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Naval Communication Station Harold E Holt ( Area A ), Exmouth, WA, Australia

Photographs None
List Register of the National Estate (Non-statutory archive)
Class Historic
Legal Status Registered (24/09/2002)
Place ID 103552
Place File No 5/14/192/0011
Statement of Significance Not Available
Official Values Not Available

Physical Description Area A:
Comparative Places include other former US facilities in Australia of the 1960s such as Pine Gap and ground stations associated with NASA's space program of the 1960s. The former Royal Australian Naval Transmitting Station at Belconnen, ACT, designed in 1938, and listed for disposal in 2005, is the only other VLF base in Australia (RNE Register No.100639). While this reflects a similar spatial arrangement in the provision of three related areas, the aerial arrays are dissimilar, a consequence of operational requirements and the available technology of the 1930s. Contemporary facilities are now restricted to a small number of operational buildings, such as radio telescopes in the ACT and at Carnarvon, WA, with no direct comparative examples.

NCS HEH is a joint US/Australian radio relay station comprising three separate main areas: Area A (Register no. 103552), located at Cape Murat, the VLF facility comprises the Very Low Frequency Transmitter, a deep-water pier, the primary Power Plant and a POL Tank Farm; Area B (Register no. 102767) includes Administration and HF Transmission; and Area C (Register no.103554) HF Reception.

Area A includes three primary structures: the VLF Aerial Array; the Transmitter Building; the Power Plant; and the 315 metre long Navy Pier at Point Murat.
The VLF Aerial Array comprises a top and bottom loaded mechanically short, vertically polarised monopole aerial array with 13 towers supporting the array in two concentric polygonal rings. The central tower measures 1271 feet (387m) the height of the two rings being 1195 feet (364m) and 996 feet (304 m) respectively. The web of the antenna measures some 2.4 kilometres in diameter in what has been described as a top hat array. A copper, equipotential, earth-mat, is buried 30-45 centimetres below ground. The 2-storey reinforced concrete Transmitter Building is located at the centre of the array.
The Power Plant, driven by 6 diesel driven generators by 'Fairbanks and Morse' and located at the entrance to the aerial array, is served by a single storey control room building. Fuel Tanks are located external to the array, halfway to the Navy Pier. The pier is an open trestle 'T' steel and timber-decked pier with steel and timber breasting dolphins to either side accessed by means of a steel catwalk. The pier is open on one side with a steel handrail on the other side.
In 1801 Captain Nicholas Baudin named Cape Murat after Napoleon's brother-in-law. On 10 February 1818 Lt Phillip Parker King, son of the third Governor of NSW visited the cape during the completion of Mathew Flinders survey of the Australian coastline. The first pastoral lease was taken out by Thomas Carter in 1887. During World War two an allied base was established, and called 'Potshot' by the American forces after 1942. In early 1942 provision for refuelling the 25 submarines, which had withdrawn from the Philippines, was made at Exmouth Gulf. The area was also used as an advanced submarine base due to its strategic position re the seas of South East Asia. The construction of an airstrip at the Bay of Rest (Learmonth) was begun in 1943. The base included an HDF station, radar and anti aircraft defences. Fighter patrols were flown against bases in the East Indies. In 1943 the vessel 'Krait', carrying 'Z Force' personnel, left Exmouth Gulf on its historic voyage to Singapore.
The area reverted to pastoral use in 1945, but in 1963, during the Cold War years, Australia and America agreed to the establishment of a United States Navy Communication Station at North West Cape, as a follow on from the 1951 ANZUS Treaty. Construction started in October 1963, following signing of the Agreement on 9 May 1963. Three separate areas, totalling 29 square miles, were acquired by the Commonwealth and leased to the United States for 25 years. The functional requirements of such bases were reflected in the three areas to be developed. The most northern part, area A, contained the VLF transmitter which would communicate with US naval forces and complete the network of United States VLF stations around the world. The strength of the transmitter required that accommodation and administration facilities were located some distance away. Area B, the central part, located 5 miles (8 km) to the south, contained the High Fequency (HF) Transmitters, the administration areas and accommodation for single United States personnel. This was located in the area previously used in 1943 to establish a United States Naval communication facility in support of the 25 submarines. The third part, area C, containing the HF receivers was located some 30 miles (50 km) further south. Equipment in areas B and C provided ship to shore and shore to ship communication and tied in to the United States and Commonwealth world-wide naval communication network, including the Royal Australian Naval Transmitting Station at Belconnen, ACT. The complex, called US NAVCOMMSTA North West Cape, cost in the order of $80 million.
The station was to serve primarily as a relay station; in effect naval communications would be picked up by the HF receivers in area C, despatched by micro-link to the Communication centre in area B and relayed via the HF or VLF transmitters.
In area A the VLF array (aerials ) comprised 13 towers to support the antenna, set out in two concentric, polygonal rings with a central tower; the array was over one and half miles in diameter. The centre tower, Tower Zero, was the highest man made structure in the southern hemisphere. The power to operate the VLF Transmitters was generated by six diesel engine driven generators capable of producing 18 million watts. The primary function of the VLF transmitters was to maintain reliable communication with the US Navy submarine fleet, in particular nuclear powered types with missiles. The VLF Transmitter was manufactured by the Continental Electronics Corporation (CEMCO) of Dallas, Texas. The transmitter was jointly constructed by CEMCO and Amalgamated Wireless Australia (AWA). The design had an output of 2 million watts in the frequency range 14-18.5 kilocycles without corona and could be operated at lower frequencies at a lower efficiency. All circuits were duplicated for reliability and operational security. Six salt water wells provided cooling for the VLF Transmitter and the Power Plant. Two Helix Coils (houses) matched the output of the transmitter to the aerial array. In August 1965 the central Tower, Tower Zero, reached full height with the first VLF transmissions carried out on 7 November 1966. In 1967 a navigation light was fixed to the main mast, making the nearby Vlamingh Head Lighthouse obsolete.
The HF Transmitter Building in Area B was to initially house some 40 transmitters, with point to point circuits connecting with US bases such as Guam in the Marianas Islands. A satellite communications system (SATCOM) was also erected in Area B, manufactured by the Hughes Aircraft Corporation. In 1967/68 a set of four a set of four Bachelor Enlisted Quarters (BEQs) were erected bringing the number to 35 permanent buildings, 12 semi-permanent buildings and 18 temporary buildings in area B. The majority of these were single storey buildings. The HF receivers at Area C were housed in a single building with receiving aerial attached.
The communication station would employ over 400 Australians and some 525 American personnel. Significantly the concept of a supporting town, Exmouth, was developed in 1962. In the same year the WA Government Town Planning Department prepared a report on the development of a site to accommodate some 700 people. The town was gazetted on 6 December 1963 and made a Shire in 1964, and by 1966 the population of the region had reached 2284, with education integrated under the terms of the Australian/US agreement. During the three years of construction some 16,000 workers passed through the town and camps, supplemented by caravan parks. During construction 130 project houses were erected for the communication station personnel, 130 houses for married US personnel and 10 houses for Commonwealth personnel in addition to 15 private residences. A guesthouse was also built for single Australian employees.
The design and construction of most structures on the Base was undertaken by a Perth based group of architects and engineers in association; Mac Donald Wagner, Wagner and Priddle, WE Bassett and Partners, DH Fraser and Howlett & Bailey Pty Ltd. The work was overseen by the Perth based US Officer in Charge of Construction, Bureau of Yards and Docks Contracts.
The official opening of the Base was on 16 September 1967. A message from US President Johnson was to the effect that the station was 'a symbol of both Australia's welcome to the United States Forces and of the United States firm intention to play a continuing role in the pursuit of peace in Asia'. On 20 September 1968 the Base was renamed NAVCOMMSTA Harold E Holt, in honour of Prime Minister Harold Holt, who accidentally drowned on 17 December 1967.
From 1967 the VLF station was the largest and most powerful of the three principal VLF stations in the US world-wide submarine communications system. The other two stations were at Jim Creek, Washington State, and at Cutler Creek, Maine. Although the High Frequency (HF) arrays were fairly common by comparison with the VLF arrays they were also extremely important to US military operations, in particular the mining of Haiphong and other North Vietnamese harbours in 1972. United States presence on Australian soil further complicated the political picture at a time when Australia supported an Indian Ocean 'zone of peace' and nuclear disarmament was a major 'Cold War' issue. In 1974 a demonstration of some 700 activists resulted in the arrest of 41 people; the 'People for Nuclear Disarmament' campaign continued into the 1980s.

In 1992 the US Navy vacated the base, with US personnel leaving by September 1993, under a transitional agreement. The facility contributed significantly to Australia's 'defence in depth' strategy and continued to provide US forces with the necessary communications for their presence in the Asia-Pacific region, with America paying some 75% of the operational costs. In May 1999 ownership of NAVCOMMSTA H E Holt reverted to the Commonwealth Department of Defence. A civilian Base Operations Maintenance and Support (BOMS) contractor now provides service support to the station, with some 130 staff. In addition there were some 24 RAN personnel (to be reduced to 3 by May 2002), 12 civilian defence personnel and 13 security personnel.
During the 1990s those parts of the station not included in operational areas were passed to the Defence Estate Organisation for management. Some buildings in Area B are now used for other than Defence purposes including dive operations, tourist accommodation, bar and bistro, ten-pin bowling and a community arts centre.
The towers dominate the landscape of Cape Range and are a strong tourist attraction.

Condition and Integrity
High integrity with changes limited to technical management and controls.
In general in good condition. For details refer to the Conservation Analysis, Harold E Holt Naval Communication Station, 2002, by Palassis Architects for the Department of Defence.
Location Not Available
1. Palassis Architects, Conservation Analysis, Harold E Holt Naval Communication Station, 2002, for the Department of Defence.
2. North West Cape, US Naval Communication Station and the support township of Exmouth, Governmnet Printer, Canberra, 1968

Report Produced  Wed Oct 1 07:55:04 2014