Woomera, an Aboriginal word meaning spear-launcher, was established as a long-range weapons' research facility by the Australian and British governments in the far north of South Australia in 1946.
It soon became a major settlement and although located in the outback, Woomera quickly turned into a cosmopolitan centre providing employment for Army, Navy and Airforce personnel from both Australia and overseas, as well as civilians from all Australian states and newly arrived migrants from Europe.
The road to Andamooka Opal field.
Within a few years Woomera had some five hundred houses, several churches, schools, a picture theatre, hotel, hospital and police station. Its 6000 strong population in the 1960s on the gibber and spinifex plain also enjoyed more than 3000 hours of sunshine a year.
The site was surveyed by Len Beadell to establish the Rocket Range and the town. Before the town was completed, men worked and lived in tents in temperatures often exceeding forty degrees. No airconditioning was available during the first ten years. Apart from the high wages, each man was issued with two bottles of beer a day and a voucher for tobacco.
As with most outback towns, water, and often the lack of it, provided a major problem. Most of the locally available water supply is too salty for human consumption and eventually the Morgan-Port Augusta-Woomera pipeline was build to supply the town's residents with River Murray water.
From a tree-less gibber plain Woomera has grown into a pleasant town with several hundred thousand trees and almost all facilities found in any major city. During the 1960s Woomera was a busy centre with almost 6000 residents. It was also the home of the Anglo Australian Joint Project. It had the biggest land range in the western world reaching to the north west coast and the potential to become an international space power.
On 2 October, 1999 a plaque was unveiled commemorating the Rocket Range and its important engineering heritage, which reads:
Established under the Anglo-Australian Joint Project following the Second World War, this range and the associated Weapons Research Establishment in Salesbury were the largest and most expensive scientific and engineering activity ever conducted in Australia in peacetime. The equipment used and tested here was at the forefront of technology and especially in fine mechanics, advanced optics, telemetry and rocket fuel chemistry. While participating in programmes conducted here, Australia was in the forefront of scientifically and technologically advanced nations. The successful launch of the WRESAT satelite from Woomera in 1967 gained Australia international recognition and membership of the exclusive 'Space Club'.
The Institution of Engineers, Australia, 1999.