Woomera, South Australia
The town, or village, of Woomera is located in the south east corner of the Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA); colloquially known as the Woomera Rocket Range. Established as a restricted access township in 1947, Woomera Defence Village is an Australian Defence Force
Australian Defence Force
The Australian Defence Force is the military organisation responsible for the defence of Australia. It consists of the Royal Australian Navy , Australian Army, Royal Australian Air Force and a number of 'tri-service' units...

 (ADF) facility supporting the Royal Australian Air Force
Royal Australian Air Force
The Royal Australian Air Force is the air force branch of the Australian Defence Force. The RAAF was formed in March 1921. It continues the traditions of the Australian Flying Corps , which was formed on 22 October 1912. The RAAF has taken part in many of the 20th century's major conflicts...

 (RAAF) Woomera Test Range
Woomera Test Range
The RAAF Woomera Test Range is a weapons testing range operated by the Royal Australian Air Force Aerospace Operational Support Group...

 (WTR) which, today, is used to evaluate military and civilian missile, ordnance, and aerospace systems. Woomera is in the 'outback' desert area of South Australia
South Australia
South Australia is a state of Australia in the southern central part of the country. It covers some of the most arid parts of the continent; with a total land area of , it is the fourth largest of Australia's six states and two territories.South Australia shares borders with all of the mainland...

, approximately 488 kilometres (303.2 mi) north of Adelaide
Adelaide is the capital city of South Australia and the fifth-largest city in Australia. Adelaide has an estimated population of more than 1.2 million...

. An easement through the WPA allows public transit on the Trans-Australian Railway
Trans-Australian Railway
The Trans-Australian Railway crosses the Nullarbor Plain of Australia from Port Augusta in South Australia to Kalgoorlie in Western Australia...

, The Ghan, and the Stuart Highway
Stuart Highway
The Stuart Highway is one of Australia's major highways. It is a segment of Australia's Highway 1 extending from Darwin, Northern Territory, in the north, via Tennant Creek and Alice Springs, to Port Augusta, South Australia, in the south—a distance of...

. Travellers are prohibited from leaving these routes. In 1982 restrictions on public access to Woomera township were lifted, allowing the town to develop as a tourist destination, while maintaining its support role for the WTR.


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 30 years and saw Woomera become one of the most secret allied bases established during the Cold War. During its heyday (1949–69), the village population reached around 7,000. However, by the end of the 1960s the Anglo-Australian Project was rapidly winding down following the UK Government's dwindling interest in further experimental work. Additionally, and in the absence of any long-term plans for Woomera by the Australian Government, the test-range elements of Woomera were destined for a long period of withering – despite some passionate forward thinking by a small number of nationalistic visionaries about what Australia should be doing for itself in air and space research and development.

For both Woomera and Australia, there was no vision from the politicians at the time to continue development in such technologies, and the continued use of the purpose built facility. The two (and a third never completed) historic old 'Eldo'
European Launcher Development Organisation
The European Launcher Development Organisation was a multinational consortium formed in the 1960s to build an indigenous European space launch vehicle, Europa....

 rocket launch sites at Lake Hart, towering ten stories high over the northern side of this inland dry salt lake, are now mute testament to Australia's once renowned position in space research and development that once saw Woomera as second only to Cape Canaveral
Cape Canaveral
Cape Canaveral, from the Spanish Cabo Cañaveral, is a headland in Brevard County, Florida, United States, near the center of the state's Atlantic coast. Known as Cape Kennedy from 1963 to 1973, it lies east of Merritt Island, separated from it by the Banana River.It is part of a region known as the...

 in the number of annual rocket and missile launches.

Origin of the Name

The name 'Woomera' was suggested by Group Captain Alfred Pither of the RAAF and subsequently chosen by the Board of the Long Range Weapons Establishment in April 1947. The new town was established on Commonwealth land procured for the purpose, and named after the Aboriginal spear throwing implement the woomera
Woomera (spear-thrower)
A woomera is an Australian Aboriginal spear-throwing device used for when there is a greater distance to be overcome. It is highly efficient and made of wood. Similar to an atlatl, it enables a spear to travel much further than by arm strength alone...

 which extends the range a spear can be thrown. During the 1960s, over 7,000 people lived and worked at Woomera and at Koolymilka campsite near RangeHead, approximately 42 kilometres (26.1 mi) west of Woomera village within the Woomera Prohibited Area.

Deep Space Station 41

During the early 1960s, Woomera participated in the Mercury
Project Mercury
In January 1960 NASA awarded Western Electric Company a contract for the Mercury tracking network. The value of the contract was over $33 million. Also in January, McDonnell delivered the first production-type Mercury spacecraft, less than a year after award of the formal contract. On February 12,...

 and Gemini space program
Project Gemini
Project Gemini was the second human spaceflight program of NASA, the civilian space agency of the United States government. Project Gemini was conducted between projects Mercury and Apollo, with ten manned flights occurring in 1965 and 1966....

s. Specialised tracking and communications stations were set up at Red Lake about 50 km (31.1 mi) north of Woomera and at Mirikata about 200 km (124.3 mi) west of Woomera. These stations also played an important part in the first Moon landing mission
Apollo 11
In early 1969, Bill Anders accepted a job with the National Space Council effective in August 1969 and announced his retirement as an astronaut. At that point Ken Mattingly was moved from the support crew into parallel training with Anders as backup Command Module Pilot in case Apollo 11 was...

. However, one of the most significant facilities installed by the United States was the nearby, and highly specialised, 'Deep Space Station 41' (DSS-41). This facility was constructed at the edge of Island Lagoon about 25 km (15.5 mi) south of Woomera and was directly supported from the Woomera Defence Village. DSS-41 played a role in the 'race for space' from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s when the main tracking systems were dismantled and returned to the United States. While none of the DSS-41 facility exists, the roadworks and building sites for this historic facility can still be seen.

Nurrungar Project

In 1969, as the Anglo-Australia Project was winding down, the United States Air Force
United States Air Force
The United States Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the American uniformed services. Initially part of the United States Army, the USAF was formed as a separate branch of the military on September 18, 1947 under the National Security Act of...

 (USAF) began construction and installation of the Nurrungar Joint Tracking Facility. This facility was located approximately 18 kilometres (11.2 mi) south of Woomera. Over the next 30 years, this project ensured the maintenance of Woomera village infrastructure, with improvements and modernisation of facilities. During the period of operations, around 1,100 USAF and ADF personnel and their families were accommodated at Woomera, and the population was around 4,000.

The New Era of Woomera

When the Nurrungar Project came to an end in 1999, the future of the village looked bleak. However, the RAAF was set to take over the range following a long-term study of Defence needs through to 2035, which found that the Woomera Test Range was the only test and evaluation range left in the western world capable of testing the next generation of ADF defence systems within its land borders – and it could be utilised all year round given its climatic advantages. Additionally, the Federal Government decided to establish several immigration detention centres
Australian immigration detention facilities
Australian immigration detention facilities comprise a number of different facilities throughout Australia and one on the Australian territory of Christmas Island. They are used to house people who are detained under Australia’s policy of mandatory detention and previously under the now defunct...

 around the country to deal with a growing number of asylum seekers
A refugee is a person who outside her country of origin or habitual residence because she has suffered persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or because she is a member of a persecuted 'social group'. Such a person may be referred to as an 'asylum seeker' until...

 arriving by sea, and Woomera was chosen as a site for such a facility.

The establishment of the Woomera Immigration Detention Centre
Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing Centre
The Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing Centre was an Australian immigration detention facility near the village of Woomera in South Australia. It was opened in November 1999 in response to an increase in unauthorised arrivals, which had exceeded the capacity of other detention facilities...

 in 1999, through the refurbishment of the original Woomera Village construction camp at 'Woomera West', eventually brought in new permanent staff (as the Nurrungar people were leaving) to settle and maintain the village population at around 1,200. The immigration detention centre, however, proved to be a highly controversial facility and it closed in early 2003 after only about 36 months of operation, at which point the land and buildings were handed back to the Defence Department.

Camp Rapier

Following the closure of the Immigration Detention Centre, and the return of the site to the ADF, Woomera West was redesigned, altered, and re-established as a secure Defence garrison support facility and renamed 'Camp Rapier'. It is now frequently used by the Australian Army
Australian Army
The Australian Army is Australia's military land force. It is part of the Australian Defence Force along with the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force. While the Chief of Defence commands the Australian Defence Force , the Army is commanded by the Chief of Army...

 and squadrons of the RAAF's Airfield Defence Guards
Airfield Defence Guards
The Airfield Defence Guard mustering of the Royal Australian Air Force performs specialist ground defence tasks to protect air power assets from hostile ground action. The mustering is composed of non-commissioned members, commonly called 'ADGies,' most of whom are employed within an Airfield...

 as a base camp for specialised training and testing activities.


Post-2003, the village population stabilised at about 400. When the RAAF assumed operational command of Woomera in 1999, there was a marked increase in the number of 'temporary residents' associated with the conduct of test and evaluation activities on the range. Woomera Village (at 2009) is still the largest ADF domestic base support facility in Australia, and the village is open to public access (this occurred in 1982 once the Anglo-Australia Project had completely withdrawn from Woomera). There is a high visitation rate by tourists to view the 'National Missile Park' in the centre of town (which features aircraft, rockets, bombs and missiles covering the full period of the Range's operations), the 'Woomera Heritage Centre' (which features an introductory audio visual presentation and an interpretive gallery that tells the story of this historic site), and the 'Community Museum' that is maintained by the town's volunteer community board and which is located within the missile park precinct.

Generally, the residents of Woomera are Defence workers or contractors. There are no privately owned homes in the town although some are leased to agencies such as the Bureau of Meteorology. The facilities in the town include a gym, hotel ('ELDO' Hotel Woomera), swimming pool, hospital, picture theatre, school, the two museums and the famous missile park. There is also a large IGA Supermarket, a radio station, post office, bank, bowling alley and an active football sports club, Returned Services League and lawn bowls club.

In 2010 it was reported that BAE Australia based at Woomera tested the UK MOD Taranis
BAE Taranis
The BAE Systems Taranis is a British demonstrator program for Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle technology. A semi-autonomous unmanned warplane, it is designed to fly intercontinental missions, and will carry a variety of weapons, enabling it to attack both aerial and ground targets...

 UAV/UCAV aircraft.

World Historical Aerospace Site

In 2007, the Woomera Test Range was acknowledged by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics is the professional society for the field of aerospace engineering. The AIAA was founded in 1963 from the merger of two earlier societies: the American Rocket Society , founded in 1930 as the American Interplanetary Society , and the Institute...

 (AIAA) as a site of world aerospace historical significance.


Woomera has an arid climate with hot, dry summers and cool winters.

Woomera Village today

The population of Woomera is about 250 permanent residents. However, this number can triple with the passage of personnel moving in and out of the village as part of range trials activities. There is no need now to maintain the sort of numbers of people at Woomera that were there 40 years ago (about 6,000) because modern communications technology means that scientists can access test data gathered at Woomera from anywhere in the world.

The management of the village infrastructure is the responsibility of Defence Support Group (DSG), but the Woomera Board is a long-standing and integral part of the town's management structure. The Woomera Board is composed of five elected members from the town'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 that it has no established council or mayor. The voice of the Woomera community is expressed through the weekly 'Gibber Gabber' newsletter.

Woomera is owned and operated by the Australian Department of Defence, while remaining open to the visiting public. Non-Defence visitors to Woomera are able to stay at the 'Eldo Hotel' – a former officer's
Officer (armed forces)
An officer is a member of an armed force or uniformed service who holds a position of authority. Commissioned officers derive authority directly from a sovereign power and, as such, hold a commission charging them with the duties and responsibilities of a specific office or position...

 mess facility when it was a closed base – or the nearby 'Traveller's Village Caravan Park'.


Woomera's attractions include its historic aerospace site and the Woomera National Aerospace and Missile Park, located in the centre of town. It features missiles and rockets that were developed and tested at Woomera over the last 60 years, as well as a number of historic aircraft which were used in trials at Woomera. There is a visitors information and heritage interpretation centre as well as a museum which was formerly a recreation centre for USAF personnel and their families from Nurrungar. Other attractions include a movie theatre, a bowling alley, swimming centre, shops and stores, pubs and clubs. Woomera is also a haven for observing and understanding Australia's desert flora and fauna. The Woomera Marine Centre, which is located next to the Community Centre, offers an ironic attraction for the middle of a desert environment.

See also

  • British nuclear tests at Maralinga
    British nuclear tests at Maralinga
    British nuclear tests at Maralinga occurred between 1955 and 1963 at the Maralinga site, part of the Woomera Prohibited Area, in South Australia. A total of seven major nuclear tests were performed, with approximate yields ranging from 1 to 27 kilotons of TNT equivalent...

     (part of the Woomera Prohibited Area)
  • Skylark launch tower
    Skylark launch tower
    A Skylark tower is a tower used for the launch of earlier versions of Skylark rockets. As Skylark rockets have no guidance system and accelerate slowly, they require a safe launch tower with a height of at least 24 metres with a guidance system....

  • Woomera Airfield
    Woomera Airfield
    RAAF Woomera Airfield is an operational Royal Australian Air Force airfield located 4 km north of the Woomera Defence Village, in South Australia...

External links

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