Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Speech: visit to historic aerospace site dedication ceremony and luncheon, Woomera Test Facility.

Download PDFDownload PDF

SPEECH Peter Lindsay Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence Tuesday, 22 May 2007 VISIT TO HISTORIC AEROSPACE SITE DEDICATION CEREMONY AND LUNCHEON - WOOMERA TEST FACILITY 22 MAY 2007 Major General Bob Dickman (United States Air Force Retired), Air Marshal Geoff Shepherd (Chief of Air Force), Ladies and Gentlemen. It is a pleasure to be able to accept this award on behalf of the Department of Defence and it is fitting that we are holding the ceremony in the centre of the Woomera Village, surrounded by the missiles and aircraft that have made this place so important. For a third of a century, the United Kingdom and Australia worked together to build a missile testing range that extended from here to the far north west of our continent. As we look North West along the Range Centre Line, we are looking towards the middle of Eighty Mile Beach, just south of Broome. It is easy to see why the site was chosen. It is large enough to test intercontinental missiles, remote enough to do so safely and it is arid enough to conduct tests uninterrupted by the weather. These characteristics remain important today but we need to go back to the 1940’s to understand why Woomera was chosen as a weapon testing site. In the final months of World War II, the bombardment of London by the German V2 long range ballistic missile demonstrated the emerging power of the scientists. Fired across the English Channel from The Hague, the V2 appeared to fall from nowhere with stealth and devastating accuracy. They demonstrated how important range and speed were to become in modern warfare. The United Kingdom needed to develop its own long range missile capability but also needed a place to do it. Outback Australia was a logical choice. Interestingly, the ‘woomera’ was used by Aboriginal hunters to enhance the range and speed of a spear. For a third of a century, our participation in the Anglo-Australian Joint Project helped shape our defence strategy and accelerated our quest to become a scientifically and technologically oriented nation. Because of the work done at Salisbury and here at Woomera, Australia gained a body of highly qualified and capable defence science staff. There is no doubt that this was a catalyst for the formation of today’s Defence Science and Technology Organisation. As we stand in the Missile Park some sixty years later, we can see the remarkable impact science has had on Defence. Blood Hound, Blue Steel, Sea Wolf, Sea Slug, Fire Streak and Sea Dart. These and many others were tested at Woomera. Some were ground-to-air missiles designed to replace the anti-aircraft gun. Some were air-to-air missiles designed to


make our aircraft much more destructive in combat. Ground-to-ground, ship-to-ship - whatever the variant of missile, all needed a place where they could be developed and tested safely.

Most of the guided missiles tested at Woomera were British, however a few were Australian and two of these were so successful they eventually became service weapons. The Malkara was a short range anti-tank weapon powered by a solid fuel motor developed by the Propulsion Division of the Weapons Research Establishment. It was guided by a pilot using a joystick connected to the missile by a thin cable. Another Australian missile was the Ikara, a ship-borne, anti-submarine weapon. It was a long-range guided missile that could fly a torpedo to within striking range of its target and then release it into the sea.

It can be seen from these examples that Woomera has been much more than an air weapon testing range. The Sea Slug and Sea Dart were weapons developed for use by the Navy and of course the Rapier is one of the many Army weapons tested here.

I was interested to hear that Woomera is coming under increased demand as a place to test Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. The earliest Unmanned Aerial Vehicles were designed to be a high performance jet-propelled aerial target. With the development of sophisticated air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles, it was necessary for them to be tested against a realistic target - one that resembled the high performance fighter planes they would be used against. This of course was the Jindivik.

It is very fitting that this award is being made in recognition of its significance to both aeronautics and astronautics as it was Woomera that gave Australia the opportunity to join the space club, albeit for only a short time. During 1967, the United States had been using Woomera and its facilities to launch a series of Redstone rockets to study what happened when objects re-entered the earth’s atmosphere at high velocity. This was a tripartite project involving the United States, Australia and Britain.

Anecdotally, the idea of using one of the Redstone rockets to launch a satellite was conceived during a hard-drinking mess session for which, I believe Woomera is also well known. Irrespective of where the idea came from, in 1967, Australia successfully launched its own Weapons Research Establishment Satellite using a spare rocket motor. The Weapons Research Establishment Satellite was only possible because the unique set of circumstances came together. The availability of a spare rocket motor, the very well equipped facilities at Woomera and the determined and resourceful Weapons Research Establishment staff all made this remarkable feat possible. The Weapons Research Establishment Satellite took only eleven months from inception to launch. It stayed in a polar orbit for eleven days before burning up as it re-entered the atmosphere over the North Atlantic Ocean.

Most of the instruments onboard Weapons Research Establishment Satellite worked and streams of data about the upper atmosphere were relayed back to earth for later analysis. It is difficult however to argue that the data that came from Weapons Research Establishment Satellite changed humankind’s understanding of solar physics or the upper atmosphere. Rather the importance of Weapons Research Establishment Satellite is that it showed the Australian engineering and scientific community what it was capable of. It demonstrated that Australia could be a scientifically and technologically advanced nation.


Woomera has much more to be proud of than I have time to discuss today. I urge you to visit the excellent display in the Woomera Heritage Centre. There are more exhibits and it is possible to go into a great deal of depth on each missile or project. I would also like to commend to you the Woomera Marine Centre. While Woomera is not generally known for its marine life, its small but very active school community is making a mark of its own. If you take the time to visit the centre you will see what I mean.

In closing, I would like to thank Major General Bob Dickman and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics for bringing to the front of our thinking what a valuable place Woomera is. I use present tense intentionally. Before the ceremony, I received a briefing by Wing Commander Jack Frost about how Defence currently uses Woomera and how it plans to develop it. Woomera has been and remains a place of national strategic significance for Defence. I thank the AIAA for recognising this and for sending their representatives from the United States to do so.

Media Information: Media Advisor: Niki Lyons 0418 762 307 Defence Media: (02) 6265 3343 or 0408 498 664

For a free subscription to Defence Direct, the Minister for Defence's monthly e-newsletter, please follow this link