A Little America in Western Australia: The US Naval Communication Station at North West Cape and the Founding of Exmouth
UWA Publishing, $45 pb, 350 pp, 9781742586854
Visiting Australia in November 2011, President Obama announced plans for the deployment of United States marines to a Darwin base. The decision to establish a permanent American military presence in northern Australia, taken with the support of Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the Australian government, was part of the 'pivot' to Asia in US defence policy. The idea for this book emerged from the public conversation that followed the announcement: to the surprise of both authors, the discussion included few references to the US Naval Communication Station established in 1963 at North West Cape in Western Australia. For thirty years, US governments had regarded the station, which enabled communication with US submarines in the Indian and Pacific oceans, including nuclear armed submarines, as vital to the prosecution of the Cold War and American defence policy generally.
While Barker and Ondaatje explain how the station emerged from the Australian–American alliance, this is essentially a history of people rather than a book about strategy or technical matters. The authors focus on the men and women who staffed the station and founded the town of Exmouth, conceived to support the US military presence at remote North West Cape.