The British government / military conducted seven nuclear weapons tests at Maralinga in 1956-57 (and two tests at nearby Emu Fields). Maralinga was also the site of a large number of ‘minor trials’ or ‘safety tests’ which resulted in extensive local radioactive contamination.
A number of Aboriginal people were moved from Ooldea to Yalata prior to the 1956-57 series of tests at Maralinga, and this included moving people away from their traditional lands. Yet movements by the Aboriginal population still occurred throughout the region at the time of the tests. It was later realised that a traditional Aboriginal route crossed through the Maralinga testing range. There are tragic accounts of Aboriginal families sleeping in atomic bomb craters. Native Patrol Officers had the impossible task of patrolling thousands of square kilometres of land.
Operation Buffalo (Maralinga, South Australia)
One Tree – 27 September, 1956 – 12.9 kilotons – plutonium
Marcoo – 4 October, 1956 – 1.4 kilotons – plutonium
Kite – 11 October, 1956 – 2.9 kilotons – plutonium
Breakaway’ – 22 October, 1956 – 10.8 kilotons – plutonium
Operation Antler (Maralinga, South Australia)
Tadje – 14 September, 1957 – 0.9 kilotons – plutonium
Biak – 25 September, 1957 – 5.7 kilotons – plutonium
Taranaki – 9 October, 1957 – 26.6 kilotons – plutonium
In relation to the Buffalo series of tests in 1956, the Royal Commission found that regard for Aboriginal safety was characterised by “ignorance, incompetence and cynicism”, and that the site was chosen on the false premise that it was no longer used by the Traditional Owners. Aboriginal people continued to inhabit the Prohibited Zone for six years after the tests. The reporting of sightings of Aborigines was “discouraged and ignored”, the Royal Commission found.
The British Government paid A$13.5 million compensation to the Maralinga Tjarutja in 1995. Other Aboriginal victims – including members of the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta – have not been compensated and have not received an apology.
In the mid 1990s, another ‘clean up’ of Maralinga was carried out – the fourth one so far. Before this latest ‘clean up’, kilograms of plutonium were buried in shallow, unlined pits in totally unsuitable geology … and after the ‘clean up’, kilograms of plutonium are still buried in shallow, unlined pits in totally unsuitable geology. The plan was to vitrify contaminated material, turning it into a solid glass-like monolith. But the government later realised that there was far more contaminated material than they had originally estimated and budgeted for. So, to cut costs, they curtailed and then abandoned vitrification and simply dumped the plutonium-contaminated material in shallow pits.
Senator Nick Minchin said the Maralinga Tjarutja agreed to deep burial of the contaminated material – but the burial was not deep and the Tjarutja did not agree to it. Nuclear engineer Alan Parkinson, who advised the Maralinga Tjarutja on the clean-up and then became a whistleblower, said on ABC radio in August 2002: “What was done at Maralinga was a cheap and nasty solution that wouldn’t be adopted on white-fellas land”. US scientist Dale Timmons said the government’s technical report on the ‘clean up’ was littered with “gross misinformation”. Geoff Williams, an officer with the Commonwealth nuclear regulator ARPANSA, said the ‘clean up’ was beset by a “host of indiscretions, short-cuts and cover-ups”. Nuclear physicist Peter Johnston said there were “very large expenditures and significant hazards resulting from the deficient management of the project”.
Above: Australian Financial Review, 20 August 2002 – responding to Science Minister Peter McGauran’s statements regarding the Maralinga ‘clean-up’.
More information on the British nuclear tests in Australia: www.foe.org.au/anti-nuclear/links#6
Above: Maralinga veteran Avon Hudson, 2011. Photo by Jessie Boylan.
Below: Maralinga village, 2011. Photo by Jessie Boylan.
Below: Nuclear engineer Alan Parkinson discusses the problematic ‘clean up’ of Maralinga under the Howard government:
The video below is a 50-minute documentary focussed on scientific whistleblower Hedley Marston who undertook independent radiation measurements during and after nuclear tests at Maralinga
Below: Australia’s Atomic Confessions
More videos about the British nuclear bomb tests in Australia: