is a small, remote, Australian Defence Force (ADF) Base servicing the RAAF Woomera Test Range in the far north-west pastoral region of South Australia. The base lies within the bounds of the Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA) and is managed by Defence Support & Reform Group (DSRG) for the Royal Australian Air Force, who manage the whole Woomera Range Complex.
"Woomera Village" as it has been unofficially known since its establishment in 1947 as the domestic support base for the Woomera Test Range (formerly the Woomera Rocket Range), is situated in the south-east corner of the WPA. The WPA covers most of South Australia's North-West Outback Pastoral Region, and the defined area of the WPA forms the essential ground area of the Range Complex.
The Range, today, is much smaller than it was in 1947, but still covers one-seventh of the State of South Australia. Although there are now several major mines established within the WPA, the Woomera support base is the only permanently established 'township' facility in the WPA. The WPA, which covers an area of just under 124,000sqkm - or an area roughly one and half times the size of Scotland or similar in area to the US State of New York, is the world's largest land-based instrumented defence systems test and evaluation range facility..
|Woomera (IATA: UMR ICAO: YPWR)
Officially, the village area is referred to as the 'Support Base Precinct' of the RAAF Woomera Test Range Complex, and like the RAAF Base Point Cook in Victoria, this part of the complex also remains open to public access. This is principally so that tourists can access the significant historical displays and museums which cover the range's air and space activities since its establishment in 1947. At the Woomera Heritage Centre, there are also displays covering the Indigenous and Pioneer heritage of the region. In particular, there is a dedicated section on Len Beadell who became something of an outback legend as an army surveyor (1947 - 1948) and road builder (1953 - 1963). There is also a memorial cairn for Len Beadell and his wife Anne in the nearby Woomera Cemetery.
Woomera Village was originally established as a restricted access Defence Establishment in 1947, and for the same reason it exists today - to support activities on the Range. During the Range's rocket-testing heyday, the entire complex was administered by the Long Range Weapons Establishment (LRWE) under the terms of the 'Anglo-Australian Joint Project'. LRWE was based at Salisbury to the north of Adelaide city, the site now occupied by DSTO, for which the LRWE was the initial organisation..
There are a considerable number of warning signs across the range and on public access roads throughout the WPA warning travellers not to leave those routes without the permission of the Department of Defence. Since the beginning of 2012, the RAAF has also established, in conjunction with the South Australian Police, regular patrols of all roads and sites across the WPA to ensure public safety, particularly during periods when Range activities necessitate the closure of public access roadways and other easements (such at the main trunk railway line to Darwin).
Construction of Woomera Village began in mid-1947 to cater for thousands of people moving there as part of the Anglo-Australian Project. The project lasted for 34 years and saw Woomera become one of the most secret allied establishments in operation during the Cold War. During its heyday (1949–71), the village population reached around 7,000. However, by the end of the 1960s the Anglo-Australian Joint Project was rapidly winding down following the UK Government's reduction in further experimental work..
Historically, for both Woomera and Australia, following the end of the Anglo-Australian Joint Project no further development occurred to make use of the technologies, skills and knowledge gained while the Project was operating. Australia became the fourth nation in the world to build and place in orbit a satellite from its own territory (WRESAT), that was the height, and end, of Australia's foray into space activities using its own purpose built facility at Lake Hart (the Eldo site at Launch Area 6 of the Range). These launchers (there were two, and a third never completed) are now a relic of the Range's significant history of space-based activities. These two old launchers still tower over ten stories high over the inland Lake Hart dry salt lake, but are also a mute testament to Australia's once renowned position in space research and development. That former position, however, was recognised in 2007 with the unveiling of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) plaque commemorating Woomera's induction into the AIAA hall of fame. A distinction that placed Woomera's contribution to aerospace history and development on a par with Kitty Hawk (site of the first heavier than air controlled flight), and the Sea of Tranquility on the Moon (site of the first inter-planetary landing by humans)..
Woomera village today
The population of Woomera is about 150-200 permanent residents. However, this number can quadruple with the passage of personnel moving in and out of the base as part of range trials activities. 40 years ago the people who conducted the trials also lived at Woomera, however, with modern communications technology only the people who provide the range support services now need to live at Woomera. Annually, a total of about 5000 people deploy to Woomera to conduct tests, trials and training activities at the WTR.
The management of the Range's infrastructure is the responsibility of Defence Support and Reform Group (DSRG), but the Woomera Board is a long-standing and integral part of the base's local support network. The Woomera Board is composed of five elected members from the village's permanent residents, and four members who are appointed by the current Base Support Manager. The aim of the Woomera Board is to build the sense of community, given its remote location. The Board also prints a weekly news letter - the'Gibber Gabber' ..
The base is located in the Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA) and it is an RAAF establishment. However, similar to the RAAF Base at Point Cook, Woomera is open to the visiting public. Non-Defence visitors to Woomera are able to stay at the 'Eldo Hotel' which offers 400 beds in a varying range of formats. The hotel reception, including the 'Oasis' bar and restaurant, is located in the former 'Eldo' administration facility. Rooms are generally located close to the main hotel facility and some blocks have names such as 'Redstone", 'Black Knight', 'Blue Steel' and 'Skylark' - all former rocket or missile systems once tested at Woomera. The nearby 'Traveller's Village Caravan Park' is a privately operated venture centered around the old 'senior ranks mess' facility at the entrance to the base from the main road. It mostly services the motorhome and backpacker travellers passing through Woomera.
Woomera's attractions include the Woomera National Aerospace and Missile Park, located in the centre of the village. This park features missiles and rockets that were developed and tested at Woomera over the last 60 years, as well as a number of aircraft which were used in trials at Woomera. The Woomera Heritage Centre, which was the former recreation centre for USAF personnel and their families from Nurrungar, features a cafe, a tenpin bowling alley (which was installed by the US Air Force personnel in the 1970s and is still in good working order), a modern interactive display and interpretive centre covering the full life of the Range, a souvenir shop, and a significant display of regional history. This display also features the story of legendary Len Beadell, the famous surveyor who laid out the original range across vast tracts of the Australian Outback stretching from Woomera to the North-West coast of Western Australia. Next to Missile Park, there is a museum featuring range artifacts and the activities and people who lived and worked at Woomera in the early years. This museum is located in one of four former churches which existed in Woomera. Other attractions include a movie theatre (but movie screenings may be infrequent), swimming centre, a well stocked general store and bottle shop, along with two main clubs which offer counter meals on a Thursday (RSL Club) and Friday (Sports Club) nights. Woomera is a haven for observing and understanding Australia's desert flora and fauna, and there is an observatory which operates one night a week or by appointment..