Orroral Stories from Clive Broomfield


1.) A proposal to keep Orroral Valley

2.) Riding the Cherrypicker down Fitz’s Hill

3.) The day Team Orroral saved a 100 million dollar satellite

4.) Making do with what you’ve got.

1.) A proposal to keep Orroral Valley

After Orroral Valley closed in 1985, and the 85 foot antenna had been moved to Tasmania, the site quickly fell into disrepair.

Clive Broomfield wrote this submission to the ACT Parks and Wildlife Department in the hope that the buildings in this isolated valley could be put to good use.


31st July 1987


With new suburbs springing up and the population of the ACT continuing to increase, the school population is now in the vicinity of 90,000 students. The only educational and recreational camps in the ACT are Cottermouth, Birrigai and Camp Sturt which are permanently overbooked, so that each week hundreds of students have to travel interstate to attend suitable camps elsewhere.

However, within the ACT there is a location that could be converted into a very attractive recreational camp and that location is the disused Orroral Valley Tracking Station. Before it closed some years ago the tracking station had a population of around 200 people, which means that the basic facilities exist but due to the long period of disuse will need considerable effort to restore.

Our proposal then, is to convert the Orroral Valley Tracking Station into a Community Educational and Recreational Centre. Accommodation will be of the ski lodge style, with users providing their own sleeping bags and food etc. All facilities for cooking, washing and sleeping will be provided. The project rooms will be converted into classrooms with whiteboards and furniture. Instruction in many subjects such as Geology, Astronomy and Ecology could be conducted in classrooms and reinforced with field experience. Indoor and outdoor recreation facilities can be developed and as the valley is 10 kilometres long, within Namadgi National Park and surrounded by the Brindabella Mountains, there is unlimited scope for bush walking, climbing and orienteering.

If you agree with the desirability of this proposal we earnestly request a letter of support pledging both financial and working assistance to get the project moving.

The working support from the staff, senior students and parents could be in the form of specialised skills (plumbing, carpentry, electrical etc.) or general working parties.

Financial support would be placed in a trust fund and returned to you in the form of reduced cost of hiring the facilities in the future.

Please help us to make this project a success.

Yours faithfully

Clive Broomfield


The Proposal also offers the following advantages:

Historic Site: A section be set aside to commemorate the role of Australia in the space industry, the twenty years from Vanguard to Shuttle.

Security: The site will be manned at all times to prevent further vandalism.

Site Maintenance:
The building and area be maintained and improved.

Local Work: Caretaker will be hired and local support required to run the camp. During the restoration phase considerable work could be done by out of work youths on work experience and community work from the courts under expert supervision.

Other users: When the Centre is operational Parks and Wild Life could use the facilities also the Federal Police for their Mountain Rescue Service. As it is situated in the mountains it could be used by interstate organisations for conferences etc.

Members: Members of the original site maintenance crew have showed interest in providing expert advice on the restoration of services.

Power: Could be provided to the new Space Centre and the Laser Centre on the mountain thereby reducing the costs to all.

Sadly, by 1990 the site was badly vandalised and the buildings were demolished.


2.) Riding the Cherrypicker down Fitz’s Hill.

One memorable event at Orroral was using the 14 ton 85 foot cherry picker.

As tech C in charge of the antennas, it was my job to train the new recruits to the station. Priority was safety, and I made certain that everybody unde stood the workings of the truck with its engine driven systems, brakes steering etc. So I told everybody if, for any reason, the engine stops make sure you do not drive it, until it is repaired as you lose all brakes and steering.

One day I had a request from one of the government departments, that they wanted to radiate a signal on 400 MHz at Deacon, and could we check for interference. As we could get a good TV picture on 157 MHz from Wollongong with the dish in the stowed position, there was a good chance we would, so suggested I could bring the cheery picker to Canberra and they could set up their equipment in the basket and I could raise their antenna to roof level. This was all agreed and I set off from Orroral driving the cherry picker.

Orroral Valley

The Orroral Valley 85 foot antenna’s cherrypicker, 1965.

Photo courtesy Philip Clark and Robert Quick.


Travelling over the cattle grid at the top of Fitz hill, to my horror, the engine stopped and I knew I only had three presses on the brake before the brakes and steering failed. My first thought was to get into as low a gear as possible before I was going to be hurtling down Fitz hill. Driving a 14 ton truck at high speed is not a good idea – however with no brakes is a no brainer.

To cut a long story short, I managed to survive by using up all the braking, and using my feet on the dash board to steer the final two bends. The vehicle came to rest just before the bridge, and I called up the station from the farm house.

When the mechanics arrived we found he had not tightened the lugs on the battery, and had forgotten to install the battery securing cage. Once this was fixed, the rest of the trip was uneventful. Yes we did get interference from the transmitter at Deacon.

I will remember this event till the day I die, as I almost died that day.


3.) The day team Orroral saved a 100 million dollar satellite

In the early days of the tracking stations operations, satellites were few and very expensive. Earth orbiting Satellites were placed in a low earth orbit so tracking stations around the world only had 8 minutes of data as the satellite was in view of the various stations.

From memory when the Orbiting Geological Observatory program commenced the first two satellites failed after a few days of operation as they failed to lock onto the earth. This was necessary to ensure the satellite antennas were directed at the earth for two way communication.

However OGO 3 operated successfully for a month then started to have problems locking on to the earth, as it was later found out the satellite sensors started to track a cyclone and retrorockets started to use up gas.

The problem was:- The data from the satellite was high speed, and the data was recorded on magnetic tape and relayed back to the USA at low speed by land line. To correct the problem the engineers in the USA had to have real time data. This would allow them to see what was happening and send commands to the satellite to correct the problem.

So as we were receiving the data from the satellite OK we had to find a way to transmit the data in real time to the USA.

After some research found out there was a communications satellite over the Pacific that could relay that data. However the modulated signal had to be FM and our Orroral transmitters radiated AM.

So I found out there was a FM modulator at a station in Queensland and I had it sent down by air.

The next problem was to modify the Orroral transmitter to accept FM modulation. Once fitted I arranged a SCAMA hook up with engineers in the USA, and the next time we acquired the OGO satellite on our main dish antenna and the transmitter antenna was pointed at the communications satellite over the pacific.

The OGO data was sent to the Orroral transmitter, and I varied the modulation depth until the engineers in the USA received the real time data. This eventually allowed the engineers to send commands to the OGO satellite to correct the problem and it subsequently gave year of service.

It was events like this that made you want to go to work, 80 kilometres from home.


Orroral Valley

The Orroral Valley 85 foot antenna at night.

Photo: Clive Broomfield.



4.) Making do with what you’ve got

Over the eleven years I was at Orroral tracking station, I had many challenging experiences; one was being called out at 10pm on a dark and wild windy night. The rain was so bad that by the time we arrived at the half way point to Orroral I had the chief engineer walk in front of the car to see were the road was.

When we arrived at the station I was told the transmitters did not work. A mini tornado had gone down the valley knocking down countless trees and when I opened the door to the transmitter build I was confronted by utter devastation.The transmitter antenna had sustained a direct hit by lightning and looking at the transmitters every meter on all the gauges were on max with no power and absolutely nothing was working.

So my first question was when was the next pass? The supervisor said in twenty minutes and can we support it, I said no.

With the able assistance of the chief engineer standing by at the electronic store, I finally cobbled together enough parts from all the transmitters to make one work. Then I realized the hydraulic powered transmitting antenna was completely inactive, so had a transmitter but no antenna. So again asked the supervisor when the next pass was and was told in 35 minutes. So I said send 6 staff and ropes to the transmitter building as soon as possible. We hooked the ropes to the antenna and using the position of the main antenna we pulled the antenna around manually to support the pass.

36 hours and about 130 transistor replacements later I finally was able to go home, with the knowledge we had only failed to support one pass.

This was the reason that Orroral got the reputation of being one of the best tracking stations in the world, and gave me many fond memories.



Orroral Valley

On 23 May 1966, Orroral Valley received this set of Nimbus image of Australia. They were assembled into this mosaic at the Goddard Space Flight Center. Scanned by Clive Broomfield.

Clive writes, “One of the strange things about working at a tracking site like Orroral was it received and processed data before it was sent by SCAMA line to Goddard in the USA. The staff received almost no feedback showing results of their work.

In the eleven years I spent at Orroral I saw more of what we had achieved in space published in women’s magazines.

I am happy to say all this changed when I worked at the Australian Centre for Remote Sensing (ACRES) for 7 years and produced the space images every day for numerous government and private customers.”

Large, Larger. Caption on back.


Here are some photos taken by Clive in the 1970s –


Orroral Valley

The 30 foot antenna.

Orroral Valley

The Ops Room during a mission.

Orroral Valley

The rocks at the entrance to Orroral Valley.