Our first overnight stop on the road to Lajamanu was Pimba and the caravan park at Spuds Roadhouse. Pimba is just down the road from the Defence -controlled town of Woomera and the Woomera Prohibited Area, which has been closed to the public since 1947, when it was used for Cold War rocket and nuclear tests by Britain and Australia between 1955 and 1963. Roxby Downs, BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam site and Andamooka are 100 km or so down the road.
The history of this region is one of the suppression of information and dissent by the British military, Australian Governments and scientists about the radioactive fallout from the British nuclear testing. Marlinga has been declared “safe”, even though the buried long-lived plutonium waste (half-life 24,000 years) is in an unlined burial trench only 2-3 metres below ground – slightly deeper than we place human corpses– with no regard for its longevity or toxicity.
We know know that around 2000 military personnel or servicemen from Britain, Australia and New Zealand were used in radiation experiments at Maralinga in South Australia in the 1950s. In the Buffalo series of four atmospheric nuclear tests conducted at Maralinga in September and October, 1956 these servicemen were used as guinea pigs as part of a mass experiment program in which the men were sent into the hot area with and without protective clothing.
“Men were ordered to enter into ground zero (point of explosion) immediately following detonation of atomic bombs. Planes flew into and tracked mushroom clouds over Australia taking air samples and photos. Ships and ground crews washed down equipment and themselves with irradiated water. They drank contaminated water while eating food contaminated by dust from the red sand and soil in which they lived. The men worked and manoeuvred on Plutonium contaminated soil. They were provided with little or no protective clothing and seldom badged while some badges and dosimeters were falsified or not recorded because of high readings. In spite of this long lived dangerous level of radioactivity, the Australian Government expect us to believe that the test participants were exposed to only minimal non-hazardous levels of radiation.”
The Australian and British governments have consistently denied that any tests for the effects of radiation were conducted with the troops. The official line has been that those near the blasts received nothing more than harmless doses. We know that the fallout from the blasts reached Adelaide and Maralinga Aborigines were awarded £5.4m damages from Britain in 1994.
The trauma is for those people suffering illnesses from the effects of radiation from the Maralinga blast and the British and Australian Governments never coming clean about it.
There is also trauma associated with the strategy of the Australian federal government to reduce its liability from the residual contamination from having appropriated and polluted Aboriginal land by giving the land back to the traditional owners. Water laced with radiation was given to an unknown number of Aborigines north of Woomera in 1962 so metabolic studies could monitor their fluid retention in arid conditions.