Thursday, November 05, 2009

Standing tall

As it seems I've been, well, overly "provocative" of late, it's time for a G-rated post. The aerial photo below doesn't look like much: an almost hexagon and some random lines. Even going to the source and zooming in doesn't reveal much of interest.


What you're looking at but can't see is the very low frequency (VLF) antenna array at the tip of Northwest Cape, Western Australia built by the U.S. Navy in the 1960s. The central tower, Tower Zero, stands 387 metres (1,270 feet). Surrounding it are six 300 metre (1,000 feet) towers and six 364 metre (1,190 feet) towers. Suspended from these towers is a spider web-like antenna which broadcasts signals able to reach submerged submarines.

Constructing this facility back in the 1960s was no mean feat. The site is almost 1,300 north of Perth and is even today pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The road into the area wasn't fully paved until the 1980s and even then was subject to regular cyclone flooding that made it unusable for days at a time.

To provide power for the 1,000 kilowatt transmitter a purpose-built generating station was located on site. This employed multiple-redundant turbines that were essentially large jet engines mounted in a ground installation. Fuel for the generators was off-loaded at a purpose-built jetty nearby and was stored in tanks on-site.

The nearby town of Exmouth was constructed specifically to provide support for the facility. Living in the town was a mix of U.S. Navy personnel, U.S. civil servants, RAN and Australian civilians employed by the U.S.N.. Security for the base was handled by the Commonwealth Police (later the Australian Federal Police).

Security on the base was, in theory, very strict. In reality, things were pretty slack -- when the only bar in town (the Potshot Hotel) closed in the evening it was not uncommon for locals to head for the clubs on the U.S. base, Naval Communication Station Harold E. Holt, just up the road, where a less than formidable fence did not deter determined partiers.

Tower Zero was for a while the tallest structure in Australia, and the southern hemisphere, eventually surpassed by Omega Navigational Mast Woodside, also a U.S. facility.


Anonymous damonk said...

There is a certain irony in a submarine transmission system being name the "Harold E. Holt"...

6:25 PM  

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