Woomera: 1961 - Memories of Diane Wilde

My husband  Peter Wilde was a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force working on “Bloodhound”  and associated with colleagues from Ferranti in Wythenshaw near Manchester.  We were all posted to Woomera early in 1961. Our  two young boys  (Christopher and Alexander) were 4 and 2 years old. The journey in an RAF Britannia aircraft  via Singapore and Darwin took about three days, by the time we reached Adelaide we were exhausted and bemused.

We stayed in Elizabeth for a few weeks before going to Woomera village where we were given a house in Currong Street on the outermost SE corner looking over the desert. It was searingly hot. Peter and the rest of the team would go to the Range many miles west of the village on most days and I would shop at the only store in town before heading for the swimming pool to spend the day with other wives and their children, trying to keep cool.

Christopher had his 5th birthday and started school, he thrived  there and adored his teacher - a Miss Wundersitz.

Although it was very hot and dry, we became accustomed to it - we even tried to make a garden with irrigation pipes, but the climate won in the end.

Our water supply came 100 miles (160 km) in surface pipes to holding tanks at the highest point and was always hot so we kept bottles in the ancient fridge for drinking.

Our “air conditioning” consisted of one box wedged in the sitting room wall which dripped and hummed constantly, we would all lie under it and play tiddlywinks or ludo!! The  bungalow was made of what appeared to be aluminium with a corrugated iron roof painted pink, it was built on stilts to discourage creepy crawlies entering - it did not have the desired effect however - and  I am an Arachnophobic!  So I lived in constant agitation.  Alex did not enjoy the heat and would not eat much, Chris was more adaptable. Both boys learned to swim and loved the water. 

On Sunday afternoons we would drive out in our Ford Zephyr to see the salt lakes and dried up creeks where stunted Mulga trees and scrubby vegetation grew and sometimes we saw Mirages shimmering ahead like oases, but we never reached them.

Whilst we were living there we had one heavy rainstorm which brought about a “miracle” overnight. The desert bloomed with myriads of wild flowers including “Sturt’s Pea”. And we all drove out to see this phenomenon, it lasted only a few days before the earth claimed it back ready for the next water to revive it - we never saw it again.

The wild life consisted of  mainly snakes, lizards, centipedes, etc. and, of course, flies. We were warned of the “Red Backed Spider” which may get under toilet seats or into shoes whilst we slept. In the sky there were Wedge tailed eagles looking for carrion and crows which stood in the narrow shade of telegraph poles along the dirt tracks, goodness knows where they came from.  Along the tracks were signs alerting us to Kangaroos which might collide with vehicles - particularly at night. We did see red kangaroos, locally referred to as “Boomers” and the occasional Wallaby.

Dust storms were frequent and if we were in the pool, we would emerge looking as if we had been dipped in iron ore, as the dust is red. One of the most memorable of these was at the Christmas childrens’ party in the school grounds when Santa arrived by helicopter dressed in the customary attire with Wellington boots, the temperature about 46C, the wind increasing and the ominous wall of dust and grit approaching. We had to dash to our cars and sit it out in the rattling and screeching, still it made a change from our usual English weather!

We had the foresight to purchase astronomy books for the Southern Hemisphere before we left Adelaide and we were  able to make full use of them.

When the boys were asleep, Peter and I would sit on the verandah swathed in mosquito nets and study the stars. The skies were magical, we could almost see the curvature of the earth as there was no man made pollution of any kind. At sunset, ribbons  of wonderful colours would appear, caused by the dust particles. When it was fully dark the stars hung like lanterns and we could see the Southern Cross.

Of course there was no television, so we made our own entertainment in the Mess, and hugely innovative times we had, with all our friends and colleagues. It was amazing how much talent we discovered, musical and otherwise.

Our nearest  town was  Port Augusta 100 miles (160 km) south on a dirt track, I think, and we went there once or twice.  Pimba was situated on the main Sydney to Perth railway line just to the south of Woomera where we queued for fresh meat on a Friday evening.

I wonder if there is anyone we knew who might read this and remember the times we had there?

Sadly, Peter died in 1993. Like me however, he  was grateful to have had the opportunity and the experience of living in such a unique place and having the company of loyal and erudite friends. 

Some names I remember - Bruce Calveley,  Sergeant  Rummery,  ? Thomas, Derek Whitehead,  many others, but unfortunately my memory fails me.

Please contact  if you can.

Diana Wilde


(2 June 2005)

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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