before and after Port Augusta

The landscape just south of   Port Augusta  (ie., after  Port Pirie ) is quite different to the landscape  north of Port Augusta on the way to Woomera.  It is a study in contrasts: farmland and desert.

The Princess Highway, south of Port Augusta,  runs  between Spencer Gulf and the lower Flinders Ranges,   and  the country between the highway and the Flinders Ranges  is primarily farmland.   The landscape looked very green and lush after all the winter and spring storms and rains.

lower Flinders Ranges
lower Flinders Ranges

The electricity grid  that extends down to Adelaide is very obvious in the landscape. Port Augusta is a transport hub and  a crossroads.  The old coal-fired power stations (the Playford A and Northern Power Stations) have been closed, as has the Leigh Creek coal mine.  There is a community push for a transition from coal to renewable energy (solar thermal plants) and to make Port Augusta a renewable energy power hub. 

The farms  disappear north of  Port Augusta.   So do the clouds.  On either side of the Stuart Highway there are salt lakes–Lake Gairdner to the west and   Lake Hart, which is part of the Lake Eyre Basin, to the east. 

The Stuart Highway  goes through  the  desert country of South Australia. To the east of the Stuart Highway is the Tirari-Sturt Stony Desert region.   On the western side  of the highway there  is the Great Victorian Desert, with its  blue skies, saltbush and a few scattered trees in the gullies:

landscape, Woomera
landscape, Woomera

The Great Victorian Desert was the site of a series of nuclear weapon tests  conducted at Maralinga and Emu Field by the United Kingdom between 1953 and 1963 under the cloak of  secrecy.   The presence of plutonium-239 is of special concern, due both to its long half-life and the risks posed by inhalation. Although a rehabilitation programme was carried out between 1996 and 1999, there remains considerable controversy as to its effectiveness.

These are places and landscapes marked by events of nuclear trauma,   collective memory and national history.  Vast tracts of Australia (including Adelaide) were covered with radioactive fallout following the nuclear  tests.

These places  are difficult to gain access to in order to engage visually with the events of the trauma through photographic representations.


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