The Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) of Australia just released a digitized version of a 1957 film documentary on Australia’s rocket research back in the day ( see video below the break ). The Woomera test range is an isolated place about 500 km northwest of Adelaide ( 2021 population 132 ) and hosts a small village, an airstrip, and launch facilities. In the Salisbury suburb of Adelaide, a former WW2 munitions factory complex was repurposed as a research center for rockets and long range weapons.
The documentary showcases a wide variety of state-of-the-art technologies from the late 1950s. As ancient as those appear today, a lot of the basic concepts haven’t changed — careful choreography of the launch countdown sequence of events, the antenna and radio systems to receive and store rocket telemetry, photographic records of the rocket in flight, and post-flight analyses of everything to fix problems and improve your designs. They tried to do as much as possible at the Salisbury campus, because as the narrator notes, it’s expensive to work at the distant test range, a concept which is still a consideration today. There’s even a glimpse of the residents’ leisure life in the barren village. It was a different time, to say the least.
We also note the GAF Jindivik remote controlled target drone aircraft in one segment, a project that was decades ahead of its time. It’s also interesting that the Jindivik wasn’t flown by direct commands like a traditional RC model airplane we’re familiar with today. Rather, it carried an on-board autopilot which received commands from the pilot on the ground — a subtle distinction but foreshadows the autonomy of modern remotely piloted drones.
If you like technology history, then you should definitely watch this video. You might not remember, but Australia was the third country to launch a satellite into space ( after the USSR and the USA ). WRESAT lifted off from the Woomera test site at 2:19 PM on 29 Nov 1967 atop a modified Redstone rocket. And Woomera is once again being used to launch payloads into space, as we covered in this 2020 article.