Aircraft and Missile Park outside the
Woomera (including Pimba, Nurrungar and
Famous outback township which, from the
1940s, was the centre of Australian and British
rocket launching experiments
Located 486 km north of Adelaide (180 km north
of Port Augusta) and positioned some 165 m above
sea level, Woomera is a purpose built town
designed by the Long Range Weapons Board of
Administration to provide an isolated
experimental ground for testing rockets. It is
located in the middle of a desert terrain where
the average annual rainfall is only 190 mm. The
visitor enters Woomera via Pimba which is little
more than a rather old style roadhouse, pub and
service station near the railway line. The old
rolling stock and age of the roadhouse give
Pimba a rather antiquated appearance.
Woomera, the word describes a short stick
used to launch a spear in the language of the
local Aborigines, came into existence in 1947.
At the time it was preferred over a site which
had been nominated by Canada. In 1946 the
Australian government received a formal request
from Britain to establish a rocket range 1600 km
long and 300 km wide. This was possible given
the vast wastelands which existed in
northwestern South Australia.
The decision to build a rocket range was made
in the postwar environment when the world was
still recovering from the slaughter of World War
11. As a result of German rocket attacks on
Britain during that war the British had decided
they needed a rocket testing range and the
isolation of Woomera combined with its proximity
to the railway siding at Pimba made it an ideal
In June 1946 the first Dakota landed on the
first temporary airstrip. A regular RAAF courier
service was inaugurated which provided travel,
food, mail and supplies for people who were
building the range. On 1 April 1947 Arcoona
leased the land to the Department of Defence and
the Woomera village was surveyed and built.
From 1947-1970 Woomera was an important
centre. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s a number
of rockets were launched culminating in the
launching of the Prospero satellite in 1969.
approaches Pimba Siding
Today there is a real feeling of decay as you
enter the town. The first sight to strike the
visitor is three blocks of units which have been
left unoccupied as the town has contracted in
size. At its peak Woomera had a population of
over 5000. Today it has a population of a little
over 1900 and probably half of those people are
US military personnel working at nearby
At the moment Woomera is a base used to
support Australian armed service and the US Air
Force. NASA and West Germany are launching a
series of sounding rockets to gather data from
the Supernova. This is part of a ten year
cooperative agreement between NASA, The
Department of Industry, Technology and Commerce.
The Woomera Test Range is operated by Defence
Research Centre in Salisbury SA.
The official literature declares that
Nurrungar is a joint US - Australian Ground
Station, that it is located 19 km from Woomera,
and that it is not open to the public
Things to see:
Arrow at Woomera Aircraft and Missile
Woomera Aircraft and Missile Park and
The main attraction in Woomera is the excellent
Lions Club of Woomera Aircraft and Missile Park
and the Woomera Heritage Centre.
The Woomera Heritage Centre is open from 9.30
to 4.30 from March to November and closed
December to February. It is part of the Woomera
Board Project. Telephone number: (08) 8673 7810.
It has a superb collection of Aboriginal
artefacts from the area as well as a
comprehensive display of rocket technology and
'artefacts' from the more recent past.
Outside the building are well preserved
examples of most of the rockets which were
launched at Woomera.
There's the Black Arrow, a large rocket which
was launched four times from June 1969 to
October 1972. The first launch was destroyed
almost immediately because it was unstable. The
second and third launches were experimental
firings. The fourth put a Prospero satellite
into orbit and the satellite is still circling
There's a superb Meteor Mark 7 a British jet
aircraft which was used against German V-1
rockets. This particular trainer aircraft joined
the RAAF in 1951 and in 1960 joined trials at
the Woomera Range. Powered by two Rolls Royce
Derwent Engines it flew at over 500 mph (800
km/h) which seems remarkably slow by the
standards of the 1990s.
There's a famous Jindivik (the name is said
to mean 'the hunted one'), the Australian
designed and built pilotless target aircraft,
which was first manufactured in 1952 and
completed over 100 flights.
There is also the Ikara, an Australian
developed anti-submarine weapon, which will
deliver an American 44 type homing torpedo by
means of radio tracking and guidance systems. It
flight trials were conducted in Woomera in 1961
As well as the rockets displayed outside The
Heritage Centre has a number of interesting
Aboriginal artefacts including sharpened stones
and grinding tools. As the woman who runs the
Heritage Centre remarks 'There's a lot of
interesting things out there in the desert when
you go looking'.
Australian outback at Pimba
About 30 km north of Woomera is Arcoona an old
goldmine which has opened and closed according
to the price of gold. Recently the owner found a
significant gold lode and sold out for over $1
million. It is now in full operation.