A spear throwing device, used by Australian Aborigines. Traditionally made of wood from a hollow tree, it had many purposes in Aboriginal life. Aside from enhancing the speed of a thrown spear, it was also commonly used as a knife, chisel, and digging stick. It was also used as a tool when looking for grubs, and insects.
When used for its main purpose, which is in hunting, the Woomera is fitted onto a spear. The spear is then propelled out of the Woomera, using the typical throwing motion. When launched properly from a Woomera the speed at which a spear is travelling can be greatly increased.
The township in South Australia of the same name is located to the west of Lake Torrens, and north west of Adelaide. For such a small town it has an interesting history. In 1946 the Australian government received a formal request from Britain to establish a rocket range 1600 km long and 300 km wide. The area was surveyed by Len Beadell, and Woomera was established in April 1947. The town was purposely built as a consequence of Britain's defence requirements following World War II. The large, remote area which surrounded the site was perfect for the Long Range Weapons Establishment (commonly called the Woomera Rocket Range), along with its proximity to the railway siding nearby settlement Pimba.
From 1947-1970 Woomera was an important centre of operations. Throughout those years a number of rockets were launched, and although thought to conclude in the launch of the Prospero satellite in 1969, the site continues to have much association with space flight to this day.
Nurrungar was established in 1970 just 19km outside of Woomera, as a joint American - Australian communications ground station. The base relayed data from satellites to the USA, and operated under various secrecy agreements. Not only did Nurrungar operate using the first IBM 360/75 in the southern hemisphere, but it had two. Nurrungar was shut down, and the system shifted to Pine Bluff in October 1999.
There is a vivid feeling of decay as you enter the town of Woomera today. What was once a booming settlement of over 6,000, had been reduced to 1,900 in 1998, and now following the closure of Nurrungar sits at 400.
More recently Woomera has become the location of an infamous, and controversial detention centre for illegal immigrants set up by the Australian Federal Government. An additional 200 or so temporary residents are involved with the facility.
The Woomera Detention Centre has been described by many as hell on earth. It was opened in November 1999, and at maximum capacity holds 1,400 asylum seekers. It exists today despite much conflict and protest over the treatment of its inmates, and its existence in the first place.
Woomera was a closed town from its establishment in 1947, up until 1999. It is now an open town, and welcomes tourists.
I grew up hearing of my mother's childhood in Woomera. Hanging out with her dog Darkie, and working at her father's Shell garage (The Ernest Giles Auto Port). There are many wonderful stories of my parents meeting while my father was employed there as a computer programmer.