Woomera in South Australia's Outback celebrates its 50th Birthday 1947/1997. By Mr J A Hill. Space Unit member 5026.

After months of preparation the 50th Anniversary of the commencement of the Woomera Rocket Range that had been planned for the Easter weekend had finally arrived. The children from the area school had been busy making banners and displays which added colour to the local township, and coloured lights lit up the main part of town. Although a few visitors had started to arrive on the Thursday, a far larger number which consisted of past residents and their families started to arrive early on the Friday morning which was the official registration day. Queues had started to form at the gate and the average wait to sign the visitors book and receive a commemorative pass was two hours. This time was not wasted however as a lot of old friends who had not seen one another for many years met at the gate and renewed old friendships while they waited. Saturday morning started off with the official welcome by the Area Administrator Joe van Homelen when he unveiled a Blackstone Pump which had been recovered from the " Hesso Pump Station" and installed at the entrance to the Woomera Village. This pump was one of six that had faithfully supplied water for the Woomera range for many years and now took pride of place for every one to see. The Area Administrator read out a message from the Minister of Defence the Hon Ian McLachlan AO MP sending his apologies for not attending owing to prior commitments but sent his congratulations to the people of Woomera past and present as they celebrate their 50th anniversary. The Minister spoke : of the establishment of Woomera in 1947 which was evidence of Australia's commitment to a strategic framework in the post war era. After the main body of the speech the Minister then went on to say that much of Woomera's present effort is directed towards the activities of the Joint Defence Facility at Nurrungar which emphasises the strong bond existing between Australia and the United States of America as they confront the security challenges of the post cold war period. He closed his speech with reference to Woomera's having earned its place in Australian history and in the annals of Britain, a consortium of European Nations, the United States of America and more recently, Japan. This welcome address was followed by a procession of floats representing different groups in Woomera that made its way through the centre of the village to the area school. Throughout the weekend we were all entertained by displays by the Red Berets free fall parachute team who amazed everyone present by their accuracy when they landed amongst the crowd at the barbecue in Breen Park. The " Roulettes " kept everyone looking skywards when they flew overhead in an assortment of breathtaking manoeuvres. The Australian Protective services, the Boy Scouts and members of the Model Rocket Society also kept everyone entertained with their displays. Meanwhile " The Air Training Corps Band " and the local radio station 5RRR filled the air with music giving the anniversarry proceedings a carnival atmosphere. The Woomera Heritage Centre excelled itself with its display of memorabilia collected over the years and showed video's of previous launch activities that had made Woomera famous. Space Unit member Jim Hill who was a former Woomera resident displayed a large selection of commemorative launch envelopes along with autographed photo's of many rocket launches from yesteryear. A two cover commemorative set of envelopes was put on display depicting twelve launches of rockets dating from the late 1950's including the giant Redstones of Mercury fame up to and including the trials of Nasda's Hope Space plane tested in 1996. This cover set was a limited issue of one hundred sets and apart from ten sets kept by Mr Hill, the other sets were virtually sold out through the Heritage centre. One set will be donated by Mr Hill to the Space Unit auction however to help with their fund raising. Space Unit members who collect Woomera launches have an opportunity to support their club and make a bid for this very rare commemorative set as no others were produced. Tours had been arranged to view the Technical aspects of some of the activities on the range and these were well attended. The supper dance at Hanger 1 on Saturday night was well supported when a thousand tickets were sold which kept every one busy until the early hours. The broadcast of " Australia all over " by Ian McNamara " Macca " commenced at Breen Park at 5am the following morning in the cool air. The smell of sizzling bacon and sausages directed everyone to their free breakfast as day break finally approached. As the days activities progressed Macca was taking telephone calls from around Australia on land and sea, from people who had been associated with Woomera from its inception in 1947. Free food and drink was supplied and continuous queues kept the volunteers at the BBQ's busy for many hours throughout to the day. To finalise the weekends proceedings there were Billie Cart races followed at night by a fantastic display of fireworks which lit up the night sky. As daylight appeared on the horizon on the Easter Monday long queues of vehicles left Woomera making their way home after a most memorable weekend.

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