The Taranis unmanned drone in flight over what is believed to be the Woomera Prohibited Area in South Australia. (Supplied: BAE Systems)
The South Australian Government wants to look for gold and copper in one of the outback’s most restricted areas.
- The WPA is the largest land testing range in the world, but some now believe there could be deposits of copper and gold within
- South Australian Mining Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan says it is in the ‘nation’s interest’ to mine on the site
- Commonwealth approval is needed to enter the WPA for non-Defence reasons
The Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA) is a military testing range more than 400 kilometres north of Adelaide.
It’s made up of three sections. Two are used sporadically by the Defence Department for weapons testing. The third area, known as the Red Zone, is heavily regulated and used year-round by Defence.
It is up to the Federal Government to approve the state’s proposed geological, geophysical and geochemical surveys in the WPA.
Mining Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan, right, wants to survey the WPA’s Red Zone for minerals. (ABC News: Michael Clements)
South Australian Mining Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan said there could be deposits of copper and gold inside the Red Zone, which is located between Roxby Downs and the Stuart Highway.
“It’s a key part of the Gawler Craton, the same area that includes Olympic Dam and Carrapateena, and several other very good resources,” he said.
“It’s exactly the kind of place in South Australia that we believe potential new mines could be.
“The reality is, [the WPA] is a very special and highly prized, at an international level, military testing area.”
‘In the nation’s interest’
Covering more than 122,000 square kilometres, the WPA is the largest land testing range in the world.
Mr van Holst Pellekaan said it could be in the “nation’s interest” to mine within the Red Zone.
“If we found that there was another Olympic Dam-sized mining opportunity, close to or in a section of the Red Zone, it might well be in the nation’s interest for that mining to go ahead,” he said.
Commonwealth approval is needed to enter the WPA for non-Defence reasons, but Mr van Holst Pellekaan said, if a mine was to be built, workers could move in and out of the Red Zone daily.
“The Red Zone is very close to the town of Woomera and very close to that south-eastern boundary of the rocket range,” he said.
“It’s not inconceivable that all the people that work there could actually reside outside of the Woomera Prohibited Area.
“[Workers] could just enter to do the work and come out and, yes, it would be possible to adjust Defence’s operations within the WPA to work around that.”
No permits for the Red Zone
A spokesperson for the Department of Defence said it was aware of the South Australian Government’s proposed geological surveys.
More than 120,000 square kilometres of the South Australian outback is occupied by the Woomera Prohibited Area. (Supplied: Paul Gameau)
“All forms of access to the WPA for non-Defence use require Commonwealth approval through a permit system,” the spokesperson said.
The Woomera Prohibited Area Rule, introduced in 2014, established a coexistence scheme for ground-based access to the WPA through the creation of access zones, including the Red Zone.
“Under section 7 of the Rule, no permits can be issued for ground-based access to the Red Zone as it is for continuous Defence use.
“Defence … will continue to engage closely with the South Australian Government to ensure the security of Defence activities in the WPA.”
Revitalising a town and an industry
Woomera is a town of about 150 people, in South Australia’s far north.
It played a key part in Australia’s space industry, with the country’s first satellite, WRESAT, launching from Woomera in November 1967.
David Olney from the University of Adelaide says mining could help the town of Woomera. (Supplied: David Olney)
David Olney, an associate lecturer in the University of Adelaide’s school of social science, said knowing what resources were in the Red Zone could help prepare the state for the future.
“I would hope that that is the main reason it is being talked about,” Mr Olney said.
“It would be a lot easier to do that, if the town had a second reason to exist, if it had more reasons to make money.
“If the far north [of South Australia] can be relevant for both mining and space, that’s a double economic boom and a double justification for infrastructure spending.”
And Mr Olney said mining could help Woomera one day support a thriving space industry: “I think mining might be another good way to help kick things off, if it’s a safe thing to do.”