Victims of British nuclear testing in Australia win campaign!

Friday 12th May 2017 | Ben

Indigenous Australians who were exposed to extreme levels of radiation by British nuclear tests from 1952 to 1963 will finally have their healthcare costs covered by the government.

Britain tested atomic weapons at Maralinga and Emu Fields in South Australia and around Western Australia’s Monte Bello Islands, with Australia’s permission. The combined force of the weapons set off at Maralinga was double that of the bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in World War Two.

Many indigenous people were forced to move, but some refused to relocate and were subjected to severe levels of radiation.

So-called 'Native Patrol Officers' patrolled thousands of square kilometres to try to ensure that Aboriginal people were removed before nuclear tests took place - with little success.

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A royal commission has linked the testing to significant injuries and deformities including infertility, lung problems, skin defects, and cancer, causing dozens of deaths.

Documents show children born after the nuclear tests had tumours, cerebral palsy, missing bones, and heart disease. There are also tragic accounts of families sleeping in the bomb craters.

After decades of campaigning, those directly exposed to the radiation will now be eligible for a war veterans’ Gold Card, which will cover most medical costs. Gold Cards will also be offered to Australian veterans who were sent to Hiroshima and the British test sites.

The experiments, in which Aboriginal people were treated like “human guinea pigs” are a source of shame in southern and Western Australia, according to campaigners.

The country’s prime minister at the time, Robert Menzies, allowed access to Britain without consulting his cabinet, believing the deal would secure British protection in Australia in a nuclear world.

Although the sites have been declared safe since 2000, it was only in 2014 that the last of the land in Maralinga was finally handed back to the Aboriginal people. Most say they have no desire to return, however.

This unfortunate story demonstrates the utter disrespect that the British showed and continue to show to the Aboriginal Australians. Nigel Scullion, the federal Aboriginal affairs minister, said the history of the site illustrated the stupidity and arrogance of both the British and Australian authorities.

While South Australia’s Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement has welcomed the extension of healthcare, it does raise the question, why has it taken so long.