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Living in the Woomera Prohibited Area

Kate Taylor (Field Officer)
Published 03 Dec 2020 by Kate Taylor (Field Officer)

By now, after living remotely for the best part of the last decade, Clint and I are pretty well-versed in remote living. We're used to not going food shopping for long periods of time and the forward planning that entails. We have a well-stocked pantry and grow lots of our own food to supplement our groceries. We cook a lot of great meals to compensate for lack of restaurant outings and have quite a few “easy go-to meals” for those nights you get home from work and say “I cant be bothered cooking tonight, let's order a pizza”.

We Zoom call people a lot as we can’t visit them face-to-face, our dentist and doctors fly in on planes and our mail is delivered twice a week by the “Red Dog” (the greyhound bus en-route to Alice Springs). Also, as I learnt this year, we are really used to isolation, so Covid-19 was not a shock to our systems as it was to many.

However out here, there's an additional complexity that adds to the quirkiness of living on Bon Bon Station Reserve – the property is within the Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA).

This really puts a new swing on things and keeps life exciting.

What is the Woomera Prohibited Area?

It all started back in 1946 following the advancement in military technology of World War II. This is when the Anglo-Australian Joint Project between Australia and the United Kingdom was formed and based around the establishment of a long-range weapons testing facility at Woomera.

The area was declared a Prohibited Area in 1947 and the first military trial took place in December 1947.

At approximately the size of England, it remains the largest land-based test range in the Western world and has the second highest number of rocket launches in the world after NASA’s facilities at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The WPA encompasses the traditional lands of six Aboriginal groups: Maralinga Tjarutja, Anangu Pitjantjatjara, Antakirinja Matu-Yankunytjatjara, Arabana, Gawler Ranges and Kokatha, who all hold native title over areas within. It extends across many pastoral properties and Bon Bon, which is one of the only private conservation properties affected.

All residents and landholders in this area only reside on the land through written permission, and when Woomera “has stuff to do” and they need us to evacuate, they simply suspend this permission to reside for periods of time.

All of the properties in this zone have bomb shelters (yep, actual bomb shelters) and back in the day (and with a vast difference from our OHS standards of today), the station folk were telegraphed from woomera with instruction to get in the shelter when rockets were being launched. One correspondence from the Weapons Research Establishment to Mr Goss, a previous owner of Bon Bon Station back in 1958 stated:

Dear Sir,

No doubt you are aware from discussions with range personnel who have visited you, the Woomera Rocket Range is extending its activities to longer ranges than hitherto. Some missiles now being launched or about to be launched may impact on your property.

Such missiles will not have warheads and by the time they reach the ground all fuel should have been burst. Thus, there should be no explosive material in the missile when it impacts but only inert metal. Any danger to property or personnel would, therefore, occur only as a result of direct hit or a very near miss. The chances of this occurring are very remote and estimated at about one chance in a million, whereas the chance of death or injury from a motor-car accident in Australia are about one in 4000.

Phew! See… nothing to worry about guys… 

It was only in 1958 (10 years after the first rocket was launched) that government policy decided that people “should be warned” when firings were to take place and all the homesteads would be issued with a bombshelter and adeqate forms of communication.

However, it was the station managers' responsibility to warn the others living out at the Mulga Well outstation and to go collect the “deaf old pensioner” who lived at Myall Hutt. Originally a  shelter was built at both the Bon Bon homestead and the Mulga Well outstation but not at Myall Hut or at the woolshed. The instruction was that the “any residents or personel shearing need to be transported to one of the bombshelters, however this should only occur infrequently”.

Today, the bomb shelters are not an option and the Bon Bon Bomb Shelter is now the gathering place where we enjoy a cheese and wine platter while watching the sun set and it also offers a good vantage point to watch the occasional storm roll in.

It's also exciting while out working in the field to think that at any time, we could come across an old rocket or other weird space junk.

In the past four-and-a-half years while we've been living and working on Bon Bon, we've had multiple closures and restrictions and have had to evacuate the homestead for rocket launches, live firing trials and the latest is for the return and landing of the Hayabusa II – a Japanese spacecraft carrying the Sample Return Capsule from the asteroid Ryugu!

After recent conversations with our friendly District Liaison Officer Col, I've learnt that the asteroid's name “Ryūgū”, translates to Dragon Palace in Japanese, which is a magical underwater palace in Japanese folktale.

In the story, the fisherman Urashima Tarō travels to the palace on the back of a turtle, and when he returns, he carries with him a mysterious box – much like space capsule Hayabusa II returning to earth with its samples.

Ryugu is the 23rd minor planet studied by a spacecraft in-situ and is the target of the second ever sample-return mission to an asteroid, the Hayabusa I and II. The space capsule landed on Ryugu in June 2018, commenced its journey back to earth in November 2019 and is due to land next door to Bon Bon on the 6th December 2020. 

As of the 20th November, the Hayabusa II spacecraft, carrying the Sample Return Capsule is continuing its return journey. It’s travelling at 31.77 metres per second (11,437 kph), and currently has a little over 6 million kilometres still to go. The first three Trajectory Correction Manoeuvres (TCM) have been completed. TCM 3, which will result in the spacecraft heading toward a re-entry into the Woomera Prohibited Area, was scheduled late last month (26th or 27th November).

TCM 4, which will have the trajectory set up for the Landing Zone, is currently being conducted (2nd and 3rd of December) for landing in the early hours of the 6th of December. The final TCM 5 will be conducted when the Spacecraft separates from the Sample Return Capsule. The capsule returns to earth, and the spacecraft will be sent on another mission – this time a 10+ year trip to another asteroid 1998 KY26

For us, we'll just head off the property for the weekend to stock up on supplies and have nice take-away dinner for a change.

Another website that may be of interest: JAXA | The Hayabusa2 Re-entry Capsule Approved to Land in Australia

The Earth return final guidance phase of the Hayabusa II due in on Sunday Morning (6th Dec 2020).

The Earth return final guidance phase of the Hayabusa II due in on Sunday Morning (6th Dec 2020).
The Bon Bon Homestead Bomb Shelter and our own private sunset viewing area. The Bon Bon Homestead Bomb Shelter and our own private sunset viewing area.
The inside of the homestead bomb shelter, used as additional storage by the property's previous owners. The inside of the homestead bomb shelter, used as additional storage by the property's previous owners.
Map of Australia showing the Woomera Prohibited Area’s footprint (defence.gov.au). Map of Australia showing the Woomera Prohibited Area’s footprint (defence.gov.au).
The Prohibited Area signage you come across out here. The Prohibited Area signage you come across out here.
Woomera Prohibited Area zoning. Bon Bon Station lies across the red and the Amber zone (defence.gov.au). Woomera Prohibited Area zoning. Bon Bon Station lies across the red and the Amber zone (defence.gov.au).
Some “war and war-like materials” on display in Woomera. Some “war and war-like materials” on display in Woomera.
More weird relics found around the Woomera township including a huge rocket. More weird relics found around the Woomera township including a huge rocket.
The Hayabusa landing and exclusion zone for this weekend . The Hayabusa landing and exclusion zone for this weekend .
The asteroid 162173 Ryugu, as it appeared to the Hayabusa II spacecraft at 03:50 UTC on 26 June 2018. The asteroid 162173 Ryugu, as it appeared to the Hayabusa II spacecraft at 03:50 UTC on 26 June 2018.
The photo was taken by the spacecraft's Optical Navigation Camera – Telescopic (ONC-T) at a distance of 20km (12 miles).
A lost rocket found on Bon Bon Station by Traditional Owners while conducting rabbit warren mapping. A lost rocket found on Bon Bon Station by Traditional Owners while conducting rabbit warren mapping.
Cheese and biccies on the Bomb shelter. Cheese and biccies on the Bomb shelter.
Watching a dust storm roll around Bon Bon back in 2018 during the drought. Watching a dust storm roll around Bon Bon back in 2018 during the drought.
Kate and Clint, Bon Bon Station Reserve managers. Kate and Clint, Bon Bon Station Reserve managers.

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