Woomera from the air
Woomera village from the air.
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Map of Woomera village.
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Entrance sign to Woomera.No town of Woomera existed prior to 1947. It and the rocket range facilities were constructed as a major undertaking.

Naturally a name was needed for the town. One name proposed was Red Sands - a contrast with White Sands, the U.S. missile test range in New Mexico. It was decided that a suitable aboriginal name should be found. The word "woomera" was decided upon as it meant a spear thrower - a device made out of a flat piece of wood with a wooden peg at one end. The spear would be mounted on the woomera and both spear and woomera held in one hand and parallel to the line of sight. The name was adopted on April 24, 1947.

By August 1950, Woomera population had reached 3,000, swelling to 3,500 six months later. Eventually, the town grew to a population of over 6,000 in the 1960s when activities reached their peak. By 1999, the population was not much more than 1,000 when a U.S. base closed and the permanent population as of October 2001 was 359.  An additional 200 or so temporary residents of the village are involved with a detention centre which can house up to a couple of thousand illegal immigrants at Woomera West a few kilometres from the village (This followed a decision by the Australian Federal Government in late 1999 to accommodate at Woomera some of the illegal immigrants arriving by boat.)

BAE Systems in Australia recently won a government contract for the provision of a range of services to Woomera Village and the Range for the next 10 years. A major project which could see satellite launches being resumed in the near future involves the U.S. company Kistler which has selected Woomera as its main launch site for a proposed fully reusable launch vehicle. Funding issues have delayed plans. If the project proceeds it could have a significant impact on tourism for Woomera.

Today, entry to Woomera Village is no longer restricted. The history of Woomera's past is on show at the Woomera Heritage Centre in the Oasis Community Centre and at the Aircraft and Missile Display Park which is in the centre of the village. One of the highlights includes the recovered remains of the Redstone launch vehicle that launched WRESAT-1, Australia's first satellite, in 1967.

Woomera accommodation for visitors includes the ELDO Hotel (200 airconditioned rooms, large licensed restaurant, bar and function room) and the Woomera Travellers Village (caravan, on-site vans and backpacker).

In recent years, U.S. citizens had made up about a third of the town's population. Many of the residents were involved in supporting the Joint Defence Facility Nurrungar, which acted as a communications ground station for U.S. Defence Support Program (DSP) satellites. On 12 October, 1999, F. Whitten Peters, Secretary of the U.S. Air Force presided over the closure ceremony for the Nurrungar facility.

Late in 1999, a decision was made by the Australian Federal Government to house many of the illegal immigrants (arriving by boat) at a detention facility at the old Woomera West site a few kilometres from Woomera Village. The centre was capable of supporting a couple of thousands transit residents, although the number fluctuated. The facility created considerable controversy and finally closed in April 2003.

Many of the Woomera Village facilities still remain, although some are in a mothballed state. Woomera's facilities/services included the shopping centre, coffee lounge, post office, hospital, emergency services, schooling, accommodation, caravan park, swimming pool, churches, ovals, picture theatre, Gibber Gabber, Woomera Board and Breen Park. Some services have been scaled back but are still provided, so the quality of life is being retained. The Westpac bank closed at the end of June 2000 and an agency was set up in the Woomera Board. In 2004, the population has dwindled to a couple of hundred.

Village Life

A History of Woomera
Research Missiles
Tracking Stations
Range News
Gibber Gabber
Woomera Village
Woomera Life
Memories of Woomera

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Copyright © 1997-2004  Mark T. Rigby
(Last updated: 9 November, 2004)