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The Woomera rocket range

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Thank you to everyone who has read or contributed to The Bucket during the last 5  years, especially Snowy who encouraged me from the very beginning and introduced me to the following exquisite video about happiness , thankfulness and appreciating this wonderful world in which we live.    Take care of yourself, others, and the planet.

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It must be that I am an unrecognised and untapped keg of astute political potential. An unhatched egg of statesmanship, just waiting to be sat upon for 28 days by some warm maternal stateswoman before I hatch into a consummate fully-fledged featherer of my own nest.

Sir Robert Menzies was Australia’s longest serving Prime Minister.  His bushy eyebrows reigned imperiously and paternally over my generation of baby boomers during the 1950’s and beyond.
Menzies and I have something very important in common.

We both issued identical public statements.

“I did but see her passing by, and yet I’ll love her till I die.”

Menzies grovelled this to the Mother Country in 1954 after Queen Elizabeth’s first royal visit to Australia.

Queen

Some time later, coincidentally and auspiciously, I came out with the same phrase in appreciation of the following, although etymological nit-pickers could perhaps technically argue that I arrived at the word ‘love’ after a slightly less rigorous thought process than Menzies.

So now we’ve established conclusively that Sir Robert and Sir (potentially) GOF are really just two peas in the same leadership pod.
Except that he is dead and to the best of my knowledge I’m not.

Therefore I am a Prime Ministerial time bomb just waiting to be detonated.

Be that as it may. Let’s now return to Menzies and the Woomera story.

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Sir Robert loved the Queen so much that he allowed her English subjects to come and test their nuclear weapons and fire their rockets in our Australian backyard instead of their own.
This was necessary because the only piece of vacant land in all of Great Britain, M.C.C. Lords, was occasionally being used for games of cricket, and radioactive explosions were deemed to be potentially detrimental to both the hallowed turf and spectator attendance.

map4

This establishment in South Australia was originally named the Woomera Test Facilty but was eventually given a name change. Something to do with an embarrassing anagram, so it became the Woomera Test Range, but I think it should remain WTF forever.

1. WTF was the Government of the day thinking by ever allowing nuclear testing at Maralinga in this pristine albeit remote environment.

2. WTF were they thinking by gathering unprotected men together on top of a sandhill to watch the atomic blasts for the purpose of shooting publicity films. “Just to be safe boys, backs facing the blast, but then immediately turn around to watch the pretty mushroom cloud.”

3. WTF was the unconscionable disregard for the traditional aboriginal landowners, many of whom suffered the consequences of downwind nuclear fallout.

When the nuclear nonsense ended, Woomera was used to test-fire missiles. Skylarks, Black Knights and Europas. Like naughty little boys playing with gunpowder rockets in the backyard, debris came crashing back to earth causing annoyance to the neighbours……in this case, a handful of broad-acre pastoralists.

In response, the Government supplied each farmer with a ‘bomb shelter’ in which to safely hide, along with advance notification of missile test-firing schedules.

Woomera rocket shelter

In the words of one pastoralist;

“These ******* shelters provided an excellent ******* cellar in which to store food, wine and machinery spare parts, as well as being a perfect viewing platform.  We would grab a beer and sit on top of the ******* shelter and watch all the ******* rockets whizzing overhead.”

The laconic Aussie outback spirit was alive and well back then.

It still is.

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P.S.  Woomera is now a tourist attraction. The National Missile Park.

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About GOF

"Life is like a sewer. What you get out of it, depends upon what you put into it." (Tom Lehrer)

43 responses »

  1. Interesting! Nice that it’s no longer in use for blowing things up!

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  2. I wonder if people live in them?

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  3. No offense but when I finally drive the sportwagon over land and sea to visit, I don’t care to visit the irradiated park. I can have some ####### wine (my term for whiskey) on your stoop instead! Or cidre cos I’m open-minded.

    The Genius behind bombing native lands reminds me of our own Yucca Mountain. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yucca_Mountain_nuclear_waste_repository

    IMO one of the better Obama admin decisions.

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    • You don’t want to become a glow-in-the-dark Lily? C’mon, then you won’t need a flashlight to find your way around at night time. 🙂
      Wine on the stoop sounds like a much better idea.

      Thanks for the link. I’ve seen documentaries on this facility.
      Australia has also gone through phases of offering the rest of the world a nuclear waste repository in our arid deserts, without much thought for how it might affect the underground aquifers.

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      • I believe nuclear energy is our ‘best’ yet but I’m also wary of it. If one can use wind or solar, that’s the answer. Unfortunately, we don’t have those as options in many areas.

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        • I’m an advocate for nuclear generation, too – masses of output for a tiny amount of input once the plant is built (and since the ’40s we have apparently only accumulated 10tonnes of waste – which I find hard to believe, especially if it’s globally. I think someone may have been talking out of their bottom when they shared that one in the pub!). They’re mad on windfarms in my part of the world to the point of massively subsidising (pretty much to the exclusion of all other possibilities) the great save-us-all “green” energy. However, they are a blight on the landscape, grossly inefficient, a hazard to navigation and radar coverage when planted offshore and the mining and production methods for the magnets in the alternators is an environmental abomination. Which is probably why we get the Chinese make them for us…

          Oh, and they rely on the wind. The famous British climate is notorious in this regard; there’s either not enough wind or too much of it. Either way, on a typical day you can pass a windfarm and one, maybe two, will be turning. If you’re lucky (or unlucky if you live near enough to be subject to the whup-whup-whup noise).

          So, when all our eggs are finally in the wind basket and we’re all sat here in the dark nursing our last candle until the shop opens in the morning and our beer’s warm because we’ve no power due to the weather being nice or blowing a hooley we’ll sleep easy confident in the knowledge that we’re not buggering the planet. Except in China where they’re mining minerals to make turbo-alternators…

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          • Thanks for that comprehensive summary Simon. I never knew about the magnet-making process. I quite like wind generators as a photographic opportunity, but apparently it is unpleasant living nearby. Most of Australia’s wind gens are located in areas of low population density. I agree with your inefficiency argument. I home-built one many years ago…..loved the sound of the ‘whoosh-whoosh’ when it actually worked, but it spent most of it’s time swinging around trying to face into the flukey winds. In the end it got struck by lightning. 😦

            As we survive here without a connection to mains electricity I’ll let everybody else debate the broader issue.

            A nice little home nuclear power unit would be nice if you’d ever like to send me a Christmas present. 🙂

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        • From an Australian point of view we have vast solar energy potential, but perhaps it will need to operate hand in hand with nuclear to cover the base-load/night-time demand which to date solar is incapable of handling.

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          • I guess there’s something to be said for having your own genny. I wonder how we ever coped without concious awareness of the electron? Our main problem is that our main parties have no real energy policy – with the added bonus of being ordered by the EU to build windfarms and close coal-fired power stations and nowt else. They’ve dithered over nuclear whilst France has soared ahead to the point where we went and laid some cables across the Channel so we could buy power from them. I reckon five or six modern nuclear plants would sort our needs and then some – and without the blight on the landscape or the degrading of our early-warning radar coverage. Or the intermittent issue. Photovoltaics are far less intrusive, at least from ground level and afar, being flatish but still require vast tracts of otherwise unspoiled land. It’s a bit of a Catch-22, isn’t it? To save the environment you have to destroy it!!

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            • I guess we have more than our share of ‘vast tracts’ of cloudless land to instal solar whereas you don’t have that luxury. I’d not realised you were connected to France electrically…that certainly is a concern. The Aus Govt is reluctant to threaten the future of our coal producers because they contribute so much to money to the economy.
              You’re right. There’s always going to be environmental tradeoffs whatever we do.

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  4. Getting sat on by a “warm maternal stateswoman” wouldn’t be as fun as being sat on by the 1982 version of Elle …

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    • or indeed by the 2013 version of Elle. At my age I can’t expect youthful egg-sitters. Plus Inga’s Law probably still applies, even to my embryonic activities.

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  5. I completely reject your claims of enacting a less rigorous thought process behind your testament to love than Menzies. From the video you’ve provided it appears that you’ve at least taken the opportunity to fully inspect the object of your desire. I bet Menzies never saw Liz in anywhere near as much detail as you’ve seen Elle. And yet, he dares to claim the same depth of affection as you do for Elle? Outrageous. The audacity. It’s almost as if he’d just give his heart to anyone. At least your reasons reach as far as skin deep.

    (If it’s worth anything, I apologise for the arrogance of my countrymen for spoiling your beautiful country with our nuclear testing. If we really needed to do such a thing I’m sure we must own some remote island some place that would be better suited. Governments eh? What a bunch of dic….)

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    • You know Lance, it’s appreciative, intelligent and perceptive people like you who raise the bar of this blog discussion. I did indeed conduct exhaustive research before declaring my ‘love’ for Elle. One can only suspect that Menzies did not have such a body of evidence available to him before he made his statement, although one never knows what goes on behind closed diplomatic doors.

      Whilst I appreciate your generous apology on behalf of Great Britain, it is surely not your responsibility to do so, and I would like to reciprocate by apologising for Rolf Harris, Kylie Minogue, and the Neighbours television program.

      Reply
  6. And another place to visit goes onto my bucket list.

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    • Hopefully down the bottom of your bucket list Elyse, unless you too would like to glow in the dark.

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      • On our honeymoon, John and I saw an advertisement for a tourist destination: Open Pit Asbestos Mining.” I’m not making that up. I wish we had visited just so we could tell the story. Of course, I’d be dead by now had we gone, but still ..

        And GOF, I’ve always glowed in the dark.

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        • Good decision not to visit the asbestos mine Elyse. There was once a large asbestos mine in outback Western Australia which of course no longer operates because so many employees died from mesothelioma. A couple of hardy/stupid souls decided to keep living in the otherwise abandoned township near the mine.

          And of course you glow 24/7. How silly of me to make a comment like that. 🙂

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      • As a subject of Mother England (although not a prisoner thereof and a child of the ’70s before any of your more, er, forthright countrymen decide to launch into a tirade of references to Pommie b*****d! in retaliation for the aforementioned irradiating activities) I would tender that if Elyse were to obtain a lead bucket then therein may lie a solution to her finding herself glowing any more than she already does by her own natural radiance.

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        • We sent Dennis Lillee and Shane Warne to England to exact revenge for any previous miscreant behaviour Simon. I’ll not tolerate any further verbal action against your country by my Australian readers.

          There might be a market opportunity for lead bucket sales (and lead codpieces) if nuclear power proliferates in the future.

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          • It has to be said that, all supposed appearances to the contrary, I do not suffer from colonial guilt in the slightest. I wasn’t even thought of by the time we gave up control of our last empire-based possession so it clearly wasn’t my fault! [Applies fresh coat of Teflon to shoulders].

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            • And that’s the appropriate response for you. Similarly whilst I am sympathetic to the plight of the aboriginal people of Australia and appalled at the treatment they received from the European ‘invaders’, I don’t see why I should shoulder any personal guilt.

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  7. I still remember the dust cloud from the bomb tests that the upper atmosphere wind carried over my little town in outback Queensland. I also remember the newspaper article where “scientists” assured us there was no danger from radiation.

    A mate of mine was one of the unfortunates who witnessed the bomb tests. Last I heard he was using a walking stick to get around. Maybe no connection, but I do wonder.

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    • That’s an extraordinary if not precious memory Snowy. It’s not a part of our history that we should take too much pride in. I had a cousin who was one of the scientists working on the top secret rocket project, but haven’t heard if he survived the radiation.

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    • The powers-that-be didn’t have any qualms about abusing it’s more immediate citizens, either:-
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2004/may/06/science.research

      Colonial attitudes of the time were less enlightened and considerably more arrogant which in no way excuses our behaviour but it just goes to show how human progress, development and the furthering of knowledge overcomes even the most stupid. Usually…

      Not that this in any way mitigates the wrongness of taking a pristine wilderness environment (I’m definitely a wide-open-spaces country boy!) in someone else’s backyard and bombing the hell out of it with all sorts of nastiness. Fortunately, these days attitudes on high are – well, I was going to say “more enlightened” but I’m not sure that’s the case in a wider context. Let’s say “different” and leave it at that as I am minded to think that the pendulum has swung far too far in the other direction where certain policies of the 21st century HMG are concerned.

      The US did similar things during and subsequent to the Manhatten Project but at least they had the good grace to do it in their own back yard, as it were (although they did go on to be the only nation to actually drop a warshot – twice. Well, right up until Uncle Kim gets his act together, that is). Then again, the UK doesn’t really have a back yard in that context, being that tiny but stubborn and bloody-minded lump of rock acting as a thorn in the side of Europe. Although I suppose we could have used Scotland. It would have solved the West Lothian Question decades before it came up!

      Nowadays we seem to just have to put up with the French turning pristine Pacific atoll-based habitats into vast craters, although I think international pressure has even put a crimp in that. Then again, the briefest glance at European history will tell you exactly where the average Anglo-Saxon sits when it comes to the French, so…

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      • You’re right Simon. I’ve thought a lot about Menzies behaviour since writing this piece and I’m sure that had I been PM at the time I would have made the same decision. We all seem to be carried along in life with the momentum of whatever social values apply at the time of our birth, regardless of whether those values are honourable or morally flawed. It takes special people to stand up and make corrections to a society’s moral direction.

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        • Indeed. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing but unfortunately even the most infallible human being is bereft of the ability to see clearly, if at all, into the future. During the war* it seemed the height of common sense to dust a Scottish island with anthrax. It wasn’t until a few years ago, and with much intervention, that it was finally deemed safe for habitation again. But only by sheep…

          * Not so long ago I mentioned the war in reference to the experiences of my ex-Desert Rat grandfather and my much younger sister said, “Which one? Falklands, Balkans, Iraq or Afghanistan…?” which made me realise that we’ve been busy poking our noses, and our rifle muzzles, into so many other peoples arguments in recent decades that, for the younger generation at least, reference to “the war” does not necessarily hold it’s traditional connotation of referring exclusively to WW2. I would thus take this opportunity to clarify that I am, in this instance, referring to “the war” when I make mention of the term, “the war.”

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          • Indeed. If all nations utilised their military solely for border defence and civil assistance then we wouldn’t need any military. Now, it was definitely the chicken that came first. Or maybe the egg. No – definitely the chicken,,, [Lies down in darkened room].

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  8. I think they still regarded the country as Terra Nullius. Who would give a rats about convicts and Abos (language of the day) back then?

    Very nearly got stranded at Woomera Rocket Range. Must do a blog post on it soon.

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    • The politicians brains were terra bloody nullius Pete, and still attached to the royal umbilical cord.

      Look forward to your story…..it’s pretty inhospitable country to get stranded in……well I’ve never actually been any closer than the channel country in SW Queensland, and that’s a rather harsh environment in summer.

      Reply

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