Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Secrets and lies

Yesterday I was flicking through the Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia, thinking that I might find some discussions of Woomera in the 1950s volumes. I didn't, but there was a lengthy article discussing the geology and geomorphology of the area. The author had conducted fieldwork between 1945 and 1950, and was presenting a report aimed at managing pastoral activites in the north-west of the state. So you would think he might have fallen across the fact that a bloody big rocket range was being built out there, and this might possibly have some impact on said activities! As an Adelaide resident, he could hardly have failed to notice the protests of 1947 when plans for the rocket range became known. But no, there was no mention at all of Woomera or the rocket range.

Of course it's possible that at this early stage any impacts of the range on local environment or people were unclear, but still, you think he'd have just mentioned it in passing.

Perhaps it was a security issue then.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Rocket art

Yesterday I went in to the South Australian Museum with my colleague Geoff Spiers, who has redesigned the Woomera Heritage Centre. We wanted to find the photograph and artefact collections of A.B. Jay, one of the last Native Patrol Officers at the Woomera Rocket Range. The curator told me of a painting in the Museum depicting depicting an ELDO rocket. The painting was done by one of the Arnhem Land Yunupingu family in 1967, when there was an ELDO tracking station up there. It is an extraordinary piece of work. As it is unlabelled, you wouldn't necessarily recognise the motifs unless you were already aware of its subject. And I knew nothing of it because I am a stone tool person, not a rock art person! (Indeed I have always found rock art rather boring, but I suppose they think the same of stone tools). Aboriginal art contains many depictions of Macassarese trepangers and European ships, and it hadn't occurred to me to look towards art to investigate the interaction of Aboriginal people with the space age.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Gibber Gabber

Back from Woomera, utterly exhausted. The weather was glorious but I spent much of my time inside, at the Heritage Centre and the library, researching old newspaper clippings and the Woomera newsletter Gibber Gabber. And what a rich mine it turned out to be! I traced the activities of the Natural History Society, who collected artefacts and went looking for rock art sites, and of the Moonwatch group, formed to track Vanguard 1 optically in 1957. There were many notices about Moonwatch meetings but the Gibber Gabber was strangely silent on the event of Sputnik 1's launch. Later, however, the Moonwatchers were happy to report sightings of Sputnik 3. (The moon referred to was the artificial satellite). The idea of having volunteers undertake tracking was promoted by Fred Whipple of the US IGY Committee.

As well hard work, some happy hours were spent in the ELDO bar ....

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Home on the Range

This morning I leave for Woomera, to do some archival research and oral history. The weather will be balmy, the desert red and dry, the bar at the ELDO Hotel inviting. What more could a girl want?

I hope to discover more about the activities of the Woomera Natural History Society, who, among many other things, undertook investigations of Aboriginal material culture and made collections of artefacts. I would like to find out if they had any interaction with the real, living Kokatha people of the area.

I will be accompanied by a Flinders University archaeology student, Andi Williams, who is looking at the social and military use of space in the township.

More when I get back.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Purity of essence

Dr Strangelove is playing on one of the cable channels this morning. General Ripper and his obsession with precious bodily fluids brings to mind Klaus Theweleit's outstanding study of the Freikorps diaries prior to WW II. These young soldiers were similarly obsessed with the idea of contagion and contamination by Jews, women, the masses. In later times, the Western bloc would often use metaphors of contagion for communist ideology.

I've been reading a lot about the International Polar Years in the last couple of weeks. Frankenstein's monster ran away to the North Pole when experiencing an understandable existential crisis. Unfortunately it's a little too early to be related to the 1888 Polar Year. But I'm still thinking about the Ice Station Zebra connections.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

At last: a study on how microgravity affects women

The European Space Agency has put out a preliminary call for women to take part in a two month bed-rest study, the first such undertaken in order to understand the longer term affects of microgravity on women. (For more details see http://www.esa.int/export/esaCP/SEMVPXV4QWD_Life_0.html).

We know that the Mercury 13 women, in 1960, performed better at many tests than their male counterparts, the Mercury 7. However, the gender imbalance in space has not really shifted that much: after Valentina Tereshkova's historic spaceflight in 1962 (the poor dear had to do it with period pain too, what a heroine), it was another TWENTY YEARS before another woman was allowed into the bloke zone. So in effect, despite a growth in women astronauts and cosmonauts, the boffins still don't really know how women's bodies adjust to space. Good on the ESA for doing something about it.

So bring on two months in bed with trashy magazines and cable television. If I lived in Europe I'd be there.