The silence of the desert: silence like velvet

Quiet places are becoming rare; places where we can listen quietly to the natural environment.

Photograph of the salt lake, Lake Hart, in desert country near Woomera.

Lake Hart near Woomera, photo by Boobook48. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Woomera is one of those rare places.  Those who have lived in the remote town in the desert 446 km north of Adelaide, love the quietness of the place.  With no construction sites, noisy traffic or equipment, they can enjoy peace and quiet.  One former resident described the silence as being ‘like velvet.’


Here’s what three interviewees recalled of the sounds of Woomera and the surrounding countryside:

[Joan Zajicek] It was the silence – you could almost feel it.  It – what can I say – it came on you like velvet, and you felt so peaceful, it was amazing.

[Peter Zajicek] Up in Woomera, I mean, there wasn’t any noise of traffic, you know, so usually – apart from like I said the peacocks down the local arboretum honking at night – it was deadpan quiet.  The houses weren’t noisy next to you.  You may occasionally hear somebody talk, but people weren’t in the street at night.  They were all inside a house.  And if you were in the yard and looking at stars, it was deadpan quiet.  It was silence that was actually near noisy – it’s a bit like being out on the donga on one of the sandhills.  You’d just sit there and the silence you could actually hear it.  It was very different.

[Joan Adams] It was a ringing silence that was out there.  It was so – – – . There was no road noise.  If you walked out there, it was quiet.  It was absolutely – – – . It just mesmerised you.”

The importance of silence

Gordon Hempton, founder of One Square Inch says

Silence is a part of our human nature, which can no longer be heard by most people. Close your eyes and listen for only a few seconds to the world you live in, and you will hear this lack of true quiet, of silence. Refrigerators, air conditioning systems, and airplanes are a few of the things that have become part of the ambient sound and prevent us from listening to the natural sounds of our environment. It is our birthright to listen, quietly and undisturbed, to the natural environment and take whatever meanings we may from it. By listening to natural silence, we feel connected to the land, to our evolutionary past, and to ourselves.”

The silence of the desert at Woomera allowed its fortunate residents to feel connected to the land.

Do you have a favourite quiet place?

Quotes from oral history interviews for the Life in Woomera Oral History Project, courtesy of the State Library of South Australia (OH 1123).

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