A small step to the past

Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station in the 1960s. Photo by Hamish Lindsay People have always been drawn to the mountains that frame the bush capital. The original inhabitants knew these mountains well. In their ancient footsteps, cattle farmers followed. They built high mountain huts, grazed hungry stock and established rural communities. Others soon followed.

Their collective gaze was always drawn skyward. As technology advanced, our desire for an in-depth appreciation for the universe has evolved. Last weekend we celebrated our role in the 50th anniversary of one of the most amazing technological advances ever seen. The landing of man on the moon.

Why us? Sites nestled within the mountains to our west were designed to touch the cosmos. Shielded from electronic interference, these isolated and remote stations were supported by a talented and astute population. In Canberra, a national university was flourishing and cultural institutions bloomed. The bush capital in the 1960s was the perfect place for NASA. We were a geopolitically stable government and a supportive ally.

In March 1963 NASA leased prime grazing country in the lush valley of Tidbinbilla and swiftly established a deep space tracking station. An additional site further south was soon selected. Under the shrewd guidance of a gifted Scottish engineer, Orroral Valley began tracking orbiting satellites in February 1966.

As Orroral’s inaugural Director, Tom Reid would build a formidable reputation and strive for absolute perfection. As NASA intensified its desire to stroll upon a lunar surface, Honeysuckle Creek stepped up to the task at hand. The Apollo Moon Missions were its sole purpose. As one of only three stations strategically positioned around the globe, it provided a vital communication link to Houston.

In July 1969 Reid led a team of highly-trained technical professionals to capture that moment the world would never forget—Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon.

Today these sites speak of a unique space heritage and a narrative of astronomical exploration. New interpretive signage and artworks have been installed on the Honeysuckle site for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon landing. Celebrating an ancient culture, the Ngunnawal to NASA track links the past with the future.

With tranquil sites to pitch a tent and engaging on-site interpretation, the Honeysuckle and Orroral sites showcase a unique chapter in the remarkable story that is Namadgi National Park.

Take the leap yourself, it’s only a small step away. To discover more visit: www.environment.act.gov.au

Brett McNamara is with ACT Parks & Conservation Service.

Brett Mac

Brett McNamara - Regional Manager with ACT Parks & Conservation Service

Brett loves our national parks almost as much as the Gang-gang on his uniform. He is prone to using the word 'majestic' when referring to the bush capital. He loves talking. A lot. His favourite animal is the playful platypus.

Article also appeared in The Chronicle