March is Woomera month
Updated: Jan 14
"We're looking for someone to start a rocket range - er...or something...."
These were the words spoken to Len Beadell in 1947 by Colonel Fitzgerald, Director of the Australian Army Survey Corps. Len accepted the challenge and so began this story of surveying the Woomera Rocket Range and navigating and surviving in the Central Australian outback.
March 1947: The birth of Woomera
Len’s whole operation stemmed from the inception of the Woomera Rocket Range and the need for the large-scale surveys for the tracking instrumentation involved. The request came from General Sir John Evetts, who led the joint project.
Len who was then a Surveyor with the Australian Army, was to find a suitable place to establish this rocket range - and having done so, survey and establish roads across Australia so that instrument stations could be established along the rockets' likely trajectory so that the success (or otherwise) of the tests could be measured.
In March 1947 Len selected a site 500 km north Adelaide for a rocket range and future township.
In April 1947 the range was named ‘Woomera’ after the Aboriginal term for a spear thrower and the whole area was officially known as the Woomera Prohibited Area with restricted access due to the top secret rocket projects.
Len Beadell's drawing shows Major Wynne-Williams and Len choosing the name for Woomera 1947. Len's drawing comes from Outback Highways (copyright Beadell Family)
Connie Beadell on the birth of Woomera:
In March 1947, Len selected a site 500km north of Adelaide for a rocket range and future township. This story, from 'Still in the Bush' spans from the first survey conducted at Pearson's Hill to the tent city at Philip Ponds and to the new township of Woomera. It continues on to the development of a network of roads across Australia so that instrument stations could be established along the rockets' likely trajectory so that the success (or otherwise) of the tests could be measured.
One of the best known of these roads is the Gunbarrel Highway, which runs from near the Stuart Highway west to Carnegie Station, a distance of 1,500 km.
"After the initial period of planning, a couple of tents were erected outside Phillip Ponds and Len finally felt the huge program was finally underway. The date was 12 March 1947."
Len conducted a significant amount of observations whilst at The Ponds that would stand up to any test of time. Everything that Len would be doing for years to come would be directly connected with this starting point. The building of the framework to cover the whole area for hundreds of kilometres, would now be underway and would control the overall layout of a rocket range in Australia.
Memories of Woomera:
One Woomera resident, Margaret Rumble, has shared with us her favourite childhood memories of Len as he drove down Banool Ave in his big car giving any kids a ride. Ashtrays always had lollies in them. 'I am 72 years old now and have never forgotten.'