back to article Woomera: Ghosts of Britain's space past

During our recent Oz roadtrip in pursuit of the World Solar Challenge, El Reg's Special Projects Bureau made a lightning visit to Woomera, where Britain's space programme was played out and, ultimately, laid to rest. The town (pictured below on Google Earth) was established in 1947 as the core of a joint Anglo-Australian …


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  1. Dave 126 Silver badge

    I can't enter the compo- I'm clueless, though I look forward to finding out what the plane with the asymmetrically-placed hole on its nose is.

    The streets without cars just look great. I'm no Dave Angel, but from time to time whilst walking down a street I like to fantasize how the architecture would look without ingongruous lumps of shiny metal spoiling the view, and pedestrians no longer squeezed up against the edges whilst negotiating the hazards of street furniture and chuggers.

    The buildings look cared for - who does live there? Does it just provide function of rest-stop with added distractions now?

    1. rjmx

      (I can't enter the compo- I'm clueless, though I look forward to finding out what the plane with the asymmetrically-placed hole on its nose is.)

      It's an English Electric Canberra, if I'm not very much mistaken. Stuffed if I know any of the others, though.

    2. Grease Monkey Silver badge

      Chuggers? I think that must mean something different where you live. At least I hope it does.

      1. Marvin the Martian


        chugger = charity mugger = obnoxious person interesting you in a good cause, blocking your way in a crowded shopping street; if successfully getting you to pay up, they typically earn more than a year's donations for it.

        Better join/donate online, cut out the parasite!

        1. Grease Monkey Silver badge

          "chugger = charity mugger"

          Not round here it's not.

          Chugger = Wanker. Not in the sense of "he's a bit of a wanker" but somebody who's actually chugging. So seeing chuggers clogging up the street probably isn't common, even in Australia.

    3. David Evans

      @Dave 126

      The plane is a Canberra from the RAAF's Research and development centre (The assymetrical dome is for a camera). That and the other plane (a Gloster Meteor of some description) are the only ones I know; I remember some of the names of the missiles (Blue Streak would be one, and Black Knight another), but don't have a clue which is which.

    4. hillsy

      > I look forward to finding out what the plane with the asymmetrically-placed hole on its nose is

      Box number 7? That's a Canberra. I think 5 is an Ikara. I know some of the others too, but wouldn't want to come off as an anorak or anything.

      I was in Woomera for a couple of days about 15yrs ago. It was pretty quiet, but people did live there. I think these days it's run by the Australian MoD and if anything is a bit more active.

    5. Daniel 1

      English Electric Canberra

      Probably a Mk 20. My dad flew these things. They were used to tow targets for training Bofors gunners, but my dad mostly recalls the gunner's preference for simply shooting at the plane.

      This is probably an Australian air force one.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      @ Lester

      "Although it once housed thousands of people, the only sign of life we detected was the distant sound of some kids splashing around in a swimming pool."

      @ Dave 126

      "The streets without cars just look great."

      Many towns in the Australian bush look exactly like this even when they are fully populated. More so at midday.

  2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    I think what usually surprises people about Black Arrow.

    It's so *tiny*.

    1. Mike Richards Silver badge

      It's also rather freaky in flight

      The exhaust is almost entirely invisible, so the photos of the Prospero launch make Black Arrow look like it was just hanging there:

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    > The challenge is to identify the eight vehicles below


    I see what you did there.....

  4. Thomas 18
    Thumb Up


    1. Rocket

    2. Rocket

    3. Missile

    4. Rocket

    5. Rocket ship

    6. Missile launcher

    7. Bomber plane

    8. Passenger plane


  5. NogginTheNog

    Identified these

    No.2 is from Thunderbirds.

    No. 6 is from Space 1999.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    answers on a postcard

    well i got a few, i think

    2 is the black knight

    4 is the Black arrow

    7 looks like a canbera?

    3 maybe a skylark, i didnt think that had extra fins on it but i cant think of anything else

    6 maybe a seaslug, too small for a thunderbird, an bloodhound was much never used by the navy as far as im aware.

    not a scooby with the rest of them, an who knows, i maybe wrong with those,

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      1. Seaslug without boosters (Arse end of a Blue Steel nuke behind).

      2. Black Knight

      3. Skylark.

      4. Black Arrow

      5. Ikara

      6. Another seaslug, this time with it's boosters.

      7. Canberra.

      8. Meteor.

      I confess to looking up 5 up though, but I claim an extra half pint for the Blue Steel....

  7. GrumpyJoe

    And it stays the same as it ever was - can you imagine any of the current Chinless Charlies bunging money at something like this? No imagination...

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    1-6: rockets 7,8: airplanes

    right, pubtime

  9. The March Hare
    Thumb Up

    A walk down memory lane...

    OK I'm game - and probably completely wrong too!

    1. Early Bloodhound?

    2. looks like a Thor tip but the body's wrong

    3,4,5,6 sharp pointy things that go bang

    7. Canberra PR (7 or 9, can't remember)

    8. I should know this but can't remember & am going to kick myself when someone tells me!

    1. hillsy

      Number 8

      Is some version of Gloster Meteor, I believe

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      1. Black Knight?

      5. Ikara

      7. Canberra PR of some sort definitely

      8. Meteor TT20? Some sort of NF11 variant anyway

    3. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart


      Gloster Meteor T.7 or one of the night fighter variants

      Consider yourself kicked.

      1: I don't think 1 is a bloodhound the fins are the wrong shape, and it is missing 2 ramjets at the side and the 4 boosters

      4: may be the Black Arrow.

      6: Sea Slug surface to air missile?

      1. Mips


        Bloodhound main engine is a ramjet so it needs the boosters to fly at all, but apart from the main fins it certainly looks like one.

  10. Matthew Smith

    You can tell it was the British research base. Look at the size of the potholes in the road.

  11. Dapprman

    Number 5

    If i'm correct it's not a missile, but rather the fuselage of an AVRO 720 rocket fighter.

    I agree on #7 being a canbera, but 6 confuses me as I thought it was a bloodhound, but as some one else has pointed out the RN did not use it.

  12. Francis Boyle Silver badge

    In order

    Six phallic symbols, a Canberra and a Meteor.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Crivens, what a collection...

    1-5... Ahh... Err... Umm...

    6 - Sea Slug

    7 - Canberra

    8 - Meteor.

    Ah, well, a swift pint and a half, then.

  14. Steve Evans


    No idea about the ID of any of them.

    About #6, having looked at it, and finally working out which way round it goes, I can only deduce that it is the world's largest nurf gun dart... Damn that's gonna leave a forehead ring and a half.

  15. Stoke the atom furnaces

    answers on a postcard

    2: Black Knight

    5: Ikara

    6: Sea Slug

    4: Black Arrow

    7: Canberra

    8: Gloucester Meteor

    1 and 3 have me stumped.

  16. Neil Hawkins

    #8 looks like a modified Meteor

  17. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

    number 7

    The Larch...

    Sorry. Actually, without having cheated, #7 appears to be an English Electric Canberra medium bomber converted to reconnaissance. The USAF used a variant of that, but the pilot and bombardier sat in tandem rather than side-by-side.

  18. hugo tyson

    7,8 = EE Canberra, Glostor Meteor

    I recently saw a Meteor flying at Duxford, beautiful, first post-restoration show.

    Our first deployed jet aircraft.

  19. SkippyBing

    My guesses...

    1 - 4 not a scooby, although either 2 or 4 is Black Knight

    5 - Ikara, which was launched from ships to drop a torpedo a sensible distance away.

    6 - Sea Slug, which was launched from ships apparently to provide attacking aircraft with a nice smoke trail for target indication...

    7- Canberra bomber.

    8 - Meteor, not sure which version but it's a two seater modified for tracking duties by the look of the camera ports in the nose.

    So that's two pints then, cheers!

  20. AbnormalChunks

    Gap filling

    1 though 4 are a bit of a mystery to me...

    5. Is an Ikara Anti Submarine rocket that had nuclear warhead in production

    6. Looks alot like a Sea Slug (Looks as though it probably shot down a Fairey Firefly drone!)

    7. Is an English Electric Canberra (but not sure of the mark though, a B.2(mod)?)

    8. Is a Gloster Meteor T.7 but with a camera nose from an FR.9 or PR.10

  21. Matt D (Sub-Ed)

    Not sure about the missiles...

    ... but no. 7 is certainly a Canberra and no. 8 looks like some kind of photo-recon Gloster Meteor, or, given the non-standard colour scheme, one which has been fitted with cameras to act as a chase plane or launch monitoring vehicle.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    blood hound

    black knight


    black arrow





  23. CN Hill

    1. Air to air missile - Red Top?

    2. 2 stage Black Knight

    3. Jabiru?

    4. Black Arrow

    5. Never seen anything like it. Stick my head out and say it's not British.

    6. Sea Slug

    7. Canberra

    8. Meteor.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Glad to see two other people had pretty much the same answers as me for the quiz!

  25. AlephP

    1. Closer to a Rapier than a bloodhound I think.

    2. Black Knight

    3. Jabiru Mk 2

    4. Black Arrow

    5. Ikara Anti-Submarine missile

    6. Sea-Slug Prototype, later versions changed fin design.

    7. Canberra

    8. Gloster Meteor

  26. graeme leggett


    looks like the Fairey Fireflash but wings seem a bit stubby.

  27. Clive Summerfield


    1. Dunno, looks a bit like a Fireflash, but without the boosters

    2. Black Knight

    3. Jaguar?

    4. Black Arrow

    5. Ikara - Australian torpedo carrier

    6. Sea slug?

    7. Canberra PR7 or PR at a guess

    8. Meteor T7 though the nose looks a bit odd, as if the nose of a PR10 has been grafted on

  28. Anonymous Coward


    Can you post the answers now, im kinda curious

  29. Owen 3

    I go past here quite frequently for work (Driving trains on the east-west mainline a few km to the south through Pimba) and the place is always lit up like a circus so there must be something happening up there.

  30. Gumby1

    Damn I missed you

    As probs the only reader of El Reg and a resident of Woomera I'll have to count my self out from the comp.

    But glad you had a chance to look about the place.

    Yes the Bottlo has coldies in the fridge at the back or you can get them from SPUDS at the corner of the hyway. Its a interesting place with the Range very busy through out the year, no its not closed.

  31. Glen Turner 666
    Black Helicopters

    Well worth a visit

    The Range was also used for testing electronic warfare systems. The museum has a selection and is well worth a look if you are into electronics. They've also got some beautiful 1960's optical systems.

    The whole place gives you an idea of the extraordinary endeavour which was the UK's attempts to build a ICBM (and Australia's cooperation in that with an aim to become a nuclear power). It was a nationwide project of which Woomera is the remaining artefact: DSTO at Salisbury in Adelaide is a shadow of its former self with the huge rocket assembly factories now demolished for housing estate; and only foundations remain of the nuclear facility at Jervis Bay, NSW, which never entered service.

    I worked on the DSTO site in the 1990s and it was full of open fields with red brick buildings and white roofs, often protected with bunds. As I cycled to my building (the site was kilometers wide) I often thought that I wouldn't be shocked to see the Tardis.

  32. Space Junk
    Thumb Up

    Woomera is alive and Well!

    Woomera is indeed a quiet town but a very nice oasis in the desert. Great pub and resturant, excellent swimming pool, bowling ally, two museums, picture theatre and community nights on Thursday's (RSL) and Friday (Sporties). About 350 people live there today supporting the Woomera Test Range. The range is fully operational and very busy. You don't see much during the day coz everybody is at work! - and most work 'out on the range' so unlikely to see much action in town except early in the morning and the evening when they all 'come home'. In keeping with good Aussie tradition - for a small town there are at least 5 places to get a cold stubby - not counting the General Store's 'bottle shop' - the watering holes for a coldie include the Eldo hotel, the RSL Club, 'Sporties' at Breen Oval, the Traveller's Rest (caravan park) and the golf club. Not to mention the nearby (and famous) 'Spuds Roadhouse' at Pimba. Defence is also about to spend a lot of money to upgrade Woomera which will see it very busy through to at least 2030-2035 so the place is here to stay. The 'busy' season for tourism is April to October - and the town regularly hosts well over 70,000 visitors - Woomera is a unique experience, just read the comments in the vistor's book at the heritage centre and you will find most people (Aussies included) are quite amazed about the history of the place. Oh - and one final point about the British - in 2009, the UK test flew their MANTIS UAV at Woomera - this was the UK's first 'rapid concept, design, build and fly' aircraft project since WWII - it was a great achievement for the UK - check out the details of that amazing project on the net - search "BAE Mantis Woomera" - it's something to crow about it you are a Brit - and Woomera was right in the middle of another history making moment in aerospace development - just as it was last year (2010) when the world's first deep space probe brought back an asteroid sample - search google for 'JAXA Hayabusa Space probe Woomera" - do the You Tube thing as well - some great clips about Woomera - past and present. cheers/Rocketman.

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