Claire Corbett's Reviews > Atomic Thunder: The Maralinga Story

Atomic Thunder by Elizabeth Tynan
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it was amazing
bookshelves: australian-women-writers-challenge

This is a clear-eyed, meticulously researched and powerful account of Australia's long and shameful history of colluding with the UK in permanently contaminating vast tracts of Aboriginal land in South Australia with plutonium, to put it bluntly. After WWII, despite their contributions to the Manhattan Project, the British were excluded from US atomic weapons research for a time because of security concerns (some UK physicists passed nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union).

The UK decided to develop its own atomic weapons, and, unwilling to contaminate their own land, the British asked Australian Liberal PM Robert Menzies if he'd mind if they came and polluted Australia in secret. He was only too thrilled to comply and not only offered to pay some of the costs (the UK had been prepared to pay all the costs) in hopes of Australia being treated as something more than a hewer of wood and bearer of water, as Tynan puts it, but at first kept the program secret not only from the Australian people but from his own cabinet and even from his own Defence Minister and Minister for Supply.

This is Dr Elizabeth Tynan's PhD thesis written up into an excellent history. Tynan, now a senior lecturer at James Cook University, was a journalist and it shows, in a good way, in this book, which is clearly written and handles a complex story with a large cast of characters over a long period of time with seeming ease.

Travelling back in time to the politics of the fifties, when the tests were conducted, and then to the 1980s, when 'Diamond Jim' McLelland conducted the Royal Commission into Maralinga, is fascinating, but the links to our own time are all too clear. The role of investigative journalism is shown to be crucial for anything to come to light: when the Australian media are overly compliant or uninterested, the government gets away with murder.

This book shows how appallingly Aboriginal people and the surrounding environment were treated - the British and Australian bureaucrats, military and scientists knew little or nothing about them and cared less. They didn't care about Australian or British service personnel either, with Tynan showing that even British officers found that details of their service were covered up or lied about once they started to suspect they were getting sick from exposure to radioactive and toxic materials.

The sheer irresponsibility of how the tests were carried out and the utter lack of care taken by the British over their 'clean up' of the site is even more startling, as it didn't even meet the safety and scientific protocols of the time (the Americans were much stricter, Tynan points out). This is an extremely timely book - not only is it vitally important history for every Australian to know but it reminds us never, ever to believe anything the government tells us without some independent corroboration from a fearless and objective media. God help us.
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Reading Progress

February 10, 2017 – Started Reading
February 10, 2017 – Shelved
February 15, 2017 – Shelved as: australian-women-writers-challenge
February 15, 2017 – Finished Reading

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