HEH Naval Communication Station
Naval Communication Station Harold E. Holt is located 6km north of Exmouth. The area had a past history of military activity even before the COMMSTA was established. The submarine tender "USS Pelias", was moored in Exmouth Gulf providing submarine support during World War II, however, because of bad weather, it was subsequently decided to relocate the facilities, further south. Other military equipment remained at Exmouth, including a direction finding station, a landing strip, an RAAF radar station and a squadron of RAAF fighters. After 1945, only a small base maintenance unit remained.
A small communications base was set up at about the same area that the COMMSTA now stands to support a submarine replenishment base nearby.
During September 1960, a team of US Navy personnel visited Western Australia to select a site for the present COMMSTA. The area from North West Cape to Point Torment in King Sound was considered. On January 19th, 1961, a contract was awarded for a report on the area during which a joint venture personnel team visited the area and the "Cape" was chosen as the home for the Naval Communication Station. Construction was scheduled to start in mid 1963 with an operational date set for July 1st, 1966.
After much planning and simultaneous construction, many long and arduous days went by, culminating in the commissioning of the Station and the dedicating of the town on September 16th, 1967. On September 20th, 1968, the name of the station was officially changed to US Naval Communication Station Harold E. Holt in memory of the late Right Honourable Harold E. Holt, former Prime Minister of Australia.
From 1st January, 1975, the Station has been jointly manned by Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and US Navy Personnel and renamed "Naval Communication Station Harold E. Holt". The total workforce then was approximately 600. In 1992 command of the base was officially passed from the United States Navy to the RAN. The Commanding Officer was a RAN Commander, responsible for the efficient operation of the station. The RAN personnel filled approximately 40 positions with approximately 150 Australian civilians employed in various aspects of the station's operation. When the RAN left the Station in 1996, a civilian contractor was appointed to operate the Station.
The station itself is divided into two locations:
Area "A" houses the Pier, VLF Transmitter and the Power Plant. The Very Low Frequency (VLF) transmitter's signal penetrates water allowing submarines to receive the transmission without surfacing. The North West Cape VLF Transmitter Station consists of one central tower surrounded by two concentric circles each of six smaller towers ranging from 304 to 387 metres in height and is 2.54 km in diameter. It communicates over immense distances with submerged submarines in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Rising to a height of 387 metres is Tower Zero of which, at the time of construction, was the tallest man-made structure in the southern hemisphere. The 12 towers stand in two concentric rings around it supporting the Very Low Frequency (VLF) antenna array covering one thousand acres - the largest in the world.
The power plant within the VLF Transmission Station is one of the largest presently operated. It is made up of six diesel powered generators with each possessing the capability to produce 3,000,000 watts of power. The combined power output is enough to power a city of 12,000 people. This power plant provides electricity needs throughout the base and is run and maintained by Australian civilian personnel.
Area "B" incorporates both the station headquarters component and the high frequency transmitter site (HFT). Area "B" contains the administration building, the Fire Department and Security building, Public Works maintenance shops, Supply warehouses, various Fiscal and Disbursing facilities and a Gymnasium. The area also housed indoor basketball courts, a ten pin bowling alley and a base-ball field when the United States Navy was in command.
Within Area "B" but separate from the main station complex, is the High Frequency Transmitter (HFT) site. The HFT building houses a number of transmitters, many of which are dedicated to point to point communication circuits. These circuits are established with shore facilities and navy surface ships operating within the station's area of communications responsibility.
In July of 2002 all naval personnel departed the Base and the facility is now managed and operated by a civilian company Raytheon Australia.
A little piece of America
When the base was run and maintained by the US Navy they provided everything and anything to make their Navy personnel feel at home. Up to 200 American Cars with left hand drive were flown and shipped over to Exmouth for American families. They were treated to all American foods and traditions including playing their National Anthem every day at 8.00am and then again at 6.00pm. Residents of Exmouth both American and Australian had both American and Australian public holidays including Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Halloween. Residents of Exmouth consider the interaction between our two nations during the 1960's to 1990's to be an exceptionally happy time and an unparalleled success. On 1st October 1992 full command of the base was passed from the United States Navy to the Royal Australian Navy however the military partnership between the two forces is still as strong today as it was then.