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PLAQUE RESTORATION HISTORY

THE BEADELL PLAQUE LEGACY

 

    In the 1950's many things were happening. The "Cold War" was on in earnest. The "Arms Race" was building up and the "Space Race" was in its infancy. In many parts of the world "post war" economies were progressing at an alarming level. People wondered where it would all end.

    1955 saw a fellow called Beadell start something that would outlast all of these global issues.

    Almost 50 years later another Beadell is continuing the same job.

    Observatory Hill in the Great Victoria Desert was the first dot on the face of the planet to receive an aluminium plate with a few words stamped on it by a surveyor named Len Beadell. As instructed Len and his road building party were for many years making roads where there were none. There were several reasons why Len and his men spent so many years scratching "Highways" in the desert.

    Firstly, it was all required as part of Weapons Research. A network of roads for scientists to set-up instruments and recover "spent rockets" from the far-off firing range at Woomera in South Australia. They required a lot of empty space for this testing. (Both Emu and Maralinga are part of this concept; the "Atomic Bomb" tests were the Commonwealth's input to the arms race). 

    Secondly, as part of a worldwide project access was needed into areas that up until then did not have any. A Geodetic Survey of the Earth’s surface was underway. This means that scientists and surveyors all over the planet were working towards finding out basically how round our planet is. Small teams of men were knocking around calculating heights above sea level and building Trigs’ on high points throughout Australia’s deserts. A road network would speed the process up by many times.

    Thirdly, it was now possible to access the arid interior. Oil and Mineral exploration, Aboriginal interests, flora and fauna research and lastly people that wanted to see the real Australia, not just read, or watch it via the media.         

    While doing this work, Len Beadell knew that he and his men were making roads that other people would follow, in fact 6,500 km of roads. At that time maps were either inaccurate or non-existent. Len figured that perhaps a few road signs might be handy, just something simple with directions and mileages. As usual with bushman of all countries, Len made his signs from the material that was available to him at the time. He already had letter and number stamps for his survey work, aluminium was "gathered" from workshops at Woomera or Salisbury, (quite possibly these pieces were off-cuts from aircraft repairs). Posts were either cut from local trees or the plaques were blazed directly onto living Desert Oaks, Bloodwoods and Ghost Gums. If this wasn't possible, Len shot holes with his revolver into the top of empty fuel drums and then used the bullet holes to bolt the signs to the top!

    1963 saw Len stamp and fix his final plaque at "Talawana" at the western end of his last road, the "Windy Corner Road". In almost a decade Len had made and put up 45 plaque type "road signs". They were on almost all of the "bomb roads", all had information that would be of help to later travellers, and all but a few of them bear the makers name, date and an Astronomical Observation to accurately triangulate the position.

     After the end of Field Operations Len Beadell was still an active desert traveller. As soon as his children were old enough, every school holiday saw the Beadell mob packed up and headed for the bush. Then came retirement, still Len was doing bush trips with tour groups and interested parties.

    During these years from theft, fire, vandalism or other reasons many of his signs were found to be missing.

    Len was forced to replace lost and damaged plaques with replicas of the originals. A few of them were even adjusted to make them easier to photograph. Len was constantly dismayed at the damage done to the desert plaques. He always had another plaque to replace or a post to renew.

    Len Beadell passed away in 1995; his last replica plaque was erected in 1994. Fittingly the last Len Beadell plaque is probably the most photographed of them all. It is blazed into a regal Ghost Gum on a section of the now "Great Central Road", this part of the desert highway is actually one of Len's roads known to many serious desert travellers as "The Sandy Blight Junction Road".

     The Beadell family now bear the responsibility of maintaining Len's lifework. It has fallen to Len's oldest daughter, Connie, to monitor and do the work required to keep the plaques and the posts, trees and drums in order. Connie, due to both commercial and private desert trips is able to keep on top of the condition of the plaques firsthand. During most of these trips at least one replica of Len's signs will be repositioned in its original site.   

    Up to this time there have been more than 23 replica plaques made, (that's half of them). Connie has been lucky to also have some stalwart volunteers to help cover the vast area that the plaques are spread over.

    David and Margaret Hewitt, to this couple must go most of the credit. Without whose help a lot of the maintenance would not be possible. David and Margaret are long time residents in Australia's western desert country, both are employed continually by many of the Communities to fill a variety of roles. If information or assistance is required, generally Hewitt's are the first people you will call.

    Alan O'Shaughnessy, Murray Wells and David Asser must also be mentioned. These men have given their time and energy many times without complaint.

    To Connie and these few friends we owe a great deal. Without their efforts we would have none of Len Beadell's personal touches left to enjoy.

    Another phase of the project has been started lately as well. Fundraising. Connie has now begun to raffle plaques with the commercial tours she is involved in, a small souvenir plaque for a good cause. This will offset some of the costs of the maintenance program.

    With this small band of dedicated enthusiasts, Connie Beadell will be maintaining her father's work for the foreseeable future.

In 1955 Len Beadell could not have foreseen the years to come, when one of his children would be the driving force behind keeping his legacy intact for all desert travellers to see and read.

 Mick Hutton - May 2004    

 

 

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