I watched tonight in sadness a programme on ABC television about a group of courageous aboriginal women who have written and painted a pictorial book recounting the devastating effect of the atomic tests on their traditional homeland and family life at Maralinga where the British tested seven atomic bombs during the 1950′s. It finished in 1963. They were treated like dogs, dispossessed and displaced from their traditional land and were disregarded when they sought compensation. They did not know white men’s law or speak the slick double-talk of barristers in wigs and jabots; those silks from Sydney or London. The plutonium from the tests will poison their land for another 25,000 years, long after the cockroaches have dispossessed us.
The British government even used servicemen as guinea pigs to crawl through the atomic dust although they denied it at first. The aboriginal was invisible as he was like the shadows. I have seen many servicemen from these tests. Some collected pebbles of cobalt 60 in their tobacco tins. I am no fan of Wikipedia but it will tell you more.
The British also tested atomic bombs in the Montebello Islands off the Western Australian coast. Perhaps they could have tested some in The Wash or perhaps the Isle of Skye? We had a government then which was very pro-British and as the Cold War was in full swing, there were other imperatives.
We were more servile as a nation then. Aboriginal people were treated no better than Underlings by the British and by White Australia. We are guilty too. It is not something I am proud of. They have rights now, and are more valued as people and we are the richer for this. We love their art from the Central Desert which is no desert to those with eyes. The land is their Mother, and not real estate with rates or a coloured rectangle on the Monopoly board. This was the land which bloomed with wildflowers when the skies rained on the red soil and which was the home of many creatures whose spirits they all knew.
We could learn from them. They were the noble custodians of Mother Earth since the Dreamtime. We are the savages, not they. Their sadness will last longer than the half-life of plutonium as their land has been violated forever. The shame is ours.
The book is called “Maralinga – The Anangu Story”. It is a children’s story book in colour and may end up an Australian classic. ($35 Aus). It is available from Coaldrake’s Books. www.coaldrakes.com