Trouble with Galahs at Island Lagoon


Galahs are a very intelligent pink and grey coloured cockatoo found in many parts of Australia.

Not only are they inquisitive, but they can be quite destructive. There are many stories of galahs causing trouble at Island Lagoon.

Don Gray, Senior RF Engineer at DSS-41 from 1963 to 1966, tells one of many stories.


Don Gray

audio Listen as Don Gray recalls galahs eating the Acquistion Aid.

(980kb / 2 minute 10 second mp3 file. Extracted from part 1 of this 2010 interview.).

Island Lagoon

The styrofoam-covered acquisition-aid, at left, became a target for galahs.

In this early photo, it is mounted at the L-Band focus.

Photo: Bill Mettyear.

Island Lagoon

Just left of centre is the Acquisition Aid, now mounted on the edge of the dish, seen here from the cherry-picker.

It’s been fitted with a metal box to protect it from hungry and inquisitive galahs.

Photo: Don Gray, January 1964. Scan: Colin Mackellar.

Island Lagoon

Ron Fletcher, Principal Officer of the Department of Supply’s American Projects Planning Group, shares a galah-control suggestion with the Island Lagoon Station Director.

Scan: Jan Delgado.

Island Lagoon

Here’s the suggestion.

Scan: Jan Delgado.

Island Lagoon

Don Gray, Senior RF Engineer at Island Lagoon, and Pat Delgado write memos to each other on the Galah Problem and an attempted solution.

Scan: Jan Delgado.


From Pat Delgado –

“The reason why the balloons appeared at the dish was because we asked Adelaide University how best we could discourage the galahs from damaging the cables. They were doing this by rotating round the cables and trepanning them with their beaks.

I was advised to tie the balloons to the vulnerable cables and put a few on the dish rim. The galahs must have thought it was show time or the balloons were some kind of large pregnant parrot. They released some of the balloons by gnawing through the string. They also pecked some and it scared the life out of them when they burst.

There were various suggestions for keeping the galahs off the cables. From using an air gun, poisoning food, banging tin cans, introducing a hawk and someone even suggested rapid reversal of the dish drive hydraulics…. Imagine the stripped gear teeth with that one! I forget what finally happened – I think the galahs went off to pastures new.”

Island Lagoon

Pat Delgado beneath the DSS-41 antenna – holding brightly coloured balloons meant to scare away the galahs. Taken in 1964.

Photo: Pat Delgado.

From John Carter

“I was a Senior Technical Officer with “Supply” and was one of the operation supervisors at DSS41 (Team A) from late 1963 through 1968. I left when the operation of the station was taken over by the contractors.

A couple of amusing things happened, none disastrous fortunately, during my team’s duty –

The dish stopped during a particular track, and was restarted.

It stopped again and one of the dish drivers went up to investigate. Around the edge of the dish were a series of bright red emergency stop buttons, and a galah was observed pecking at one of the buttons and consequently stopping the dish.

On another occasion, the pre-track calibration checks on the receiver were found to be erratic. One of the station staff was sent up to the test facility to investigate. He found that a large crow was climbing down the legs supporting the feed-horn on the test antenna and peering into the open end of the horn, thereby attenuating the test signal.

The remedy was to fit a loud claxon horn near the test antenna, and to instruct the receiver operator to sound the horn before taking any measurements.

I was sorry to leave the station, and still at Woomera, I was appointed as one of the Departmental supervisors of the Target Aircraft facility on the Range.”

From Keith Aldworth –

“At Minitrack, we had a large interferometer antenna array, for tracking satellite paths but for telemetry, we had several steerable Yagi arrays. Two of them were driven by electric motors and were quite slow moving.

The SATAN array was driven by hydraulic motors and was extremely fast. The hydraulic fluid was piped to the motors in flexible high pressure hoses (2,000psi). The SATAN was painted white and was quite an impressive structure. It had much higher gain that the other two arrays, which enabled it to receive good signals from quite distant satellites.

One morning when we arrived at work, we were amazed to see the SATAN antenna a bright pink against the blue desert sky.

First reaction was that it had been vandalised during the night but we were soon appraised of the problem.

Galahs had been chewing away at some of the hydraulic hoses and a weakened one had blown out. Hydraulic fluid escaping under that kind of pressure atomises and the antenna had been completely coated. We were without the antenna for some days, as replacement hoses had to be supplied from the U.S.

I wonder if the guilty galah managed to escape with its life. We never did find it. Happy days!”