The story of Len Beadell: At Woomera in the Outback region of South Australia
Occasionally events half a world away can reverberate in some of the remotest places on the planet. And so it was when Hitler's V2 Bombers rained terror on English cities.
Following World War Two, Britain entered the rocket age. But to test its latest innovations it needed space and plenty of it. Soon a young bloke who knew it better than most would choose a site in the South Australian outback.
Len Beadell was a member of the Australian Army's Survey Corp. He first surveyed the site for the township of Woomera, it's rocket range and later the network of outback roads that the army crews used to pick-up the remains of rockets and other space junk.
At the time, the road network established by Len and his crew, was top secret. Now, the advent of four wheel drives has revolutionised our access to some of the harshest and most beautiful places on earth.
Len died in 1995 but five years before his death, he, his wife Anne and cameraman Phil Sexton retraced many of his journeys. We can now relive them though a series of videos, books and audio tapes.
Anne married Len in 1961 having been captivated by the Aussie bushman and the slides he showed on his return trips to Adelaide. Later, their baby daughter Connie Sue would join them and all would be immortalised in maps of inland Australia.
We now have the Anne Beadell Highway and the Connie Sue Highway.
"She's our eldest daughter," said Anne. "Connie Sue was six months old when we were doing the reconnaissance for the road."
Len and his six-man team spent years carving roads out of the scrub. They were guided by Len's uncanny bush skills, his knowledge of the stars and the mathematical calculations that helped pinpoint their location. Len's comic sketches give us some insight into the happy-go-lucky nature of this modern-day adventurer. They also show how a small mirror and a bulldozer created an interlocking bushtrack grid across fierce country like the Gibson and Great Sandy Deserts.
"Sometimes the scrub was so thick he couldn't see anything so I climbed up on top of my land rover," explained Anne. "I might be two miles ahead of him so I'd fire a fairy pistol flare into the air and a big ball of phosphorous would go up. He would see it, pick a marker and he'd rev up the bulldozer and charge through the scrub and keep the lines straight."
Over 18 years the survey and road crew - dubbed the Gun Barrell Road Construction Party - created six and a half thousand kilometres of bush roads. Along some sections you'll still see pieces of space junk picked up by crews sent out from Woomera. But in the early 50's, Len was sent out on another equally secret mission. This time to survey the site for the first British Atomic Bomb tests.
"After repeated surveys he found the ideal spot three hundred and fifty miles northwest of Woomera which came to be called Emu."
Remote locations like Emu and Maralinga would play their part in the Cold War and in the video, Len recalled his memories of those terrifying tests.
"You could actually see the shock wave coming at you," he said. "You were bracing yourself ready for it. If we hadn't have been ready it would have blown us over even at that distance."
But there were plenty of lighter moments. According to filmmaker Phil Sexton, Lenny Beadell employed hair dressing techniques, which were anything but conventional.
"He was the camp barber amongst other things." Laughed Phil. "I once asked him how you cut your own hair. He simply explain it as two mirrors… and you do the wrong thing twice!"
Len Beadell was an amazing man who is best summed up by the woman who spent plenty of time with him off the beaten track.
"He always saw the funny side of things," said Anne. "But he was stoic, he was strong and it really didn't occur to him to fail."
He was a remarkable South Australian whose life story is told in the videos, books and audio tapes produced by Anne Beadell and Phil Sexton. Contact them by phone on (08) 8524 6594.
The story of Len Beadell
Videos, DVDs, books & audio tapes
Phone (08) 8524 6594
The Woomera Heritage Centre
Open 9am - 5pm