Len Beadell is regarded as the “last true Australian Explorer” for opening up over 2.5 million square kilometers of rugged Australian Outback.
To assist Great Britain and allied European countries develop intercontinental ballistic missiles in the post WWII era, the Australian Government agreed to establish a rocket launch facility in the Australian Outback.
No other Continent in the world could offer Her Majesty’s Government the space to launch rockets with the promise that no matter how well or badly the launches went, the experimental rockets were extremely unlikely to cause much damage when they inevitably returned to Earth. A Rocketeer’s dream!
Len Beadell, then a Surveyor with the Australian Army, was ordered to find a suitable place to establish this rocket range – and having done so, survey and establish roads across Australia so that instrument stations could be established along the rocket’s likely trajectory so that the success (or otherwise) of the tests could be measured.
Thus began Len’s great “adventure”.
Over the years to come, Len would not only establish the Woomera Rocket Range, 485 kilometers north of Adelaide, but a network of Outback roads which have become legend in the Australian bush.
In his virtually unbreakable Land Rover, Len reconnoitered and plotted the course of his roads alone, then supervised his road-gang of six men – called “The Gunbarrel Road Construction Party” – in the construction of 6,500 kilometers of roads.
He said he tried, whenever possible, to make the road as straight as a gunbarrel.
Following the Gunbarrel Highway, Len built further roads by the same method, naming most of them after his family. These roads further opened up the inhospitable country for a variety of purposes.
Beadell’s sense of humour was well known, and he referred to many of his roads as “highways”. The description stuck and maps show the subject roads as highways, despite the reality that they have degraded to single lane unsealed tracks through the remote arid areas of central Australia.
In a time before computerised navigational aids, Len established Woomera and his roads with the aid of a surveyor’s theodolite, fixing his position by the stars.
Today the accuracy of Len’s maps and “fixes”, when measured with modern GPS systems, are a testament to the man and the brilliance of his mathematical mind.
Len’s dry sense of humour matched the land he travelled through – and on retirement, he told of his life’s work through video, audio and books and at countless guest appearances at community and service club meetings and at schools. Like his life’s work, Len’s talks also became “legendary”, never failing to raise a laugh and garnishing along the way, a strong following of his exploits which continues today.
Len passed away in May 1995 aged 72 years.