Ground Zero, at the Taranaki nuclear test site at Woomera in SA. Writer Ken Eastwood, indigenous liaison officer Andrew Starkey and Maralinga caretaker Leon Ashton explore the site that’s now declared safe for visits and hunting – but not as a place to live.

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    Sun-patterned scrapings cover the scorched earth of Taranaki test site at Maralinga in SA. As well as absorbing a nuclear blast equivalent to 27,000 tonnes of tnt, the Taranaki site was home to the most dangerous trials at Maralinga, including the scattering of 22 kg of radioactive plutonium. In a $100 million clean-up here, which finished in 2000, earth scrapers and streetsweepers collected and buried contaminated soil from more than 150 ha.

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    Unexploded bombs, rocket parts, grenades and other potentially dangerous junk litter large parts of the Woomera Prohibited Area, as this sign on Lake Hart, at the area’s southern edge, attests. Workers on stations throughout the WPA regularly come upon objects, unidentified and otherwise.

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    A tree on the salt-encrusted shore of Lake Hart in the Woomera Prohibited Area, a former atomic testing location.

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    Trailed by three friendly dingoes, Leon and Dianne walk through the ghost town of Maralinga. “It’s heritage – it’s part of our history – whether good, bad or otherwise, it’s unique,” Leon says. The white dongas in the background have since been sold and removed.

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    Woomera Golf Club presi­dent Wally Broome describes the unusual course as: “18 holes of pristine sand. The pros come up and they can’t play it.”

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    Nova Aerospace senior weapons system engineer Peter Nikoloff acts as impromptu tour guide at the now-defunct US-Australian military facility Nurrungar.

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    Woomera’s rocket park spills onto the front yard of the school, which used to include children from the detention centre in its classes.

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    Wayne Rankin has statuesque rocket parts around his homestead in the Woomera Prohibited Area, such as this Skylark nose-cone and Black Brant motor.

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    Inside the spherical radome at the at the now-defunct US-Australian military facility Nurrungar is a 21 m diameter satellite dish.

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    Writer Ken Eastwood contemplates the 4-m high, razor-wire-topped fence at the now peaceful Woomera detention centre. Occasionally the centre is used as barracks for troops moving through the area.

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Gallery: Woomera’s prohibited area

By AG STAFF | January 22, 2014

One-eighth of SA is a no-go zone; a place of secret military testing, nuclear explosions and a heck of a lot of sheep.