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.
a grand harvest plan
The floodplains of the Fitzroy River, southeast of Derby, once hosted sheep at Liveringa station.
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.
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.
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.
The levy failed spectacularly in the 1983 floods and wiped out the $20 million tidal operation.
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.
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.
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.
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.