Australia's two decades as a radioactive laboratory

The British government, with the complicity of the Menzies government, used Australia as a laboratory to test the short and long

Maralinga: The Chilling Expose of Our Secret Nuclear Shame & Betrayal of Our Troops & Country
By Frank Walker
Hachette, 2014

Frank Walker, who worked as a journalist for Australian and international publications for 38 years, was talking to his daughter's university friends one day and discovered they had no idea atomic bombs had been exploded in Australia.

In fact, 12 had ― excluding the 300-600 minor trials at Maralinga, Emu Field, both in the South Australian desert, and Monte Bello Islands off the Western Australian coast.

Walker had been interviewing soldiers, navy and air force victims and decided to expose the veil of secrecy on their ghastly experiences.

The atomic tests began in 1952 and continued until 1957. However, minor trials with dirty radioactive clouds, and uranium and plutonium waste, did not stop until 1963.

The British government, with the total complicity of the then-Menzies government, used Australian land and people as a laboratory to test the short and long-term effects of exposure to radioactivity.

Most people thought the atomic bomb tests had been carried out to test the firing mechanism of the bombs. The real purpose, however, was to see if an atomic bomb could be used as a “battlefield weapon”. They were seeking to discover how soon after an atomic explosion they could send their own troops into a blast zone.

Then-PM Robert Menzies was asked on a Friday by then-British PM Clement Atlee to give permission for Britain to conduct the atomic tests.

Menzies consulted with no one, not even the cabinet of is defence minister, and gave the British full permission to do as they wished. There was no stipulation on any need to consult the Australian government.

As part of their tests, the British ordered Australian soldiers without any protective gear to stand within 1.6 kilometres of the blast and turn around after two minutes to look at the mushroom cloud. Soldiers were sent into the blast zone within an hour to pick up equipment right at the crater.

The British military twice sent planes into the mushroom clouds to scoop up radioactive dust without the plane being sealed to stop dust entering the cockpit. The pilots even ate the chicken sandwiches on board as they were not told about the chance that they would become radioactive.

Young British sailors were sent in to pick up remains of an old destroyer that was bombed on the Monte Bello Islands off the Pilbara coast in WA in 1952. They even swam in the bomb crater at the island and ate the fish, as their captain was a keen fisherman.

No one told them it was radioactive and dangerous. The captain died a few years later of cancer.

The scientific personnel, known as “the boffins”, would appear to pick up the measuring equipment covered in white body suits, breathing apparatus and face masks. British authorities also used young, inexperienced soldiers aged 18 and 19 for the dirtiest jobs.

The radioactive fallout from these nuclear bomb tests spread all over Australia ― especially the eastern seaboard. However Adelaide, being closest to Maralinga, got the heaviest fallout because the winds blow from west to east.

The 16,000 Australian service men involved in the tests were sworn to secrecy by ASIO agents under the threat of jail. The general population was made part a large secret experiment to see whether the human race could survive a nuclear attack.

British official Sir Ernest Titterton, who was foisted on the Australian government, was committed to carrying out every experiment the British authorities requested, regardless of the hazards to soldiers and civilians.

The authorities also wanted to know how much radiation would enter the food chain from rain clouds carrying radioactive residues. They decided to collect the bones of every person under the age of 25 who died for the next 20 years.

ASIO visited every pathologist and paid them extra cash to ash the bones and measure the Strontium 90 levels.

Up to 1978, 22,000 bone samples were collected for British authorities without a single parent being informed that the bones of their children had been removed before burial. It was only revealed in 2001 when a mother found that a piece of wood had replaced her dead baby's femur.

There is a cemetery of 68 babies at Woomera with the same surname. Their hospital records are missing. Walker says Titterton should have been charged with criminal negligence.

The horror continues with the revelation that probably at least 50 Aboriginal people who used Emu Fields and Maralinga as a walking track to watering holes died during the tests. Their bodies were bulldozed under the earth.

The soldiers who found them were told by a British officer to keep it quiet. About 80% of the children of the soldiers involved have genetic problems.

The 1984 British Royal Commission into the tests decided that, despite all the evidence, the high level of cancers of those involved in the tests could have been caused by smoking or due to later work in the building industry.

This is a remarkable book. It is well-researched, easy to read and with facts and figures that are truly scary. The test veterans have still been refused compensation. The British and Australian governments have fought their case all the way to the High Court.

My mother, who never smoked nor drank, died of lymphoma in 1978. Like hundreds of thousands of others, we will never know if these early cancer deaths were due to these tests.

It is a must-read to understand the importance of protest movements, such as the peace movement in the 1950s and the anti-uranium movement in the '60s.

This book is also a warning for the present. Prime Minister Tony Abbott wants to create a nuclear waste dump in central Australia to bring in millions of dollars. The Australian people must be vigilant and active as our governments and politicians cannot be trusted.

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I'm glad this information has come up again, too many young people today, do not realise this contamination of the Australian landscape back in those days. No doubt the radioactive particles worked there way across to the eastern seaboards and consequently into the farm lands, thus into the food chain... Lets not also forget the French with their nuclear testing in the south pacific (Moruroa) throughout the 1960's - 70's. Even as late as 1995! The arrogance of the British and French authorities at the time is utterly mind boggling...

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