Maralinga - Field of Thunder
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THIS CACHE CANNOT BE ACCESSED WITHOUT PRIOR ARRANGEMENT AND PERMIT FROM THE MARALINGA TJARUTJA. DETAILS BELOW.
This is a difficult cache for logistics reasons alone.
Once at the location it is relatively simple. A permit is required to access the area (info below) and it is in a remote Australian outback location requiring a well set up touring 4wd to access. However the historical reward to be had at the location is more than rewarding for those who venture this far.
Note: The Maralinga Tjarutja Community is a dry community.
Maralinga was the support town built in the early 1950’s to accommodate military personell & scientific support staff working on the British atomic test program. The test program had originally commenced at Emu Field, often referred to as one & the same as Maralinga, but in fact the two locations are different.
Once the first tests had been undertaken at Emu, there was a need identified for a site further to the south to assist with supply of the project utilising the transcontinental rail line. Len Beadell, who surveyed the Emu site & the Woomera area and road network associated with the rocket range, was tasked with locating an area and chose the current township site, surveyed the forward area and two airstrips – one of which is now the current Maralinga Airport.
The land that Maralinga & the atomic test program occupied was traditional land of the Maralinga Tjarujta people. It has since been handed back to the traditional owners after the significant Thiess clean up contract completed in the mid ‘90s. Travellers may now apply for permits from the Maralinga Tjarutja community to enter & stay at Maralinga.
The permit application & conditions can be found in the picture gallery for the cache. They can also be downloaded from (visit link) Based on our experience a letter outlining the reason for your visit; historical interest, rehabilitation of the area etc. accompanying your permit application may assist, though we have been advised that the community is keen to encourage visitors and the caretaker was excited by the possibility of a cache encouraging cachers to visit the area.
Once you have organised your permit it is possible to visit & stay in Maralinga where much of the foundation work and some of the original buildings can be observed, along with more modern additions brought in during the Theiss clean up. Two of the forty eight buildings and the original hospital building are still in place; one has a historic display of artefacts from the township, airfield and forward area. Though filled in the swimming pool is still there and the area drips with history from the moment you gain access to the site at The Barrier.
The 2400 metre airstrip is amazing, with the terminal building still standing & very clever use of the parking area which collects rainwater to supply the township.
Accommodation is available in well appointed mining style accommodation, though there is abundant room on concrete slabs to set up camper or caravan for a couple of days. Robin Matthews & his wife Della are the caretakers of the site for the Maralinga Tjarutja community, and are extremely knowledgeable about the history of the area. Robin is very happy to talk informatively on the history of the area and the project and on our visit spent quite a bit of time taking us around various ground zero sites where detonations took place during Operation’s Buffalo & Antler.
It is fascinating for any outback explorer with an interest in Australia’s modern history, Len Beadell (who originally surveyed the site,) war time historians and those who wish to teach their kids about historical lessons carefully omitted from mainstream education.
The area is full of surprises, particularly the road network. Access via Watson on the transcontinental railway is the recommended route. It will take approximately 5 hours from Ceduna. Access coming from the west is possible by travelling from Nullabor up to Cook (suggestion: free camp at the school) and on to Watson along the rail line or via a track skirting the northern edge of the Nullabor Plains from Cook to the Maralinga Road north of Watson. Access to the turn off at Watson either from Googs Track or Cook along the rail line is a contentious issue. I have done it and would happily do it again, and none of the rail workers encountered raised any issue with our presence. Many Internet sources suggest that there are legal issues with doing so. The cache may be accessed without use of either rail side track - east or west. I'll leave it to you to choose whichever route you are comfortable with.
As with any outback travel it must be recognised that you are travelling into a relatively remote area, where you must be self sufficient. Communication along the rail line is possible these days on Telstra mobiles, but a Satellite phone or HF radio is desirable. UHF radio is used for communication around the site & while travelling with Robin into the forward area. Make sure you are carrying enough fuel, food & water for the duration of your stay & a margin of safety in case of road closures in adverse weather events.
Diesel may be available for purchase from Maralinga but phone first as a courtesy to confirm that it will be available, particularly if you will depend on it for range. Petrol is not available.
A 4wd is recommended for most outback travel and I doubt two wheel drive cachers will travel this area, nor would I recommend it.
NOTE: The cache has been listed as an unknown to meet guidelines. The final cache location IS AT THE POSTED COORDINATES. ie. It is basically a traditional, but due to the need for additional requirements such as permits it cannot be listed as one.
The cache is a 400ml Sistema with a log sheet & room for small swaps or trackables. (Trackables left here may be a long time before moving on. Consider a visit only.
Robin has offered to act as the caretaker of this cache. I would recommend contacting him (08 8670 4081) prior to applying for your permit to ensure that he can accommodate you & show you around when you are choosing to travel. Access to the town site & forward area is only possible with the escort of the caretaker.
Happy caching. As with many of my caches this one is a cache about the journey – and this is one journey you won’t forget.
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