I was lucky enough to spend 3 months at Weapons Research Establishment in Salisbury SA in the IGY (International Geophysical Year: 1957-58) as a vacation job.  Of that time I spent a week or so amongst the gibbers and low scrub at Woomera.

I assisted with a firing of "Long Tom", a two stage solid fuel rocket and with the firing of a smaller rocket to test the drag forces on radio aerials.  The firing of Long Tom was a failure, in that the round blew up in the (Bailey Bridge) launcher situated away from the Blue Streak launcher, but the smaller rocket parachuted back onto the range and gave satisfying drag results (a centrifuge calibrated trace on a celluloid strip).

I always wondered if my work in setting up the timing fuses down the side of the Long Tom round had contributed to the failure. There was a most satisfying bang in the control bunker whereupon we all ran outside to see the second stage doing cartwheels amongst the stars in the night sky.  One of the first stage solid fuel cans had opened up and was wrapped around the beams of the Bailey Bridge sections of the launcher.  The other two fuel cans, though unbalanced, had managed to propel the round out of the launcher, shaving metal off the guiderails, much to the disgrunt of the Range management.  I guess I could have lifted the Long Tom payload by myself!

Whilst there, I witnessed testing of Jindivik, the British Navy's Sea Slug, and a Bristol Ferranti rocket assisted takeoff/ramjet round whose name escapes me.  This was fired at a venerable radio controlled Gloucester Meteor.  The Black Knight Launcher I  think had just finished construction, and a Blue Streak launch was imminent.  (But not whilst I was there)

Transport to Woomera was via Queensland Airways, I think in a very plush DC3. Bouncing over the odd salt pan with a full breakfast of bacon & eggs.

Whilst in Salisbury, about a dozen engineering students  on vacation work like myself from all over Australia stayed in one of the old munitions factory buildings which had been converted into separate rooms.  I faintly remember one of the farewell parties which were a riot, because of the isolation of the place.  On rainy days, the 500 yard trek to the canteen was a bind.  But we were reasonably close to work.


Bob Chambers,

Memories of Woomera

A History of Woomera
Research Missiles
Tracking Stations
Return To Orbit
Gibber Gabber
Woomera Village
Woomera Life
Memories of Woomera

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Copyright © 1997-2003   Mark T. Rigby
(Last updated: 19 October, 2003)