LEN BEADELL
The late Len Beadell is very much a part of the history of Woomera. He has also been referred to as the “last of the true Australian explorers”.

Born in Sydney in 1923, he showed an interest in surveying from the age of 12, under the guidance of his surveyor scoutmaster. His surveying career began with a military mapping project in northern New South Wales early in World War II before enlisting in the Army Survey Corps and serving in New Guinea until 1945.

Len Beadell and members of the Woomera survey team.While still in the Army after the war, Beadell accompanied the first combined scientific expedition of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) into the Alligator River country of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. There he used astronomical observations to fix the locations of discoveries.

After waiving his Army discharge for a further term, Beadell agreed in 1946 to carry out the initial surveys needed to establish the Woomera Rocket Range and the village. His initial job was to survey a suitable area for an airstrip to facilitate quick access and the first Dakota touched down on the temporary strip in June 1946. (At left, Len Beadell standing on the right and other members of the survey team next to the first peg driven to mark the position of Woomera's airstrip.)

MonumentThe initial survey of the village was conducted in 1947 with a memorial (at right) now commemorating the first peg placed in the soil by Beadell. The memorial to the founding of the village stands near the Woomera Theatre at the corner of Dewrang and Booromi Streets not far from the original marker. It was unveiled on Australia Day, 1967.

The decision to survey the rocket range led Beadell to a lifetime of camping, surveying, exploring and road making in the vast empty areas of Central Australia, opening up for the first time more than 2.5 million square kilometres of the Great Sandy, Gibson and Great Victoria Deserts.  He also chose the sites for the first atomic bomb trials at Emu and for the later atomic tests at Maralinga.

As Range Reconnaissance Officer at the Weapons Research Establishment, he was awarded the British Empire Medal in 1958 for his work in building the famous Gunbarrel Highway, which stretches 1,600 kilometres across Central Australia.

In 1987, he became a Fellow of the Institute of Engineering and Mining Surveyors (Aust.). In the same year, astronomers at the Mount Palomar Observatory in California honoured him by naming a newly-discovered asteroid after him in recognition of the
road network he created which made access possible to the meteorite craters studied by people such as Eugene and Caroline Shoemaker. In 1988, Beadell was awarded the medal of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

Len Beadell wrote six best-selling books about his experiences in the Australian Outback, as well as his family - wife Anne and children Connie-Sue, Gary and Jackie - all of whom have geographical features named for them.

Len Beadell died on May 12, 1995, and his ashes were placed at the site of the original survey peg to mark the centre line of the range.  A memorial was erected by four-wheel drivers from every Australian state at Mt. Beadell on the Gunbarrel Highway. On May 12, 1996, 163 people turned up with 71 trucks at the memorial’s unveiling ceremony.

Len Beadell's grave in the Woomera Cemetery.During 2000, it was decided to relocate his ashes from the Range to the Woomera Cemetery to allow his family and friends easier access.  A stone memorial with a plaque has now been placed at the high end of the cemetery (Photograph at left).

The Woomera Heritage Centre features a display on Len Beadell and his work, while there is also a memorial in the Woomera shopping area.

Based on material from the Woomera Heritage Centre where the shop has various items for sale related to Len Beadell.


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Copyright © 2001  Mark T. Rigby
(Last updated: 16 October, 2001)