talks from small gatherings of Scouts, Guides, schools, Lion and Rotary clubs to large national business conventions. In total he gave 941 talks.
Over the years he was awarded the British Empire Medal, Order of Australia Medal and Fellow of the Institute of Engineering and Mining Surveyors, Australia. He received many other accolades, some of these have included Mount Beadell, Len Beadell Memorial Library, Beadell Street, Beadell House at Trinity College, Asteroid 3161 Beadell and Eucalyptus canescens subspecies beadelii (Beadell’s Mallee). He was humbled by any recognition as he felt it was work he enjoyed so much that he would have happily done it for free if anyone had ever asked.
He took great pride and joy taking his family on bush trips along his roads and visiting the places and people he had known for many years, working in remote Australian Outback. He delighted in watching his children grow, get jobs, marry and have children of their own. Although he didn't meet all of his grandchildren, one highlight was organising his first Grandson, Mitchell Asser's baptism in the Great Victoria Desert.
Len continued to give talks and interviews, write other articles, news stories, and draw pictures. During 1991, Len filmed 'Too Long in the Bush - Len Beadell Looks Back' for release on VHS, and subsequently on DVD. In 1994 he was awarded Australian Geographic's Adventurer of the Year and stayed with Dick and Pip Smith, who were also involved in finding the Bulldozer used in many of Len's road building projects.
Sadly, Len succumbed after a few years of experiencing trouble with his heart and died on Friday 12 May 1995, aged 72. Following his funeral held at Trinity College Gawler, his ashes were interred at Woomera Range E, where the Rocket Project started. They were later moved to the Woomera Cemetary with Anne's ashes being interred after her death in 2010.
Today we are thinking of Len & celebrating his full & adventure-filled life. We are grateful for his typically Australian character that was resilient, generous, caring and lots of fun. We acknowledge his many contributions and we raise a cup of 'shady tea' in his honour.
1993 - Len with family and friends at the new Neale Junction signpost.