Green & Black [Aboriginal Australians and the Nuclear Industry]

By Kelly, Alex; Deane, Carla | New Internationalist, September 2005 | Go to article overview

Green & Black [Aboriginal Australians and the Nuclear Industry]


Kelly, Alex, Deane, Carla, New Internationalist


'We, Aboriginal people, hold the key to survival on this land. We are the authority of this country. We call on all peoples to take notice of what we are saying. The Old Country is angry. It is talking, "Be aware!" It has seen the people come and go. We say: "No, No, No, No, No to the Roxby Downs mine and the radioactive waste dump." Our people and our ancient country, Lake Eyre, are about to retaliate against this evil force, to stop us and our lands from being sacrificed. We will unleash energy and power that cannot be imagined by the human mind to stop this evil force.' .

In various pockets across Australia, people are'talking up strong' against the nuclear industry, taking action against uranium mining companies, and scrutinizing the way that companies and government agencies interact with their communities in negotiating consent' to expand the industry. In the face of ongoing dispossession and marginalisation, Aboriginal communities are inspiring the wider Australian community to take action with some amazing outcomes.

Poisoned past

Australia's history as a colonial nation and its legacy of institutional racism sets the scene for the continual exploitation of Indigenous lands. Since colonization in 1788 and the establishment of the Australian sovereign nation under the guise of terra ntillius - empty land - there has been a continual disregard for and lack of understanding of Indigenous cultures and peoples. The Western concept of'nature' as something to be exploited for profit has created a legacy of two centuries of dispossession, oppression and deep divisions within Indigenous communities. The nuclear industry exemplifies this trend.

Uranium was first 'discovered' by European Australians in the 1890s, however many Indigenous ancestral creation-dreaming stories talk of 'sickness country' in areas with high uranium deposits. The Adnyamathanha people of the rocky country in the northern Flinders Ranges in South Australia (SA) tell a story of rancid yellow Emu vomit in particular pockets across the eastern side of their country. People were advised to avoid these areas whenever possible, and to 'lay low' when the east wind was blowing. It is believed by many Adnyamathanha that extraction of this yellow-green poison is highly risky to the people and land of this region and to humankind in general. Cautionary messages for the need to respect this part of the land have been passed on for generations and continue to influence the ways that Adnyamathanha pay homage to their homeland and their ancestors.

However, the mining concerns seeking to exploit lucrative uranium deposits on Aboriginal lands have tailed to show similar respect. As one mining company representative declared at an Indigenous community forum: 'We are here to extract uranium from the ground - that is our primary purpose.

Driven by world events and economic gain, the uranium industry in Australia began its expansion in the 1930s with ore mined at Radium Hill, SA. The first major mine was the government-owned Rum Jungle, Northern Territory (NT) which operated from 1954 to 1971. Australia emerged as a major supplier of uranium for the world's nuclear electricity production, despite not having its own domestic nuclear power capacity. Today, Australia's share of the world's uranium resources is about 28 per cent of known exploitable reserves and it currently produces about 20 per cent of the world's mined uranium.

Big smoke

But mining is not the only consequence of the 'Atom Age' that Aboriginal peoples have been forced to endure. In the 1950s the Menzies Government granted Britain permission to test its nuclear warheads in Australia, which it did with devastating consequences. Some Indigenous peoples living in the South Australian desert were loaded on trucks like cattle and sent to mission camps away from the blast area. Others were never found or warned about the tests. Warning signs were written in English and just one man was employed to alert people over a 500km square area. …

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