The Woomera Forbidden Area (WPA) – formerly known as the Woomera Rocket Range – briefly launched Australia into the space race during the Cold War when Britain, and later the United States, sought to capitalize on the vast space and electromagnetic tranquility of the South Australian hinterland. .
The Whittleseas recently discovered this rocket, believed to have been launched in the 1950s, at a former military firing range in South Australia. Source: SBS News / Stefan Armbruster
The 122,000 square kilometer test area 500km north of Adelaide turned 75 this year. It is now a globally significant weapons testing and evaluation site, and home to some 20 pastoral enterprises, a thriving resource sector, tourism and a national highway.
The WPA is also home to six Native American title groups who do not live on the land but visit the land when the range is idle.
And that’s not the only relic of the past that the Whittleseas have discovered. They also turned a mid-century bomb shelter into a wine bar tourist attraction.
Rancher Margie Whittlesea has turned a disused air-raid shelter into a wine bar. Source: SBS News / Stefan Armbruster
“The bunkers arrived when the forbidden zone of Woomera was opened to keep pastors safe,” says Margie Whittlesea, Peter’s wife and pastor, pointing to the string lights in the cavernous bunker.
Although ranchers acknowledge that this currently only happens a few times a year and that the air base is doing its best to circumvent the peak of agricultural activity, “it doesn’t always happen that way either.”
Margie Whittlesea has transformed a mid-century bomb shelter into a wine bar tourist attraction. Source: SBS News / Stefan Armbruster
With testing set to intensify, land users want the MoD to come up with a modern solution.
I just think that with the war in Ukraine, there will be countries here that want to test lasers and drones.
Margie Whittlesea, Pastoral
The Department of Defense expects testing to increase “steadily and significantly” over the next decade, according to a 2018 WPA review. The federal government is investing $900 million to light up the facility to meet future demand.
The Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA) – officially known as the Woomera Rocket Range. Source: 2018 Federal Government Report titled “Coexistence in the Woomera Prohibited Zone”. Source: Provided
Wing Commander Gary Rains – an Air Force Proving Ranges Squadron commander who oversees the WPA – said it was an important capability for the Defense Force Australians, their allies and their partners..
The Department of Defense said the area will become critical for the development, testing and evaluation of new capabilities, particularly high-velocity, long-range and non-kinetic weapons, which require more test facilities. bigger and safer.
“Even if we have hundreds of miles or range, it can be eaten up very quickly at those speeds, so the answer is we don’t know how fast or how well they’re going to work,” he says.
A rocket believed to have been fired in the 1950s during tests still sits in the South Australian outback. Source: Provided / Mount Eba Station
“But it is the purpose of this place to do these tests, to understand these things and to make sure that we understand the dangers so that we can eliminate them before they become widespread.
“What it’s really about is being a world-class leading range that allows us to conduct a range of activities in support of the whole of government in a safe, repeatable and defensible, which ensures that we have minimal impact on stakeholders.”
“It’s a big ask to get families out of properties for maybe four or five failed attempts in a week,” he says.
Grazier Ryan Rankin at The Twins Station, a cattle property near Mount Eba, recalls spotting missiles from the roof of that family’s blast shelter. Source: SBS News / Stefan Armbruster
The evacuation involves a five-hour round trip to Coober Pedy for Mr Rankin, his wife and four children. During the 2019 drought, it was particularly difficult to walk back and forth to ensure livestock had water, he says.
“But it’s very difficult to build something that would guarantee the safety of someone remaining in the range at that time.”
Ryan Rankin wants the Department of Defense to build modern bunkers so pastors can stay on their properties during testing times. Source: SBS News / Stefan Armbruster
The MoD is also planning to evacuate land users to one of the WPA’s underground mines where there are already deep underground tunnels.