MEMORIES OF WOOMERA - 4


I lived at Woomera from 1958 until December 1970 with a one year break in 1964. Like many of your contributors, I was a child/teenager during this time so my memories are largely concerned with village life rather than the military and scientific work. My father worked at Woomera, initially for the Commonwealth Police, then for 10 years as a photographer recording the various trials. Perhaps I can ask him to write up some notes that I could also submit.

School - Virtually all my schooling was at Woomera, firstly at the Area School, then after that divided into the Primary and Secondary schools I spent 5 years in the Secondary School. I have several of the annual school magazines that contain photos as well as lists of staff and students. I think we received a very good education, the only problem was that due to the limited size of the school and it's isolation we did not have the breadth of choice of subjects that would have been available in a larger community.

The only teacher I can remember from primary days was Mrs.MacDougall. "Mrs Mac" was the wife of the Aboriginal Welfare Officer.

Christmas - A highlight of the year for younger children was the Xmas party held at the school on a Saturday afternoon. Before the party commenced Father Christmas would arrive by helicopter, flying around the village waving to everyone before landing on the school oval. Apart from the party, Xmas was a flat time of year. The Range "shutdown" for 4 weeks and many residents went off on summer holidays to various parts of Australia. The village was thus semi-deserted and at it's most isolated and claustrophobic.

Cinemas - One of the main sources of entertainment were the cinemas. The first Woomera cinema was a large wooden hall with a flat wooden floor, the whole thing raised on brick pillars like many of the village buildings. The first adult film I can remember seeing there was "War of the Worlds". Some time after the new Woomera Theatre was built the old one burnt down. After the fire was out a horde of jewellery stolen from ASCO was discovered underneath it.

The new theatre was a good facility, not just for films, but for live shows. Acts I recall seeing include "The Horrie Dargie Quintet"!, Col Joye and from Britain, "Sounds Incorporated". The film "Countdown" had it's Australian Premiere there.

The open air cinema at Woomera West couldn't have been more different. Here you would sit on wooden slatted benches to view the films. If you weren't interested in the films you could stretch out on the benches and sleep or look at the delightful starry skies. Mind you, it could get pretty cold too.

Teenagers - Youngsters had two other places for gathering socially. The swimming pool and the Coffee Lounge. The Coffee Lounge, also referred to as the Milk Bar was the sweet shop for younger children as well as the place where you could get pie and chips as well as other fast food. For teenagers it was where we could sit around with cokes and perhaps fags, playing the jukebox and pinball tables.

Radio - The local radio station was 5WM. This was merely a relay station for the ABC regional service and had no programming of it's own. The diet of livestock prices and agricultural items didn't seem too appropriate for Woomera. There used to be a record request show every week day at 16.30 I believe. It was largely taken up with Slim Dusty, C&W records and M.O.R. stuff. A couple of friends and I decided it needed livening up so we wrote in requesting various progressive rock tracks. They were played, much to our surprise. To hear pop and rock music we had to tune in to Adelaide commercial stations such as 5DN and 5KA during the day. DJ's I remember include Jim Slade and Barry Ion. At night you could no longer get the Adelaide stations so we would move over to 3UZ or 2UE. TV was only just reaching Woomera in the late 60's. Only Channel 2 could be received and then very poorly. With a picture largely consisting of snowstorm few people bothered. For most of my time at Woomera we only saw TV when we went away on holiday.

Population Age - Woomera was a strange community in many ways. When we went to Port Augusta or Adelaide I would be struck by the sight of old people. It was very rare to see someone of pensionable age in Woomera as everyone was either working or a child. Only the occasional visiting elderly relative would break this pattern. There was also a high turnover of population. Each year would see a new crop of people from the U.K. and the U.S. as well as Australia, bringing in new ideas and fashions.

Launches - We youngsters weren't entirely removed from the range activities. Whenever a major launch was scheduled many families would drive out or get a bus to the observation area. Such launches were invariably scheduled for early morning. My recollection is that they never went on time and seldom on the first scheduled day. Never-the-less I was lucky enough to see several Europa launches as well as the first, unsuccessful Black Arrow. It was accepted that you could have the morning off school if you went to watch.

More routine launches of Skylarks and Black Knights sometimes took place at night. These weren't announced in the same way, but we knew they were occurring as the range staff all went off to work at odd times. Sometimes we would know what time the launch was scheduled and would go outside in an attempt to see it from the village. Of course, we had no way of knowing if a launch was delayed or cancelled. I don't think I ever saw a launch from the village, but some did.

NASA - Woomera was involved with the NASA programmes. Following the Gemini 6 and 7 joint mission, Astronauts Wally Schirra and Frank Borman made a goodwill and thank you visit. They came to the school and I remember the pupils forming up in the playground and applauding. I got both their autographs and have them still.

During various Apollo missions to the moon, signals were relayed through Island Lagoon. Despite this, when Armstrong and Aldrin made the first landing we were one of the few places unable to watch on TV. We were all sent home from school so we could listen to the landing on the radio! Shortly afterwards a recording of the television pictures was brought to Woomera for us to see. There were several showings, including one at the school.

Transport - The Department of Supply operated a fleet of blue and white buses. There was a service around the village that I believe was free. Buses also went to Pimba to bring children in to the schools. Most unusual were the semi-trailer buses used to take workers to/and from the village to the Tech Area, Koolymilka and other outlying facilities. I can't recall having seen such vehicles anywhere else.

Woomera was a good place for someone interested in aircraft. Civil flights from Adelaide West Beach were operated by South Australian Airways. Initially they operated a DC3, but this was replaced by a Convair 240. Aircraft based at Woomera at various times included D.H.Vampires, Gloucester Meteors, English Electric Canberras, Jindiviks, C.A. Winjeels, DHC Beaver, DHC Otter, Bristol Sycamore and Sud-Aviation Alouette. Visitors I saw included Avro Vulcans, North American Sabres, Dassault Mirage 111's, Lockheed Hercules and Starlifters, Boeing Guppy's and Transall C144.

Rail transport also played a part. There was a branch line from Pimba to Woomera West and the Tech Area. Passenger services ran 3 or 4 times a week from Port Pirie and Port Augusta, operated by Budd rail cars. These sometimes also hauled a box van conveying parcels and light freight. The Station Master for Commonwealth Railways at Woomera West was Mr.Chamberlain.

I could go on about the water pipe-line, the Gibber-Gabber new sheet, door step milk deliveries by churns, then "Tetra-Paks", but I won't bore you.

Finally, I am happy for my name to be shown should you include any of this on the site. In fact I would be pleased if you also showed my e-mail address. Perhaps this could be a way of making contact with old friends and acquaintances as I have lost contact with all of my Woomera contemporaries.

Many thanks.

Nigel Whitburn - Ash, Canterbury, Kent, UK. -     nigel.whitburn@btinternet.com  (note: e-mail address updated 19 February 2006)



 
Memories of Woomera



 
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(Last updated: 19 February 2006)