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Video Clip Synopsis:
Rocket making and launching tests the limits of science and technology at Woomera in South Australia, the longest rocket range in the Western World.

2min 16sec

Testing Rockets at Woomera Rocket Range is an excerpt from the film Rocket Range Australia (19 mins), produced in 1957.

Rocket Range Australia: When this film was made in the late 1950s, the Australian Government’s Weapons Research Establishment in South Australia used what was then cutting-edge technology for rocket research and testing. This film provides a fascinating insight into the work carried out at the sprawling Salisbury complex of offices, laboratories and workshops and at Woomera, home to both the world’s longest rocket range and a purpose-built township in the middle of the desert.

Rocket Range Australia is a National Film Board Production. Produced by the Commonwealth Film Unit in association with the Department of Supply.

Study Module

Curriculum Focus: SOSE/HSIE
Year: 9-10
Strand: Time, continuity and change
Theme: Science Work

Key Concepts

Defence; Cold War; Propaganda; Science and Technology

Curriculum Applicability Notes

ACT:Time, continuity and change, High school band
NSW:History, Stage 5, Topic 4
NT:Social systems and structures — Time, continuity and change Band 5, SOC 5.1
Qld:History Years 9 and 10, Time, continuity and change Level 6, TCC6.1
SA:Time, continuity and change, Standard 5
Tas:Social responsibility — Understanding the past and creating preferred futures
Vic:History Level 6, 6.2
WA:Time, continuity and change — Early adolescence

Context / Background Information

The Woomera rocket range came into existence as a consequence of Britain's defence requirements following World War 2. Britain needed a large, remote area in which to test new weapons systems. Australia was keen to be part of the nuclear weapons development process that would be a key part of the Cold War and offered the Woomera area as a joint facility.

Founded in 1947, for 30 years Woomera functioned as the support and residential base for the largest overland rocket range in the Western world. It was a joint Australian/British venture.

During the first decade and a half of operations at Woomera, Britain and Australia used the massive industrial complex at Salisbury, near Adelaide as the backbone of the Weapons Research Establishment (WRE).

In 1962 France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands joined Britain and Australia to form the European Launch Development Organisation (ELDO).

In March 1958, the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) completed its first space tracking station at Woomera. NASA's station in Woomera (1960-1972) served as a vital communications link for Apollo XI as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon in July 1969.

More recently, Woomera's role changed from a support base for a rocket range and defence research and development, to that of a residential and support area for the Joint United States-Australian Defence Facility at Nurrungar, which was established in 1970. It was a ground station for a global strategic satellite surveillance system, whose role is to detect the launch of missiles and above ground nuclear detonations. Nurrungar closed in 2000.

Woomera was until recently also the location of a remote detention centre for asylum seekers, and who were seeking refugee status. Many were held at Woomera while their claims were processed and investigated. The detention centre was closed in April 2003.

Considerable international and national aeronautic and space research and development continues at Woomera today.

Discussion Pointers

What is the image of Woomera that is presented in the video clip?

How does the filmmaker create that image?

What is the image that is created about the nature of the programs at the site?

Woomera was developed as a missile testing area after the end of World War 2, when Australia had feared invasion, and when various parts of the country had been bombed. Why might Australia have been interested in being part of the development of nuclear weapon delivery rockets?

Nuclear weapons can be used for defence, or for attack. Only one of these two possibilities is mentioned in the video clip. Why might that be?

Is this a video clip about science, or does it also have a political function? Discuss your ideas.

Suggested Classroom Activities

  1. This video clip shows Australia in a global citizenship role, as a partner with various other democratic nations. Such a partnership has many advantages and benefits, but also disadvantages and costs such as a sharing of national sovereignty and control in a joint agreement.
  2. Research Australia’s joint defence agreements on Australian soil, and prepare a case for or against such agreements.

Modules That Use This Clip

Science Year 7-8, SOSE/HSIE Year 9-10, SOSE/HSIE Year 11-12