(October 24, 2003) On 15 October 1953, a full-scale atomic bomb code-named "Totem-1" was detonated at Emu Junction in the South Australia desert. It was the first British weapons test to be held on the Australian continent.
(595.5552) Iratiwanti / WISE Amsterdam - Fifty years ago the desert skies of northern South Australia were filled with the "Black Mist"; a dense cloud of radioactive fallout from the Totem-1 test. Anangu - Aboriginal - people across the state's north suffered the impact of this dense cloud but were never forewarned, "Nobody got a warning, nobody". "Right here the smoke caught us, it came over us." Eileen Kampakuta Brown recounts, "We tried to open our eyes in the morning but we couldn't open them…our eyes were sore, red and shut."
Between 1953 and 1963 the British government, supported by the Australian government, conducted 12 full-scale nuclear weapons tests and a series of "minor trials" (sub-critical tests without nuclear explosion) in the South Australian desert. Two of the tests were conducted at Emu Field (1953), the others at the South Australian Maralinga test site. Before the Australian continental tests, one test (codename "Hurricane") was conducted on 3 October 1952 on a ship near the Monte Bello Islands (on the northwest coast of Australia).
Despite unsuitable meteorological conditions, Totem-1 was detonated on 15 October 1953. The radioactive fallout was spread far across the testing range (up to 250 kilometers) and was still visible 24 hours after the test. Weighing 10 kilotons - comparable to Hiroshima's 15 kilotons - nuclear fallout from the Totem-1 explosion was responsible for the massive increase in radiation-related illness and genetic birth defects in communities across the outback.
"Everyone has been affected," say the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta - Senior Aboriginal Women of Coober Pedy. Many of the women, who between them represent the Yankunytjatjara, Antikarinya and Kokatha peoples, are survivors of the nuclear testing program. "All of us were living when the Government used the country for the bomb," Eileen Wani Wingfield says," We were people without sickness. You haven't got one healthy child nowadays".
The Kungka Tjuta and many other Aboriginal people's testimonies were not included in the 1984 Royal Commission into the atomic testing program in South Australia. Exclusion, from the lack of an initial warning fifty years ago and from the Royal Commission, continues today; there has been no apology or compensation granted to Anangu people whose lives have been devastated by nuclear bombs detonated on their country.
Fifty years later this exclusion and devastation continues as the Federal Government plans to build a national nuclear waste dump in far-north South Aaustralia. The Kungka Tjuta have been campaigning against the waste dump proposal for the past six years, "The Government thought they knew what they were doing then. Now, again they are coming along and telling us poor blackfellas; Oh, there's nothing that's going to happen, nothing is going to kill you. We know that the poison from the radioactive dump will go down under the ground and leak into the water. And we're worrying for our kids" (see WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 587.5515: "Australia: planned waste dump faces opposition").
The Kungka Tjuta are generously offering the Australian community an opportunity to learn from the pain and loss of the past - to prevent the same Irati - poison - from disturbing the future.
25,000 free post cards have been released nationwide to commemorate the tragic Totem-1 detonation. In addition there were silent vigils and community events held across the country.
[There is a comprehensive media background briefing available via www.iratiwanti.org/TOTEMONEPACK.pdf including testimonies from members of the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta.]
Source and contact: Irati Wanti Campaign Office, P.O. Box 1043, Coober Pedy SA 5723, Australia
Tel: +61 8 8672 3413