Naval Communication Station Harold E. Holt

Monday, 22nd June 2009 by

This enormous hexagon, a mile and a half in diameter, looks like some kind of massive occult symbol etched in the scrub on the remote western coast of Australia, 700 miles north of Perth.


In fact, we're looking at a communication station that transmits on the very low frequency (VLF) radio waveband to vessels of the US and Australian navies.

The facility, opened in 1967, consists of 13 guyed steel radio masts: one at the centre, and one at each corner of the inner and outer hexagons. (Street View gives a dizzying perspective from the base of one of them.) The central tower, known as Tower Zero, is 1,273 feet tall1, meaning that for the first nine years of its life it was the tallest structure in the southern hemisphere.2

mast woodside

Initially, the station was operated solely by the US Navy, and the nearby town of Exmouth was built to service it and house servicemen's families. For the first year of its operation, it was known as US Naval Communication Station North West Cape, after the promontory where it is located, but it was renamed in honour of the Australian prime minister who disappeared while swimming off a beach in Victoria3.

From 1975 the site was jointly run by the American and Australian navies, but in 1992 US personnel were withdrawn, and by 2002 the last Australian naval staff had left and operations were taken over by Boeing Australia.

Today, tourism seems to have a more important role in the life of Exmouth: visitors can tour public areas of the base, as well as exploring the gorges of the Cape Range National Park and snorkelling with manta rays and whale sharks in Ningaloo Marine Park.

exmouth ningaloo

The communication station still attracts controversy, however. Over the past few years, at least five aircraft have developed problems with their ADIRUs (instruments that supply the control systems with vital flight data) while in the general vicinity of the base. The most serious incident occurred last year, when more than 100 people on board Qantas flight 72 were injured when the plane went into a sharp dive.

Could the extremely powerful radio signals from the masts possibly cause interference? Some people think so, and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau has been looking into a possible link, but the official word is that transmissions from the base are "highly unlikely" to be responsible. That probably won't keep the conspiracy theorists quiet, though...

Read more about the communications station at Wikipedia and the Shire of Exmouth site.

  1. Various sources give the height as anything from 1,194ft to 1,286ft. We're going with what the military say. ↩︎

  2. Until an even taller VLF mast was built in 1978 near Woodside, Victoria, topping 1,400 feet. ↩︎

  3. In a fine example of Aussie humour, he is also commemorated by the Harold Holt Swim Centre, a pool complex in the Melbourne suburb of Glen Iris. 🙂 ↩︎