Maralinga Village - A Glowing Report

Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014 at 14:09

Baz - The Landy



Story & Photos: Baz – The Landy

One of the highlights of our recent trip into the Western Deserts, which took us across the Anne Beadell Highway and the Sandy Blight Junction track amongst other places, was a visit to Maralinga Village.

Many will remember Maralinga as being at the centre of the British Atomic testing program in the 1950’s, such is life in the colonies, although perhaps it is only in more recent history that much of what transpired at Maralinga has been fully understood by the general public.

You might even recall the band, Midnight Oil, wrote a song about it, but perhaps that depends on either your age or maybe your taste in music…

At the kind suggestion of EO member, Stephen L (Clare SA), I made contact with the Maralinga Village caretaker, Robin Matthews, to make arrangements for a visit. We had not travelled the Anne Beadell Highway previously but were reliably informed that the section from Coober Pedy to Emu had some of the worst corrugations one could ever find, and the crossing experience from a scenery perspective would not be diminished by avoiding this section.

With this in mind and a strong desire to visit Maralinga to take a look at “Ground Zero” we headed to Maralinga passing by the small community and pub at Kingoonya.

Robin gave us a great welcome, meeting us at the village gate before settling us into a camping spot nearby to a “donga” we could shower in.

It is worth a walk around the village and even a climb to the top of the water tower for a commanding view of the immediate facility and beyond. Mind you, it might be worth noting that if you want the commanding view gained by climbing a steel ladder to the top, do it sooner rather than later, as the OH&S team masquerading as the “fun police” might put a stop to that eventually.

Being a family of climbers and mountaineers, we relished the chance!

Robin has a strong connection to the area and the Maralinga Tjarutja people and was able to relate in a sensitive way the impact the testing has had on the traditional landowners, many of whom live in the nearby community of Oak Valley. Our tour of the forward area included visits to many of the actual testing sites or ground zero and Robin was able to tell us much about how the tests were completed, where people stood. For all intended purposes many of these people were in effect human guinea pigs.

A visit to the air strip showed just how big this facility was and the focal point where service personnel were flown in and out of the area under a cloak of secrecy. The air strip, measuring approximately 2.5 kilometres in length, was the distance some of the “human guinea pigs” stood from ground zero in one of the tests. Some of these people, many of whom were from England survived to live a long life, others died within a couple of years. But it is reported that health impacts have secreted its way into the younger generations of these service people…

Similarly, it has had health impacts for the Tjarutja people who now mostly avoid the area.

We spent a great day with Robin and towards its end we headed north along the Emu Road to a bush camp before continuing our journey to Emu Junction and across the Anne Beadell Highway to Laverton.

A visit to an Atomic Bomb test site might not be everyone’s cup of tea or ideal holiday destination, but it enabled us to better understand a part of Australia’s more recent history and involvement in the nuclear arms race. And this was enhanced by a character you’d be happy to call a mate, Robin Matthews.

The cost of the tour was $100 per person, and overnight camping cost around $20 for the three of us, and diesel fuel can be obtained at a fair price currently set at $2.00 per litre. You will need a permit to transit the Maralinga Tjarutja land and to enter Maralinga Village, both of which can be obtained with little fuss.

If you are travelling that way and have a curiosity of Australia’s involvement in the “nuclear arms race” or perhaps just to draw some dots to the work that one of Australia’s more experienced contemporary bushmen, Len Beadell, undertook in this region, be sure to give Robin a call, I am confident you’ll enjoy the experience.

As a footnote… “The Landy” came about as a consequence of owning three Land Rover Defenders, but as you can see this has now changed and yes, thank you, I've fully recovered!

And whilst I'm reluctant to refer to the new vehicle as “The Landy” that’s for sure; the owners’ of either brand would never forgive me!

But “The Landy” reference has stuck, so “The Landy” it is…

Cheers, Baz – The Landy

“Those who don’t think
it can be done shouldn’t
bother the person doing it…”
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