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ACS Heritage Project: Chapter 7

Monday, 30 Jan 2017

IA

WREDAC was needed to calculate rocket trajectories.

In 1946, the UK and Australia established the Anglo-Australian Joint Project to test rockets, atomic bombs and other weaponry. Australia had the large areas of virtually uninhabited land needed to test such devices, and in return was given access to the technology the project developed.

The initial impetus for the program came from the UK’s desire to develop a long-range rocket similar to Germany’s V2, the world’s first ballistic missile. The UK wanted a test site at least 800 km long, but Europe was too densely populated, and firing over water would limit the recovery of missiles.

The decision was spurred by the Cold War and the desire to develop atomic weapons and the means to deliver them. A purpose-built town was established at Woomera, in central South Australia 450 km north of Adelaide, which had -- at its peak in 1960 -- a population of 7,000. The Woomera Test Range at one stage covered one quarter of the entire state.

Under the Joint Project, Australia was the site of the UK’s first atomic weapons testing. These tests were not conducted at Woomera, but at the Montebello Islands off the northern coast of Western Australia in 1952 and 1956, and at Maralinga in the desolate west of South Australia in 1956 and 1957. They were conducted above ground, causing massive contamination and the radiation deaths of many of the native Tjarutja inhabitants of the region. Some Aboriginal women pregnant at the time miscarried.

To support the project, the Australian Government in 1947 initiated the Long Range Weapons Establishment (LRWE) in an old munitions factory at Salisbury in just north of Adelaide. Populated largely by British scientists, it was renamed the Weapons Research Establishment (WRE) in 1955 with the incorporation of a number of other Australian Department of Defence research laboratories. The Black Box flight recorder, used by commercial aircraft worldwide, was invented by WRE’s Dr David Warren in 1957. All Defence research facilities Australia-wide, including the WRE, were incorporated into the new Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) in 1974.

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