Len Beadell's starting Trig point

Submitted: Thursday, May 07, 2015 at 20:05
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In Len Beadell's Shepparton talk, he mentions how he found a small hill near Woomera that he carefully worked the position on for days. That point was then used for all of his later work including Maralinga, Emu, Giles etc.

Does anyone know where this point is? It may be in the prohibited area.
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Reply By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Thursday, May 07, 2015 at 20:27

Thursday, May 07, 2015 at 20:27
Hi Boobook

If the plaque is correct from what it reads, it is the point near the tourist office, right in the heart of Woomera.


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Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Friday, May 08, 2015 at 01:36

Friday, May 08, 2015 at 01:36
Hi Stephen and Boobook,

Yes, Stephen is correct. The obelisk outside the Woomera theatre is adjacent to the original survey mark placed by Len in November 1947. The obelisk and plaque were unveiled on Australia Day 1967.
The actual survey mark is inscribed "Dept of the Interior Survey Mark". It was the reference point for the location of Woomera Village, although the name had yet to be determined.

The first survey point placed for the 'Rocket Range' as it was then being called was a little further North above the escarpment and was actually placed on a survey mark established in 1876 by surveyor Joseph Brooks on a rise referred to as "Pearson's Hill". Brook's mark had been chipped into a slab of quartzite and covered by a rock cairn. Len added a more permanent concrete mark and erected an iron trig pole. This took place on 12th March 1947.

This survey mark became the starting point of the surveying and establishment of the missile firing range. The location of Emu and Maralinga atomic sites were independently established as they bore no functional relation to the missile range.

There is a further survey marker established by Beadell near the launch pad area on Range 'E' which defines the beginning of the Centre Line of the range.


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Follow Up By: Member - Boobook - Friday, May 08, 2015 at 05:15

Friday, May 08, 2015 at 05:15
Thanks Allan.

In his Shepparton talk Len clearly says that the one at Woomera was used as the basis to establish every point in Emu, Maralinga and even Giles. I have a particular interested in that aspect. You mention that they were independently established which also makes sense.

Do you have anything to show that.

I guess Len doesn't always let the facts get in the way of a good story.
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Friday, May 08, 2015 at 09:52

Friday, May 08, 2015 at 09:52
Yes Boobook, Lennie was a raconteur and he did tend to generalise and embellish the facts in his verbal stories. I need to listen again to his 'Shepparton Talk' sometime. I have heard Len chatting at Woomera and it was always colourful.
There are even inconsistencies between his books in relation to events and time but I would believe no inconsistencies in his surveying.

The location and operation of the atomic test sites were independent to the 'rocket range' but I guess it likely that Len referenced all his survey data together. See my extracts from Still in the Bush below.

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Reply By: Member - Rod N (QLD) - Thursday, May 07, 2015 at 20:35

Thursday, May 07, 2015 at 20:35
Could it be Hiern Hilll? It is marked on the map as a Horizontal Control Point (Trig Point).
Hiern Hill On the places map the hill and Trig point are obscured but can be seen on the EoTopo 200K map.
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Friday, May 08, 2015 at 01:49

Friday, May 08, 2015 at 01:49
No Rod, Hiern Hill is about 10km West of Woomera Village and as far as I can determine has no reference in publications on Woomera or Len Beadell's writings.

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Follow Up By: Member - Rod N (QLD) - Friday, May 08, 2015 at 05:40

Friday, May 08, 2015 at 05:40
The following quote is from A Pioneering Spirit, the story that began with Philip Ponds

"Lennie Beadell in his book Still in the bush describes how a Hiern Hill was so important to the surveying of the Woomera site."

If anyone has the book they could check it out.
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Friday, May 08, 2015 at 09:39

Friday, May 08, 2015 at 09:39
Hi Ron,

I believe that Elizabeth Jackson, the author of 'A pioneering Spirit' is not correct in ascribing the reference of Hiern Hill to Beadell's book Still in the Bush. I could not find a reference to Hiern's Hill in that book.

What I do find is in Still in the Bush are the following extracts:

In writing about his first arrival at the 'Woomera area' Lennie said "...at a place named Phillip Ponds...ten kilometres from the railway siding at Pimba."... "At first light next morning Lindsay Lockwood and I headed across the bare tableland towards a slight rise referred to as Pearson's Hill ... located within ten kilometres of the Ponds." Len goes on to describe the re-establishment of the survey mark at that place. In the next chapter he writes "Next came the job I had been anticipating as having top priority ... the establishment of an accurate pinpoint on the surface of the earth from which all the surveys we would be doing could originate." ... "The point was to be at the trig station named Marsella by surveyor Brooks. This trig station was near the south-eastern extremity of our work and from it we could build up a well-proportioned network to extend north-west over our entire area. Marcella was on a rise ten kilometres from the Ponds back along the tracks leading to Port Augusta..."

So it would seem that this point at Marsella was the nominated starting point for Len's Rocket Range survey. I had remembered the trig marker at Pearson's Hill that I referred to earlier but had forgotten the Marcella reference until I researched Still in the Bush again.

I would believe Lennie's own book to be more authoritative than the writings of Elizabeth Jackson. Herein lies the peril of incorrect journals.... "He who writes history, makes history"!


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Follow Up By: Member - mechpete - Friday, May 08, 2015 at 10:42

Friday, May 08, 2015 at 10:42
I always enjoy reading an hearing bits about Len ,
I have a copy of his Shepp talk , I live in Shepp but had never heard of the man at that time ,
Would have liked to be a flie on the wall following him about ,
you wouldn,t know what would happen next .
cheers mechpete
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Follow Up By: Bruce H8 - Wednesday, May 20, 2015 at 22:58

Wednesday, May 20, 2015 at 22:58
G’day Boobook et al,

I learned a very valuable lesson on this website a few nights ago as after typing a detailed response and doing a spell check my contribution disappeared never to be seen again. So now I am typing it in MS Word and will see if I can cut and paste the text into this Forum.

I retired after many years involvement with the Woomera Prohibited Area in 2003 and on and off since then I have been researching the reconnaissance and surveying activities at Woomera (Village and Ranges), Emu and Maralinga. There were a number of organisations and many people involved in this work and to my knowledge Len Beadell’s unique contribution is the only effort that has been documented.

Len’s wife (Anne - now deceased) and daughter Connie have given me access to Len’s diaries for the periods of my interest. I have read Ivan Southall’s book Woomera, Australian Geographic articles, Newspaper articles and many documents in the National Archives of Australia. Also a recently published book by Ian Bayly titled Len Beadell’s Legacy. There is one other book that I have rarely seen referenced that provides an important “I was also there account” of the surveying activities at Woomera in the first year, 1947. This book is called Return to Roxby Downs and the author is John Showers who was a member of the Australian Survey Corps detachment of 11 personnel who deployed to Phillip Ponds on 12 March 1947.John went on to train as an engineer and worked for Western Mining returning to Roxby Downs Station near Woomera to start work on the Olympic Dam mine and Roxby Downs township.

Referring to Len’s diary entries the Trig Stations (TS) were erected in the following order:-

12 March 1947 - Deployed to Phillip Ponds Out Station.
13 March 1947 - Pearson’s Hill - diary reads “Put up three tents in morning & go out & put up a trig in arvo on Pearson's hill. Cone, mark mix cement on spot. Catch rabbit. Swim in dam after tea & wash clothes. Write home at night.”
14 March 1947 - AM Heirn Hill TS and PM he erects a new TS which he called West Ponds. It is located up on the plateau to the north west of the homestead and south of the Woomera Airfield. This is an image of the brass marker at West Ponds TS. The offset circular indentation confirms that this TS was initially a rock cairn which secured the marker pole in place. It was later replaced with the standard tripod pipe and black disk structure which was still in place when I took this photograph on 13 June 2011. PS; I intended to insert two images however I cannot do this unless I am financial so the images will have to wait until I have researched this website in more detail.

15 March 1947 was an all day activity erecting the Intercept Hill TS.
16 March 1947 - Sunday
17 March 1947 - Work on the surveying of Marsella Hill TS was commenced. Marsella Hill TS was first surveyed by Surveyor Joseph Brooks on 27 August 1876. Brook’s also surveyed Pearson’s Hill, Heirn Hill, Intercept Hill, Ashton Hill and many others in the area.
21 March 1947 - Ashton Hill TS.
The Pimba Railway Siding Water Tower was also used in the initial survey.

Attached is a section of the Edition 1, 1:250,000 Torrens map sheet showing the location of the primary TS.

Yes Len was a very talented raconteur and did tend to generalise and embellish the facts in his verbal presentations. I think that inconsistencies in his books maybe due to writing some stories from memory and without referring to his diary entries.

In his book Woomera Ivan Southall is inclined to apply the “Tall Poppy” treatment to Len and he is not alone in this regard. I prefer the assessments of John Richmond (Mentor), Major H.A. Johnson (Army Survey Corps), Dr Chris Christian (CSIR Northern Australian Survey 1946), Brigadier Lucas (Operation Totem Emu Atomic Tests) and others who were directly involved with his work.

According to an article about the Obelisk published in Woomera’s weekly newspaper, Gibber Gabber in late January 1967 (possibly Thursday 26th), Mr H.J. Belson, Supervising Surveyor, Department of the Interior located the survey point related to the Obelisk Monument. Although Len did much survey work related to a number of TS in November 1947 there is no mention of a survey point for the Village in the diary entries for November 1947. The site was most probably selected on 21 April 1947 where Len’s diary states that he was “Out all morning with the Director of works & housing. Find quartzite outcrop near Lake Richardson & decide on location of roads & rlys. etc.” I am inclined to believe that the original survey point was located by the Special Survey Troop Royal Australian Engineers who published the first site plan for the area in November 1947.

I have not encountered the Elizabeth Jackson’s book “A Pioneering Spirit” and I would be interested to know how much is included about Len so I can add this to my collection. Allan are you able to assist? Some authors have made statements in relation to Len’s work that are not factual. I have even encountered on a website a statement that he was in the British Army Survey Corps when he was making the roads. Len was discharged from the Australian Army in Sydney on 14 December 1948.

With regard to Emu and Maralinga surveys. I would be reasonably confident that in the case of Emu the survey was referenced to the Weapons Research Establishment Astronomical Survey Point (WRE 3) at Emu that Len calculated. This is shown on the Edition 1, 1.250,000 Giles Map Sheet. However as is the norm the historical data is not shown on later maps.

Len spent approximately 18 months (1954/55) surveying and mapping the Maralinga area. Roughly in the centre of the forward area is a TS that he has called Clear View. My logic would lead me to believe that this is the main reference point for the survey of the area.

An interesting forum and I hope my contribution answers some of the questions that have been raised.

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Follow Up By: Member - Scott M (NSW) - Thursday, May 21, 2015 at 01:54

Thursday, May 21, 2015 at 01:54
Bruce, he does give a very detailed description about replacing one of John Brooks original survey markers.
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Follow Up By: Member - Scott M (NSW) - Thursday, May 21, 2015 at 01:56

Thursday, May 21, 2015 at 01:56
A little bit pricey...

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Follow Up By: Member - Boobook - Thursday, May 21, 2015 at 07:03

Thursday, May 21, 2015 at 07:03
Wow that is very interesting, Bruce. Thank You.
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Follow Up By: Bob Y. - Qld - Thursday, May 21, 2015 at 09:10

Thursday, May 21, 2015 at 09:10
Thanks for taking the time to post again. Enjoyed that!


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Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Thursday, May 21, 2015 at 09:35

Thursday, May 21, 2015 at 09:35
Hi Bruce,

Your post is a worthy contribution here. You really have done extensive research on this subject.

I cannot add much about Elizabeth Jackson’s book “A Pioneering Spirit” as without a copy I have relied on extracts. However I do owe Elizabeth an apology. More careful study of "Still in the Bush" has revealed that Len does make reference to Hiern Hill just as Elizabeth said...... "On its summit was a quartzite cairn erected by Brooks over one of his early trig stations. It was named Hiern Hill; after erecting a beacon there we would be returning to it many time to read angles to other points as our network expanded."

I was at Woomera from 1954 to 1958 and had a couple of brief group encounters with Len Beadell when he visited but remember nothing of note in the conversations other than his entertaining anecdotes. For one thing, open discussion of matters pertaining to operations would likely attract the attentions of Security!

Of the 'Woomera' publications, Peter Morton's commissioned work "Fire Across the Desert" is certainly the most definitive. However there are only several brief references to Beadell and his activities although it uses some of his photos and sketches. It also focuses on the missile projects with only casual references to the atomic tests. Being a publication of the Australian Government Publishing Service it can hopefully be relied on for authenticity albeit possibly with some political omissions.


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Follow Up By: Bruce H8 - Thursday, May 21, 2015 at 10:58

Thursday, May 21, 2015 at 10:58
G'day Allan,

OK on Elizabeth's book. I will try my local library for a loan.

My copy of Fire Across the Desert has seen much use over the years. The problem with this extensive record is what it does not contain. Skilled labour was in very short supply after World War 2 and the Department of Works requested assistance from Defence in order to meet construction schedules.

The role of the Australian Survey Corps in what was then called the Guided Projectiles Project was to conduct topographical and trigonometrical surveys based on aerial photography and to produce detailed maps. The primary two map sheets were Pimba and Koolymilka and were produced at 1:25,000 scale. These are very detailed.

However during the first three months some of the resources of the detachment were diverted to engineering survey work as described by Len in his diary entries and in Still in the Bush. This changed when a Special Survey Troop of Royal Australian Engineers (Army) and 2 Airfield Construction Squadron RAAF deployed to Woomera in June 1947.

The contribution of these military units is detailed in the books Paving the Way - The Royal Australian Engineers 1945 - 1972 by Brigadier P.J. Greville and Always First by David Wilson. There is another publication called Sappers at the A Bomb Tests 1952 - 1967 by Brigadier O. Magee however some of this work is included in Paving the Way. Details of these books can be obtained by using Google; I accessed them by inter-library loan. Magee does the Tall Poppy trick on Len in regard to a breakdown he had when conducting solo reconnaissance between Mount Davies and Emu and Magee’s version of events differs substantially from what actually occurred.

In the previous contribution I forgot to mention that the name Woomera suggested by Group Captain George Pither and it was adopted by the Guided Projectiles Project Board in April 1947 and first heard in public circa July that year. If you have Fire Across the Desert the events are described on page 117.

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Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Thursday, May 21, 2015 at 11:12

Thursday, May 21, 2015 at 11:12
Yes Bruce, I do have a copy of Fire Across the Desert. I guess that few publications are fully comprehensive.
GC Pither was the Range Superintendent when I arrived at Woomera.

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