Suicidal Emus and Rockets Galore


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Oceania » Australia » South Australia » Woomera
October 9th 2014
Published: October 20th 2014
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Lake Hart and the Long TrainLake Hart and the Long TrainLake Hart and the Long Train

This freight train came through on the Ghan Line just after dawn. It has two engines in the front and you can see the end of the train around the bend as it circles the salt lake.
I got up at 6.45am to see if the sunrise over the salt in Lake Hart would be any more colourful than the sunset last night. There was some colour but it still wasn’t very strong, disappointingly.

After breakfast, we packed up ready to leave and I was in the process of lifting one of the blocks we use to level the van when Barry’s hold on the brake slipped. I just managed to get my fingers out in time for them not to be squashed as the weight of the wheel came back onto it. I normally try to slide them out as I have always been worried about working between the two sets of wheels but the ground was soft and stony and one had got stuck. I was extremely reluctant to do it a second time but we can’t go anywhere without removing them so I had no choice.

We finally got underway and headed for Spud’s Roadhouse at Pimba, which is the junction where we turn off the Stuart Highway and go towards Woomera. Right on the corner as we turned I saw a male emu with a large group of chicks grazing alongside the
Suicidal Emu FamilySuicidal Emu FamilySuicidal Emu Family

This is just part of the group of baby emus that were being looked after by this male. Some had already crossed the Stuart Highway and this lot strolled over in front of a road train!
road. Barry needed fuel so he went into Spud’s and I walked back to take some photos of the emus. I kept well back so I didn’t spook them but then I noticed that four of the chicks were on the other side of the Highway. As I watched I was horrified to see the rest of them begin to stroll over the road, where traffic travels at 130kph. A blue car heading north saw them and slowed right down then, I realised that a triple B truck was approaching on the southward side. These vehicles are very heavy and don’t generally slow down or deviate for wildlife as it could cause them to skid, hence the many kangaroo bodies all along the highways.

I waited for the massacre with my heart in my mouth. Then, to my huge amazement, the triple began to slow down gently and almost came to a stop, which gave most of the group time to cross safely. Then both vehicles moved on. The last four stragglers crossed just after they’d disappeared over their respective horizons and before any others arrived. It was truly a miracle that they didn’t get killed. They obviously have
Model of the Launch Area at Lake HartModel of the Launch Area at Lake HartModel of the Launch Area at Lake Hart

The actual launch area no longer exists as it was deconstructed in the early 1970s, but it was located at the far end of the lake from where we camped. I think this was where the Redstone rocket carrying WRESAT, Australia's first home-made satellite, was launched
no road sense whatsoever and I just hope they continue to move into the bush and don’t try crossing back again later.

With my heart back in place and a huge sigh of relief I went back to join Barry and continue our journey, unfortunately now with a head wind again. We made it to Woomera and stopped at the Tourism Centre for a coffee which turned into lunch at the Outback Diner on the premises. We then walked across the road to have a look at the large outdoor display of some of the rockets and missiles that had been tested and launched at the Rocket Ranges since 1947, when Britain first started using the site experimenting.

Most of those displayed were complete but some had been used and looked the worse for wear. One in particular, a Redstone Rocket, was in bits in a large cage. This had been donated by the USA when it was left over after their experiments with the type. Australia used it to launch their first home-built satellite, WRESAT, into space in 1967. The rocket debris lay in the desert until 1990 when Dick Smith sponsored and organised a group of
Rockets at WoomeraRockets at WoomeraRockets at Woomera

These rockets are just part of the display of rockets and missiles sitting in the centre of Woomera. These types were all tested on the ranges here.
volunteers to retrieve the pieces as he felt it was an important part of our history and should be preserved.

The promised drop in wind strength had still not occurred so we next went into the Heritage Museum. Inside there was a really good model of the launch point, which is now completely gone except for some concrete foundations (luckily it was finished before the site was removed!). There were also displays of the emergency services that had operated in the area, showing their uniforms and equipment, plus some uniforms of the personnel who served at the bases. A few of the servicemen and their wives had also collected a wide range of mineral specimens and fossils of wood, leaves and seeds from around the area, especially at Island Lagoon.

Back at the reception desk we got talking to the lady who was going through a large pile of very old-looking newsletters, the Gibber Gabber, looking for any records of births. It seems some people have come in to ask about family members and official records were not as complete as they could have been. While she was looking she kept coming across little jokes or funny pieces
The Mundine RocketThe Mundine RocketThe Mundine Rocket

This nose cone was padded to protect the scientific satellite it carried. The parachute to soften the landing on re-entry was stored below the nose.
of news so, despite what was a tedious task, she found enjoyment in it and shared a couple with us. She also told us that the Woomera Rocket Range and Township had been prohibited areas until 1982, with only authorised personnel allowed anywhere near it. Family members living in the town had little idea what was going on at the ranges, which then covered 270,000km2. There is still a prohibited area but it is much smaller. The township itself has been open for visitors since ’82 but only those working for the army or government or who have contracts for specific jobs are allowed to live in the town.

With the wind still not co-operating, we then went back to the Visitors Centre and decided to see the Rocket Museum again (we’d had a limited time to see it on our Lake Eyre Tour). There were good displays and lots of photos of the various rockets and how and when they were launched, some looking very primitive in the early days. One group of women had been employed to observe the flights of missiles visually seated on a strange looking telescope which moved on a circular bed. They had
The Cudgee Bar, Woomera Caravan Park.The Cudgee Bar, Woomera Caravan Park.The Cudgee Bar, Woomera Caravan Park.

This is how it looks by day. The front opens up at night with the bar inside and drinkers sitin the fenced area.
to manually move the lenses to follow the flight paths. It must have taken amazing skill.

This time we were able to spend time watching the short videos that were dotted about the displays, showing actual footage of the launches of the various rockets and missiles we had learned about. It was all very interesting.

Another video we saw in the shop gave some of the history of Len Beadell, who had been the surveyor who originally mapped out where the ranges should be and where the town could be located. This was only a small part of his amazing life, though, and he had written some books and made the video about some of his adventures in the outback. They were rather expensive so we didn’t buy them but I want to see if they are available at the library when we get back home to Melbourne. They should make fascinating reading.

By this time it was getting late in the afternoon so we decided we’d better stay for the night and checked into the only place visitors could stay, the Woomera Travellers Village and Caravan Park. This was not the happiest experience we’ve had. The
White-plumed HoneyeaterWhite-plumed HoneyeaterWhite-plumed Honeyeater

This little bird was just sitting in a tree near the Post Office in Woomera.
woman at reception had walked over from another part of the site and was very short with us. She told us where we would be sited and then came to give very rude directions for Barry to follow, ending up with us much too close to a tree, which would make exiting difficult tomorrow. They had plenty of room and that late in the day they were highly unlikely to fill the rest of the sites. We then used the toilets, which were so small you couldn’t close the stall door unless you squeezed yourself next to the bowl. The showers, too, were ridiculously small and I kept knocking my elbows as I washed myself, often making the taps change so I spent as much time readjusting the temperature as I did washing myself! There was nowhere for your clothes either.

The one good thing they did have was the “Cudgee Bar”, which was basically a tin shed with a small patio (not much shade) that had a few tables and chairs on it. The shed was the licensed bar that could be closed and locked up during the day. We sat down at a table with a tiny bit of shade and tried to both fit in it. A man at the next table with much more shade invited us to join the group. They were all very friendly and we had a lovely time chatting with them. The man who had invited us (tattooed all over his arms and chest) and his neighbour were passing through on the way to Roxby Downs to work on a maintenance contract, from out of Port Augusta. It was the furthest north he’d been and he wasn’t really looking forward to it. The other two were an elderly man and his son, who seemed barely in his early twenties, who were travelling around looking for work. It seemed as if his whole life had been on the road living a hand to mouth existence. He’d joined the army but was still waiting to hear if they had a place for him in his chosen fields, then he’d start the training. He was very enthusiastic but he seemed quite naïve and I wonder how he’ll cope in the services.

It finally got too dark and something started biting so we headed back to the van for dinner, the last of the vegetable stew, much to Barry’s relief. We hope the wind is better tomorrow so we can get to Andamooka.

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