Thursday, December 01, 2022

Decades after the WA desert dream was abandoned, all that’s left are decaying, eerie structures

In 1950s Australia, anything seemed possible in the Outback – provided you could throw enough concrete and steel at it.

A hospital in the desert 2,000 kilometers north of Perth? Let’s build one.

A 23,000 hectare rice field in a floodplain? of course we can.

A city with nothing? Sure.

With the endless optimism that came with the society of the 1950s and 60s, big things were built using lots of money, government support, and immigrant or tribal labor.

But many dreams were short-lived and what was left has slipped back into the bush of the Kimberley field.

Concrete Stairs Surrounded By Grass
The Steps once led offices in Cambellin’s irrigation plan but now they lead nowhere.,ABC Kimberley: Vanessa Mills,

a grand harvest plan

The floodplains of the Fitzroy River, southeast of Derby, once hosted sheep at Liveringa station.

A Sepia Toned Photo Of Men And Cranes In A Dusty And Concrete Bay
Workers built the Cumlin Barrage at Uralla Creek during 1961.,Supply: State Library of Western Australia,

In 1952, the former Western Australian Department of Agriculture and the private company Northern Developments began experimental crop trials on station-produced land.

The dam infrastructure, irrigation channels and pumping stations were built by the former Public Works Department along Uralla Creek, a branch of the Fitzroy River.

A Man In A Singlet Stands On An Old Truck While Hessian Bags Are Filled In A Golden Field
The first rice harvest in Kamblin in 1957.,Supplies: State Library of Western Australia, Roy Butcher Collection,

Rice, sorghum, wheat, oats, linseed, cotton and legumes were planted over the next 30 years.

A bustling settlement – ​​Camblin – was built to house farm workers with a school, shop, outdoor cinema, mechanics and caravan park.

A Small Tin Shed Overgrown With Grassy Trees And Grass
This corrugated iron projection box once beamed films onto an external screen.,ABC Kimberley: Vanessa Mills,

Crops fail – plagued by birds, insects, weeds, management and money issues,

After frequent flooding from the Fitzroy River, which could have spread 32 km wide, a 17 km long levy was built in 1980.

A Black And White Image Of A Metal And Concrete Dam
The 17-mile dam, pictured in 1961, was built as part of an irrigation plan.,Supply: State Library of Western Australia,

The levy failed spectacularly in the 1983 floods and wiped out the $20 million tidal operation.

A Large Rusted Metal Pipe Over A Creek Lined With Trees
This large water pipe was part of a now defunct irrigation scheme.,ABC Kimberley: Vanessa Mills,

Remnants of the irrigation plan spread across the bush for hectares along the Uralla Creek, including large pumping engines, water tanks, concrete channels, neatly paved embankments and broken layers strewn with trees.

the edge of the desert

Talgarno was a military base on the south coast of Broome built in 1958 to monitor experimental British Blue Streak rockets fired from South Australia.

A Huge Block Of Concrete And Red Tiles, Surrounded By Bushes
The hospital, now surrounded by bushes, was built for soldiers in 1960.,ABC Kimberley: Vanessa Mills,

The base, set out of Anna Plains Pastoral Station, was all the modern-day opposition could have needed in 1950s society, including single and married quarters, air conditioning, a cinema, swimming pool, and hospital for 1,000 soldiers and scientists.

A grand opening was held on July 4, 1959, when caviar, wine and what was referred to as “a glut of dishes” were flown in by Sir Alan Hulme, the then Federal Minister of Supply.

Yellow Concrete Walls Among Native Bushes Under Blue Sky
As the forest gets closer the walls of the hospital remain.,ABC Kimberley: Vanessa Mills,

But that all came to an end just a year later, as defense policy changed and British taxpayers barred the millions being spent in the Australian desert.

The State Heritage-listed ruins consist mostly of an old hospital and infrastructure with local sand and shell still underlying it.

Names Scratched In Gray Concrete
The builders of Talgarno Hospital left their mark in the concrete.,ABC Kimberley: Vanessa Mills,

The Commonwealth auctioned off all of the Talgarno in 1964, and shepherds, builders and hoteliers took away everything from filing cabinets to roofs.

The old military base is now home to only the desert air and cattle.

Purple And White Flowers Fall On Concrete
The military base is slowly being overrun by wildflowers.,ABC Kimberley: Vanessa Mills,
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