I always get more involved in a post if there are some images to stir the imagination.
Protesters at pine Gap.
Wanting the base shut down.
After more than two decades of obsessive secrecy about what the United States and Australia were doing at the heavily guarded Nurrungar defence base
in a remote part of South Australia, yesterday the walls came down.
For the first time since it was built at the height of Cold War secrecy 29 years ago, the media was allowed through the gates of Nurrungar. It is
almost literally in the middle of nowhere, about 10 kilometres from Woomera in the north of the state, and is surrounded by a rolled barbed-wire
This was a chance to see Nurrungar before it goes. The base shuts down on 12 October, its technology redundant in a world where global has come to
mean one. ``Thirty years ago there wasn't the technology to process from a single location," said US Colonel Tom Meade, a joint commander of
Nurrungar. ``Some of the sites, this being a primary one, are no longer needed and they are less efficient than processing at a single location."
From October, Nurrungar's surveillance work will be done out of the US, at Buckley in Denver, Colorado. Six Australians will go there in January to
take the place of Nurrungar's 750 personnel.
Some extra receiving capability will be shifted to the other joint defence base at Pine Gap; its precise intelligence function has not been revealed
beyond its having an arms-monitoring component.
The Nurrungar base in the desert will be dismantled and auctioned off.
Inside the gates there are glimpses of a heavily classified world. To one side sit the three radomes, aluminium and kevlar constructions that are a
protective shell for their satellite dishes, the biggest 18 metres across.
The Department of Defence will not say how many satellites there are, nor will it reveal how quickly information can be processed into real-world
Nurrungar tracks dots of heat emission in space, which can fall into a recognisable pattern, signalling a launch somewhere in the world. This
information is processed through a data-reduction centre and a satellite-operations room, which transmits information to theatre commanders about acts
Its most significant recent application was in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm when information from Nurrungar about Scud missile air strikes was
relayed in time for warning sirens to be sounded in the Middle East.
The defining moment for Nurrungar, according to Colonel Meade, was not Desert Storm but the fall of the Berlin Wall, the dismantling of the Soviet
Union and the end of the Cold War. ``This site played a significant part in the successful and peaceful conclusion of that by warning of potential
missile launches," he said.
The casualty of Nurrungar's closure is Woomera, the Department of Defence town where the Nurrungar workforce lives. By 31March, 750 of its population
of 1200 will have left and the town's viability is in doubt.
The Defence Department, which will make a decision about support for Woomera in the next month, is committed to keeping the town open, particularly as
the US company Kistler has contracts to begin reusable satellite launches from next year.
Another project by Spacelift Australia using converted Russian missiles to launch commercial satellites from Woomera is technically advanced but has
not yet obtained licensing or environmental clearance.
Woomera has even been mentioned as a site for a proposed national radioactive waste dump. But Woomera's administrator, Mr Joe Van Homelen, said
yesterday the town was not keen. The proximity of a radioactive dump to prospective rocket launching was also an emotional issue and the two together
would not be good for business. ``We feel if we wish to use to the full capability the area for defence activities, having a radioactive repository
could impinge on that," Mr Van Homelen said.
© 1999 The Age