For over ninety years, the Proof Range near Port Wakefield has been used to test all manner of heavy weapons, historically leaving a large number of unexploded ordnance (UXO) lying in relatively shallow waters, which is why there is a prohibited area in force.
Operated by the Australian Defence Force (ADF) Proof and Experimental Establishment (P&EE), the range tests a wide range of munitions on behalf of, principally, the ADF. Of late, much of the materiel tested is recovered, yet the risk that UXOs pose to the unwary cannot be overstated.
The very tidal waters of upper Gulf St. Vincent at times leave old, corroded and potentially dangerous shells exposed which, apart from the fact that they conduct live firing of new weaponry, is why the ADF is so very serious about ensuring public safety.
The prohibited area (in red, below) is strictly “no go” at all times and marked clearly with distinctive “inner” beacons. Four more alternative range options exist, with Romeo 295 Echo the largest, extending 10.5km west and 14km south of the prohibited area. This too is defined clearly with “outer” beacons and all appear on nautical charts, including those found on ‘plotters.
When any of these areas are about to be activated, P&EE issues advanced warnings, in the form of emails to local commercial fishermen and the publication of NOTAMs (notice to airmen) in the weekend daily press and relevant regional newspapers. Then, two days before any firing, A4 notices are affixed to the warning signs at local boat ramps, community notice boards and police stations, from Black Point right around to Thompsons Beach, even to Port Gawler on occasion.
On the day of a shoot, soldiers and public servants are stationed at the Thompsons Beach and Port Parham boat ramps, directing crabbers and boaties to alternative, safe locations. As well, the P&EE boat is deployed, sometimes in company with the Water Police boat, both with powerful radar, to ensure the safety of all boats in the near vicinity.
P&EE also sends its hovercraft to patrol the Port Parham/Webb Beach area. Next year a radar will be installed at the range to provide 24-hour surveillance.
P&EE took delivery recently of a new Stabi Craft 6.9 Super Cab patrol boat, supplied by Christies Beach Marine complete with twin 90hp Suzuki 4-stroke outboards. Built to survey, the new vessel was fitted out extensively for its demanding role.
Invited aboard recently, we were impressed by the level of fit out. A powerful Garmin radome sat atop the enclosed wheelhouse, along with a Standard Horizon 30W dual zone loud hailer, remote searchlight, siren, horn plus GME aerials for an 80 channel UHF CB radio and DSC VHF transceiver. Another served a P&EE ship-to-shore radio unit.
In addition to its 200 litre fuel tank, the Stabi Craft had been fitted with a Stress Free electric anchor winch, SARCA anchor, Launch & Retrieve boat latch, diesel fired heater/demister, marine toilet, galley, gas bottle locker, cockpit hand-basin and could carry at least 40 litres of fresh water. After all, this 6.9 Super Cab was set up as a fully fledged work place for its crew of two coxswains.
After clearing the Port Wakefield channel the new Stabi Craft was put through its paces and produced prodigious speed with very assured handling. Strongly built, with 6mm bottom and 3mm topsides, the 6.9 Super Cab, designed to cope with the extreme seas found so often off New Zealand, would be more than capable of handling our Gulf waters.
The primary task of this Stabi Craft 6.9 Super Cab “Defence Port Wakefield” is to ensure the protection of both recreational and commercial craft from the clear and explicit hazards of essential weapons testing, so if it approaches you at any time, remember that its crew is coming to help, not harass.