Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Maralinga - inhabited!

Bob Dylan didn’t think much of fall-out shelters, singing defiantly in 1962 that “I will not go down under the ground”.

A few years earlier, I was standing in one and thinking, “This isn’t going to do much to help anyone”.

I was standing in a depression in the ground lined with white sandbags, covered over at the top, but open, if I remember correctly, at both ends.

I was on the Wilgena sheep station, said to be the largest sheep station in the world at a bit over 2 million acres, and owned by the McBride pastoral company, still one of the biggest landowners in Australia with the third largest sheep numbers.

Wilgena encompasses the two far western SA towns of Kingoonya and Tarcoola out on the East-West railway line.

Sir Philip McBride (1892-1982), who headed the pastoral company A.J. and P.A. McBride Pty Ltd, was Robert Menzies’ Minister for Munitions and Minister for the Army, then for Supply, and then for Munitions in the early years of WW2, until Menzies lost the 1941 election. When Menzies regained office in 1949, McBride became Minister for the Interior and then Minister for Defence until his retirement in 1958. Thereupon, he became Federal President of the Liberal Party until 1965. He is seen at left in 1957 addressing the opening session of the notorious South East Asian Treaty Organisation which was devised to further the aggressive designs of US imperialism throughout the region.

All of which is to say that McBride was a person of some clout in the corridor of power within the Federal Liberal Party at the time that the British carried out their despicable atomic bomb tests to the west of Wilgena station at Emu Field in 1953 and at Maralinga (see right) from 1956-57.

It is rather sad to think that his anti-communism and Empire loyalty was so strong as to blind him to the dangers of nuclear testing and fall-out. And so naïve as to think that a sand-bagged shelter a couple of metres below surface level would be sufficient to guarantee the long-term health and well-being of his station manager and other employees.

Certainly little attempt was made to guarantee the long-term health and well-being of the traditional owners of the land that he had fenced and despoiled with his livestock.

Yami Lester, (b. c1949), a Yankunytjatjara man, was only a child when he and his people heard the thunder of an explosion and then saw the black mist rolling in. They were totally exposed to the blast and the subsequent hard rain that fell on the low scrub in which they hunted and gathered their food supplies.

Some of the older members of the group died from terrible sicknesses – vomiting and diaorrhea. Yami lost the sight of one eye almost immediately, and the other not long after. (Visit this Youtube link to see Yami Lester recalling the bomb blast that took his sight.)

Despite the British Government being forced, many years later, to attempt a costly clean-up of the Maralinga lands, the Maralinga Tjarutja people still regard their land as irretrievably poisoned, many living far to the west at Oak Valley.

Nor were the British and Australian army and airforce personnel and scientists immune from the effects of radiation. A British parliamentary enquiry has found that many have died or are dying from cancer, and that their descendants will face health risks for up to 20 generations. The children of these veterans either died hideous deaths with multiple medical complaints or were ten times more likely than other children to have a deformity. (The map below shows the fallout pattern from one of the Maralinga tests.)

In a Mengele-like twist to the tests, it has been revealed by the veterans, and reluctantly acknowledged by the British imperialists, that servicemen were deliberately taken through the radioactive lands, even forced to roll in radioactive dust, in order to conduct “scientific” studies of exposure to fallout.

It has been further revealed that Menzies and McBride approved British missile tests in South Australia without even knowing the missiles were nuclear-tipped.

Menzies was a representative of the comprador bourgeoisie, the most powerful, best organised and most reactionary section of the local ruling class that was tied to imperialism through business, financial, cultural, military and diplomatic channels. The real nature of the comprador elite is that of a traitor class, a class that waves the flag of patriotism and loyalty in the face of communists and trade unionists, but which sacrifices real Australian sovereignty to the interests of the strongest of its imperialist masters.

Thus it was, in the late 1950s, that the US and British imperialists through their Australian stooge Government were allowed to conduct atomic weapons tests on lands still inhabited by the traditional owners and bordered by settler pastoralists and townspeople, yet the imperialists would not even share with their Australian puppets the information that missiles about to be tested – fired from British jet bombers – carried radioactive warheads.

The Blue Steel missiles, developed by the US, added further radioactive fallout to western South Australlia, with the puppet Menzies Government none the wiser, in accordance with an agreement between the US and British imperialists not to share information about the warheads – not even with the puppet host government!

The legacy of these tests remains with the servicemen and –women, the scientists, and the Maralinga Tjarutja.

The Peace and Anti-Nuclear Adelaide Coalition will be commemorating Maralinga Day on September 27 in association with the service veterans and the Aboriginal community. Some thought is being given for this year’s commemoration of trying to engage South Australian mid-north settler communities whose children may have been affected by fallout from the tests. (For a tragic account of children’s graves at Woomera, see this report .)

And a photographic exhibition called “Inhabited” will be a feature of this year’s Adelaide Festival of Arts Fringe Festival. Photographs of Maralinga and of the survivors of the tests from among the Maralinga Tjarutja people by Jessie Boylan will be on display with free admission at Higher Ground, 5-19 Light Square, Adelaide from 20 February to 16 March, 2008. Official publicity for the event reads:

INHABITED is an exhibition of photographs and stories from remote communities that are affected by uranium mining and the nuclear industry in Australia.

'‘Inhabited’ brings to life people and places from remote Australia whose lives have been deeply affected by nuclear developments.
‘Inhabited’ is a photographic exhibition of landscapes and life size portraits accompanied by audio stories from the people who are directly impacted by the nuclear industry in Australia.
Photo-artist Jessie Boylan and radio show producer Bilbo Taylor have been gathering images and recording personal accounts of experiences with the nuclear industry in Australia over a series of journeys organised by Friends of the Earth.
“Visiting these remote landscapes and meeting the local people revealed a rich culture and vibrant country. I wanted to take these powerful stories from the communities wishing to protect their country and culture from the imposition of uranium mines and radioactive waste dumps and bring them to the city” said Ms. Boylan.

‘Inhabited’ will be launched in Adelaide to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the British atomic tests in Australia. It brings together stories of people whose lives have been affected by the atomic tests in the 1950’s with those experiencing recent nuclear developments such as uranium mining and proposals to dump radioactive waste in the Northern Territory.

Portraits include Yami Lester (right) who was blinded by the fallout of the British atomic test in the 1950’s, Goldman Environmental Prize winner Mrs. Eileen Wingfield, a Kokatha woman on whose land Olympic Dam uranium mine is operated and Mitch who’s country is currently proposed for the siting of a national radioactive waste dump.

Maralinga, traditional land of the Maralinga Tjarutja, site of the traitor class’s shameful surrender of sovereignty to imperialism, will never be forgotten.

If the commemorative activities and exhibitions fade away, Paul Kelly’s great song Maralinga (Rainy Land) has already stood the test of time and is perhaps the most potent reminder of the crime perpetrated there by imperialism against the Australian peoples:
This is a rainy land
this is a rainy land
no thunder in our sky
no trees stretching high
but this is a rainy land

My name is Yami Lester
I hear I talk I touch but I am blind
my story comes from darkness
listen to my story now unwind
this is a rainy land
First we heard two big bangs
we thought it was the great snake digging holes
Then we saw the big cloud
then the big black mist began to roll
this is a rainy land
A strangeness on our skin
a soreness in our eyes like weeping fire
a pox upon our skin
a boulder on our backs all our lives
this is a rainy land

this is a rainy land
no thunder in our sky
no trees stretching high
but this is a rainy land

My name is Millipuddy
they captured me and roughly washed me down
then my child stopped kicking
then they took away my man to town
they said do you speak English?
he said
I know that Jesus loves me I know
because the bible tells me so
I know that Jesus loves me I know
because the bible tells me so

This is a rainy land
this is a rainy land
no thunder in our sky
no trees stretching high
but this is a rainy land

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Everyone just turns away from this stuff. It's just unacceptable that this happened. Also, that map is scary.