About eight years ago I was tutoring a unit called ‘Reinventing Australia’ at Murdoch University in Western Australia when, in a moment of boyish enthusiasm, I asked my students: ‘What does the word ‘Maralinga’ mean to you?’ The response was deafening. Deafening silence that is. You would have thought I had just asked them to explain Einstein’s Theory of Relativity in ten words or less. Having drawn a blank with ‘Maralinga’, I tried again. ‘What do you know about Emu Field?’ An equally chilling silence, until one young guy grew an enormous pair of testicles and took a shot at it. ‘Has it anything to do with the production of Emu Bitter?’ he offered. There, I thought to myself, goes a future Prime Minister of Australia. And serves us right too. I contemplated whether or not to try out number three on them, (Montebello), but I have always had a great fondness for horses, so why start flogging a dead one at my time of life? I proceeded, instead, to toss away the curriculum for the day, and to enlighten these young people (mostly Australians) on what a government can do to them, should they choose to spend their waking hours walking about with their heads stuck up their collective asses. For that is precisely what a lot of their predecessors did back in the 1950s.
Today, it almost defies belief that the government of this country, led by the biggest anglophile son of a bitch in the southern hemisphere, Robert Gordon Menzies, gave the Brits permission to test nuclear weapons on our patch. And this was not a ‘one-off’ permit. Not by a long shot. Between 1955 and 1963 the Menzies Government gave them permission to test no fewer than twelve atmospheric nuclear bombs at Maralinga, South Australia. And that was just the start of it. Permission was also given to test over seven hundred air and land missiles with nuclear warheads, releasing 100 kilograms of radioactive and toxic elements over the area, an area that just happened to be home to the indigenous Anunga people. At a 1985 Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia, the British spokesman callously shrugged off concerns about the health of these people, stating: ‘A dying race couldn’t influence the defence of Western civilization.’ In other words, they were expendable.
Prime Minister of Australia Robert Gordon Menzies
There have been three attempts by the Australian and British governments to clean up the Maralinga area, one in 1967, then in 2000, and again in 2009. There is still contamination, yet in December 2009, the government handed back most of it to the Anunga people, or what’s left of them. They have been told it is safe to ‘walk, camp, build and hunt’, but to keep away from ‘hot’ areas, areas they had already visited before being warned. In November 2014, the federal government relinquished ownership of the entire 1,782 square miles of the testing ground back to its traditional owners. Defence Minister David Johnston declared the area ‘safe for visitors’. However, a rather sobering judgment has since come from nuclear engineer Alan Parkinson: ‘What was done [to clean up] at Maralinga was a cheap and nasty solution that wouldn’t be adopted on white-fellas land.’ In essence, the government considers the area is clean enough for indigenous people, but (off the record) white folks should give it a wide berth because it ain’t that clean.
In 1992, the Australian Government announced the resumption of uranium sales to France worth around $60 million a year. In that same year, restitution for ‘land contamination’ at Maralinga was paid to aboriginal groups in the area. It amounted to a total of $618,000. In 1995, the British Government coughed up $13.5 million for ‘loss of lands and as compensation for the contamination. ’For ‘compensation for exposure to radiation’ (which is a different issue entirely), neither government seems willing to pay out much at all. As of November 2014, just five people have been awarded the grand total of $200,000 between them. Fourteen others have been flat out rejected, yet hundreds have been affected (or died) because of this abominable series of events. Even British and Australian soldiers, present at the tests and involved in ‘clean-up’ operations in their aftermath, cannot get compensation. They cannot sue the Defence Ministry either, because legally, their cases are ‘almost impossible to prove’.
The first of Britain’s tests took place off the coast of the Montebello Islands in Western Australia in 1952. Menzies gave the go ahead for the British to detonate a nuclear bomb on board HMS Plym anchored there. It was the size of the Hiroshima bomb. In 1956, two more were let off in the Montebello group, one at Trimouille, the other at Alpha Island. The Alpha one was five times bigger than Hiroshima. The prevailing westerly winds swept the radioactive cloud across WA and into the eastern states and beyond. These tests were followed by those at Emu Field, Maralinga. Contamination spread across most of Australia, thanks to the mind-numbingly stupid decisions made by a government that Australian voters kept in office for 17 consecutive years! They say we get the government we deserve, so, there you go.
Montebello blast sites just off the WA coast.
I should point out that Menzies not only ‘sucked up’ to the British at our expense, but he also managed to embroil Australia in the Vietnam war, which required considerable ‘sucking up’ to the Americans as well. ‘The Australian Government is now in receipt of a request from the Government of South Vietnam for further military assistance’, he told a half-empty House of Representatives on April 29, 1965. The South Vietnamese maintain to this day that they never wanted any further outside help. American help was sufficient. This so-called ‘request’ has never been seen by anyone. It simply never existed. General historical opinion is that this appalling man committed Australians to kill and die in that war in order to curry favour with the Americans.
Currying favour was Menzies’ area of expertise. His adoration for the Queen of England was nothing short of embarrassing. On her state visit to Australia in 1954 he had the press, the parliament, and most of the population, gagging in disbelief when he stood up in her presence and quoted the 17th century words of poet Thomas Ford: ‘I did but see her passing by, and yet I love her til I die.’ Those close to the monarch thought she squirmed. No wonder. What a pity he didn’t have the nerve to add the next couple of lines of Ford’s piece: ‘Had I her fast betwixt mine arms, judge you that think such sports were harms’. Prince Phillip might have punched him out and made everybody’s day. Menzies continued to get re-elected for another 12 years, mostly due to his ability to convince voters there were ‘Reds under their beds’, ready to jump out at any moment and turn the nation into an antipodes version of the Soviet Union. And the gullible, xenophobic, Australian public swallowed every word of it. Voters unscrewed their heads, screwed on pumpkins, and dashed off to the polls to elect him time and time again. In fairness to the electorate, it should be stated that the Opposition kept putting up challengers that were ‘un-electable’, so he really had nothing to beat for nearly two decades. His love of all things British, the Queen in particular, and his obvious disdain for the country of his birth and the people in it, are there in the record for all to see. As for the English, they were probably hoping the bombs might wipe out the next generation of Australian cricketers.
Menzies and the Queen.