Click here to download Jessie Boylan’s article + pics about the 2008 Radioactive Exposure Tour (PDF file)
Photos from the 2013 radtour:
Photos from the 2011 radtour:
Photos from the 2010 radtour:
Photos from the 2006 radtour:
- Olympic Dam mine: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cookielovescake/sets/72157594239016480
- Radtour sunup: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cookielovescake/sets/72157594239014393
- Radtour people: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cookielovescake/sets/72157594239128489
- Radtour desert: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cookielovescake/sets/72157594239129315
Radioactive Exposure Tours
A summary of the tours from 1990 – 2004, taken from the book ’30 years of creative resistance’, a history of Friends of the Earth Australia.
The first Nuclear Exposure Tour was organised in 1990, six years after the Roxby Blockades of 1983 and 1984 where hundreds of people blockaded and hindered the establishment of Olympic Dam Operations (the copper/uranium mine at Roxby Downs in northern South Australia). During these blockades people had the powerful experience of seeing a uranium mine and listening to Aboriginal people who opposed the mine. Blockaders also had the opportunity to show their opposition to uranium mining in creative, colourful and sometimes dramatic ways.It was in this tradition that the idea of Nuclear Exposure Tours evolved. The Anti-Uranium Collective at Friends of the Earth organised the tours with the aim of letting people witness and experience the nuclear industry first hand. People would be able to see and walk on the country affected, to hear what Aboriginal people had to say, learn about the anti-nuclear movement and strengthen opposition to the nuclear industry. We wanted to give people the opportunity to support traditional land owners in their opposition to the nuclear industry, so that the tour participants could return to their colleges, work places or communities with the story of their experience and to encourage them to play a role in the anti-nuclear movement.
The first tour to Roxby Downs was carefully planned, with members of the Friends of the Earth anti-uranium collective doing what we call, a “dry-run”. Such a trip was not new; members of the collective had been visiting the Mound Springs area in northern South Australia and working with the Marree/Arabunna community there since 1987. The Mounds Springs are 120 Kilometres north of the Olympic Dam copper/uranium mine at Roxby Downs. Water for the mine, metallurgy plant and town was, and still is, being taken from the Great Artesian Basin and unique springs have dried completely and others have had a drastic reduction of flow. A trip to the Springs area led us to do a round trip to the town at Roxby Downs, the mine there and the tailings dam. Members of the anti-uranium collective were becoming familiar with the Springs and Roxby; this was another motivation for the tour, to share this experience with other people in an organised and constructive way.
The “dry-run” was important as permission from traditional land owners was needed to camp in their country and to obtain information on culturally appropriate behaviour. The anti-uranium collective also needed to meet with communities whose land they would be passing though to organise joint actions against nuclear activities in their areas. These included CRA’s proposed mineral sands development near Horsham in Victoria and the Rare Earth Tailings dump at Port Pirie. Future tours took in the Beverley Uranium Mine and the Honeymoon Project, and at the invitation of the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta, camping at Ten Mile Creek just out of Coober Pedy. Recent tours have become focused on the proposal for a low to intermediate level nuclear waste dump in the Woomera area.In organising the tours we at FoE always endeavour to make them more than just an out-back adventure! At Roxby Downs we organised public meetings on radiation exposure levels at the community centre, we leafleted the entire town on workers’ and community health issues, we organised awareness stalls with local environmentalists and produced a performance at the Woomera Primary School that involved all of the students as well as the people on the tour.
Following a tour in 1996 the participants formed a collective and organised the ‘Roxstop Action and Music Festival’ in 1997, where over 300 people gathered at Roxby to protest against the expansion of the mine. Here they hosted a public meeting attended by over 120 people with the United States epidemiologist Dr David Richarson as the key note speaker talking about his work and the effects of low level radiation exposure on nuclear workers. Roxstop also included an exhibition of paintings by the Melbourne Artist Lyn Hovey in the Roxby Library. After three days at Roxby the protestors moved to Alberrie Creek on Finnis Springs Station where a music festival was held over three nights to celebrate the Mound Springs, while during the day there were cultural workshops and tours given by members of the Arrabunna community including Reg Dodd and Kevin Buzzacott.
In August 1998 the collective that had organised Roxstop received a fax from the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta. It said: “We’re trying hard about this rubbish – the radio-active waste dump. We don’t want that… We want your help! We want you to come up here to Coober Pedy and have a meeting with Aboriginal people (and any whitefellas from here who want to come)”. In September of that year a group of over a dozen people travelled from Melbourne to Coober Pedy and held a public meeting with the Aboriginal people to discuss the dump.
Things have not always run smoothly for the anti-uranium collective. One year we were stranded for a night on the Borefield Road between the Oodnadatta Track and Roxby Downs with forty people and three buses when the road became impassable due to rain! Another time at Mambury Creek in the southern Flinders Rangers, emus raided our camp and scattered our provisions including cereal, bread and fruit all over the campsite while the campers were protesting in Port Pirie! But, there have been great highlights.
The first time we were invited to the Ten Mile Creek (just outside of Cooper Pedy) by the Kungka Tjuta, we saw the beautiful sight of moon rising over Lake Eyre South. At Ten Mile Creek we saw the effects of the leaflet on workers’ health and exposure to low levels of radiation, we protested outside the Woomera Detention Centre, we saw the representatives of the Honeymoon Uranium Project squirm as tour participants asked difficult questions about the chemical structure of the waste solution to be pumped back into the aquifer. And we will never forget the warm greeting from members of the Adnyamathanha community at Nepabunna, even though we were four hours late!
There have been many great and rewarding outcomes from the Nuclear Exposures Tours. What stands out for us and what must be acknowledged here is the strengthening of the close working relationships we at Friends of the Earth have with the Aboriginal communities and the many individuals who have taken part in our tours. Every person who has gone on a tour has had an amazing, never-to-be-forgotten experience and many of the participants from various tours have made a considerable contribution to the anti-nuclear movement.
— Ila Marks
Radioactive Exposure Tour 2014
Tour exposes radioactive racism
April 26, 2014, Rachel Evans & Yuya Mori, https://www.greenleft.org.au/node/56316
Radical Exposure Tourists at Roxby Downs, home of Australia’s largest uranium mine, Olympic Dam.
Forty people travelled over 6000 kilometres as part of an anti-nuclear educational trip from Melbourne to Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory and back from April 12 to 27.
The annual “Rad Tour” weaved its way through Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory to educate people about the dangers of the nuclear industry.
The Rad Tourers came from across Australia and several international guests took part. The tour visited Roxby Downs in South Australia, had a tour of the Olympic Dam mine and finished by visiting the community opposing a national radioactive waste dump on their land at Muckaty, 100 km north of Tennant Creek in the NT.
Tour organiser Gemma Romuld told Green Left Weekly: “The tour was a great success. We had 40 people participating from Australia, India, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, England, New Zealand and France. It assisted the campaign to stop the waste dump at Muckaty, by helping people understand the Muckaty story, and [giving them] the confidence to take the message back home and share the experience with Indigenous elders whose country they are from.
“I thought the highlights were drawing the connections between uranium mining, atomic energy, racism and radioactive waste. It was great hearing from the most important defenders of the country on their own land. Really, we can’t talk about uranium mining and dumping radioactive waste without talking about the NT Intervention, racism, colonisation and corporate capitalism.”
The first Radioactive Exposure Tour was organised in 1990, six years after the Roxby Blockades of 1983 and 1984 in which hundreds of people blockaded and hindered the establishment of Olympic Dam. During these blockades people had the powerful experience of seeing a uranium mine and listening to Aboriginal people who opposed the mine. Blockaders also had the opportunity to show their opposition to uranium mining in creative, colourful and sometimes dramatic ways.
It was in this tradition that the idea of Radioactive Exposure Tours evolved. The Anti-Uranium Collective at Friends of the Earth organised the tours with the aim of letting people witness and experience the nuclear industry first-hand. People would be able to see and walk on the country affected, to hear what Aboriginal people had to say, learn about the anti-nuclear movement and strengthen opposition to the nuclear industry.
Adam Sharah, an activist in Australian Nuclear Free Alliance spoke to GLW as he was helping construct a humpy.
“This tour is poignant as it allows people to experience the Aboriginal story behind apartheid policy in the NT,” he said.
“It is an education against the global nuclear movement and imperialist militarism and how the government willfully attacks land rights.
“It also highlighted to me the ineffectiveness of Native Title. In terms of the Muckaty waste dump, the Radioactive Waste Management Act, introduced by ALP minister Martin Ferguson, overrides Native Title. Like the BHP Billiton mega mine up in Lake Eyre on Arabunna land — Aboriginal rights are overridden.
“Elders that travelled from Muckaty to Melbourne to talk to Ferguson about the legislation were refused a meeting — he literally shut the door on them.” …
Noor Alifa Ardiamimgrum is an Indonesian environment postgraduate student in environment studies at Melbourne University who was on the tour. She said: “Indonesia has a nuclear plan – but the geology is not stable, we have areas that have been hit by earthquakes – and the plans for nuclear expansion on an energy front have been rejected by the community.
“There was a survey of people in the area about a nuclear plant and 70% were pro-nuclear — that was in 2004 or 2005 — they felt we needed the energy. But they have never surveyed people living in the areas.
“Then in East Java we had a big earthquake and they stopped the plan. In Indonesia there is no uranium mining — they are not consciously extracting uranium, but they are probably taking uranium out when they mine copper. Australian mining companies are very active in Indonesia — especially gold mining in the east Indonesia region. The largest gold mine in Indonesia is in East Java and the Australian company mining it is taxed really low.
“There is no strong law, no strong environmental risk management assessment and law enforcement is weak. There is a terrible power imbalance between the company and the local community. It’s very hard. If the local community does not give permission, then the companies just come in anyway.
“This tour has helped me get the context with the environment struggle — in Indonesia, the indigenous people have also been fighting the companies. The alliances we need to build are with Indigenous people. West Papua is also an area of exploitation — not so much of mining companies but of agribusiness — it’s a land grab off indigenous tribes and it is hard to help as West Papua is very closed. The tour inspired me to recognise the importance of the indigenous and environmentalist connection.”
Kumar Sundaram, who is the international campaigner for the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace, in India was also on the tour. He told GLW: “The CNDP is an umbrella coalition of anti-nuclear organisations across India. There are 10 to 12 places that are protesting nuclear reactors across India.
“Elections in India take place on May 12 and we are organising a nation wide conference of anti-nuclear campaigners in Delhi, so we can come out of the election period with a clear statement. CNDP organises protests, conferences and works on a college student program. The city-centres are quite pro-nuclear — in the urban centres people have swallowed a pro-consumption, pro-development argument and they think that involves nuclear energy.
“In 1998 the coalition against the nuclear cycle was strengthened because India conducted nuclear tests in 1998. The movement is still strong. We are able to organise big rallies with several hundred people in attendance.
“The Indian and Australian governments have a nuclear agreement, which seeks to open ways to supply uranium to India. We oppose this, because the supply of uranium would fuel newly proposed reactors — pushed by a government which brutally overrides community opposition, environmental concerns and safety issues while the international community moves away from nuclear energy since the Fukushima accident in Japan.
“Secondly, we oppose the agreement because of the brutal oppression meted out against fisherfolk, agricultural workers, tribes and petty traders. This is not a small amount of people in India. Lots of people have been forced to give away their land and there have been large grassroots protests.
“The southernmost tip of India is Koodankulam — at this place 30,000 people protested against a proposed reactor. Two people were killed and several hundred people were kept in jail for three months. Ten thousand people face charges from police, fictitious charges of murder and sedition. This is a human rights crisis. If you oppose the nuclear industry then you are a traitor. Farmers and local community land is owned by half a dozen people — the government uses the carrot and the stick and then re-takes the land.”
“A major concern is that an Australian uranium expansion will fuel the expansion in contempt of a worldwide turn away from nuclear energy post Fukushima. The expansion taking place in India is being pushed through in a brutal fashion. Also, Australian uranium will fuel the arms race in south-east Asia. As part of the tour I met with the officials of the uranium mine in Roxby Downs.
“This tour has been about learning about the context of the nuclear industry expansion and seeing the parallels. India’s anti-nuclear movement is not just about a choice of technology, about what we do and don’t want. It’s about control of land. There are parallels between Aboriginal Australia and Indian indigenous struggles. These issues are class and social justice issues.
“We saw this most acutely on the tour when we met Yami Lester, an Aboriginal man now completely blind due to being exposed to atomic weapon tests at Maralinga. In India and Australia, whether it’s the fight against dangerous nuclear energy or the fight by tribal people over losing land, the fight against radiation poisoning or being deprived of basic immunities — it is all because the local elites decided their priorities are profits. We must resist. This tour was a wonderful exchange of information.”
Tour participants will provide ongoing solidarity with the Muckaty battle. Tour spokeswoman Emma Kefford said: “We are travelling all the way from Melbourne to Tennant Creek to show our support to the Muckaty Traditional Owners saying no to a radioactive waste dump on their land. They are taking their case to the federal court in June and we hope they get the justice they deserve after seven years of struggle.”
Radioactive Exposure Tour 2005
Pioneered by Ila Marks and Eric Miller, the Radioactive Exposure Tours have been providing amazing opportunities for people to learn about the impacts of uranium mining first-hand by travelling to South Australia visiting existing uranium mines and talking with locals and indigenous communities about their experiences with the nuclear industry. Tour participants get to experience affinity groups, consensus decision making, desert camping and delicious organic, vegetarian, communal cooking whilst travelling to some of the most beautiful and ecologically significant environments in Australia.
The 2005 tour was held in April. The following is feedback from some of the participants.
“The tour encompassed many areas involved in the local nuclear fuel cycle, from mining to dumping to nuclear testing, and those activists devoting their lives to preventing this chain of death. More importantly, it also encompassed so much that will be lost if mining companies and the government continue to have their way; the remaining cohesion of indigenous groups and culture; the incredible Mound Springs that are drying up as a result of overdrawing the Great Artesian Basin, the existence of other ecological life that the GAB supports, and human good health.”- Sophie Green
“You could never have imagined what you would learn, what you would see and how much of an impact this would have on you. Never. Your thoughts now are; how are you going to use your images, your knowledge, your ideas to tell other people, to explain the importance of understanding what is happening to this land and the indigenous people of this land. What they think, what they are experiencing is nothing we could ever go through, we are so privileged and so well looked after that we can actually choose to care about things or not. They don’t get that choice. Uranium mining in South Australia and everywhere else is damaging so much indigenous land, and so many indigenous and non-indigenous people. “ – Jessie Boylan
”During the trip, participants were given first-hand accounts of the history of the anti-nuclear movement in South Australia by activists that had been involved in past protests against the mining companies and had the opportunity to participate in a new campaign to inform residents of Roxby Downs about the Olympic Dam operation. Some of the issues discussed … include the environmental damage caused by mining, the Government’s apparent failure to take problems with mining operations seriously, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the Aboriginal consultation process. Examples of current and past anti-nuclear activism are also given.” – Joel Williams
Radioactive Exposure Tour 2008
Hideko Nakamura’s feedback from the 2008 radtour:
The tour was one of the most memorable events in my life. I had some knowledge on the British nuclear tests conducted during the 50s and 60s in SA because I am very much interested in nuclear issues, notably the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki of 1945. I, however, had not been aware of the unimaginable effects of the tests on people and environments until I listened to Avon Hudson’s talk. I can relate the tragedy of the bombing on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Avon’s story. I was inspired by his long-term courageous campaign in trying to tell the truth. When I stood on the outback, I could not help but imagine how indigenous people loved and looked after the land with care for so many years. At the same time I noticed how much core members of Friends of the Earth made efforts to cultivate and strengthen bonds with these beautiful indigenous people we have met. Now I miss each participant of the tour. Thank you for sharing ideas and aspirations with me.
Radioactive Exposure Tour 2011
A participant’s account by Cherie Spaulding
Controlled power flight first occurred at the hands of an improbable pair. The Wright Brothers had no money nor were they university educated. What they did have was a purpose. Everyone who worked beside them believed in what they were doing. Passion was their fuel and it drove them toward their goal with solid conviction. Against the odds, their airplane took flight in 1903.
Activism, like that daring airplane flight, is never an easy endeavor. The odds are stacked against you, the road periled, pot-holed and poorly funded. Activism requires individuals to stand against the status quo: to stand on principal for the collective good. The 2011 Radioactive Exposure Tour combined activists, tribal elders, nuclear veterans and concerned citizens seeking to understand the social, cultural and environmental impacts of uranium mining. Through firsthand accounts of aboriginal elders, a nuclear veteran of the British missile tests, concerned citizens, community activists and mine representatives, participants were exposed to the concerns of uranium mining and nuclear endeavors. Together, the group sought to understand more in depth the climate surrounding the extraction and use of nuclear materials.
This years RAD Tour included five children. Immediately apparent were FIVE REASONS why we should pause to consider the use of radioactive materials to feed nuclear reactors or fuel atomic weapons. Our children’s futures will be shaped by the actions of their parents, aunties and uncles, and elders. Along with thirty adults., the group traversed the South Australian outback for ten days, camping in some of the states most scenic locations. Along the way they made new friends, sampled local cuisine, imbibed fine music and explored the natural environment. The following excerpt journals our trip.
Day one: early morning in Melbourne. Trip leaders, Jessie and Kasey, arrived at FOE with the vans and trailers and began loading our gear. Before long, both trailers and buses were packed. The journey to Adelaide began as the bus marched through city streets that turned to suburbs that grew into sprawling green pastures of flocked sheep, and then sprung into wheat fields that stretched into dry desert, where cattle grazed in the distance. The drive consumed most of the day. Arriving at Single Step after dark, friend’s from Adelaide awaited with dinner. Promptly, we unrolled our swags on the soft lawn beneath the stars.
On the second day, we discovered that repacking the trailer required strategy and skill. Gangis and Jared organized the system while strong backs and helping hands piled the gear on the trailer’s tailgate. With a farewell to our gracious hosts, we were back on the bus heading toward stops at Port Wakefield and then Point Pirie for lunch.
At Point Pirie we met Adnymathanha elder, Enice Marsh. Gathering in the shade, we listened as she shared stories and experiences of growing up on native land and her early awareness of the water “poisoned” by radioactivity. She described some of the challenges to the Native Title agreement and the exclusion of some aboriginal peoples in the decision-making concerning land use and mine expansions. Though a small women and soft spoken, her voice was clear and confident, deepening our awareness with her story.
By nightfall we were making camp away from the traditional amenities of urban life. Kasey, the co-leader and instrument of complete kitchen construction, possibly magician, pulled a kitchen out of a trailer—voilà! Suddenly, on the edge of a sea inlet, between freshly unrolled swags, we had the makings of a dinner! Busy hands set about chopping and lighting, sautéing and simmering, until at last, a meal appeared. Heavy in veggies, the dinner call sounded; torch-lit heads began sashaying to the table for the good night’s tucker. With bellies full, we listened to Dr. Andrew Melville Smith describe the Roxby Downs plan to build a desalination plant at Point Lowly, potentially jeopardizing the breeding ground of the giant cuttlefish. Plans to dump the access salt in the bay, he said, would disrupt the ecological balance that maintained a suitable habitat for this exotic cephalopod. The true threat is that a slight variation in the water pH can disrupt the breeding habits of the cuttlefish. A simple equation, really. No breeding, no cuttlefish. The almost electric bodies of the meter long fish could disappear from Point Lowly—forever. The group was called to action. In the morning, we would travel to the Point and stand in defense of the cuttlefish.
After breakfast, the activist campers tucked loose ends in the trailer and loaded the buses. Because I had not properly introduced myself to our resident whistle-blower, I thought I would become better acquainted if I road along in his car. We had first met up with Avon Hudson the previous afternoon, at Point Wakefield, only to discover that his self-serviced Toyota was having some engine trouble. Maybe the fan or the thermostat, he speculated. The engine wasn’t cooling properly. Such a scenario might incline one to reconsider a caravan across South Australian in an old jalopy. Not Avon. Equipped with replacement parts, he motored on. When the tour schedule afforded him a spare moment, he popped the hood and began repairing the trouble. Beneath the hood he revealed an immaculate engine, deceptively so, considering the age and condition of the car. You could have sautéed tofu on the engine block, and it would have been petrol-flavor free: each part was cleaned and dated with the time of service. Having contemplated my own safety as a potential passenger, I now felt reassured by the apparent competency of the onboard mechanic. This was day two. Saying good luck to the cuttlefish at Point Lowly, we loaded up. The adventure of the RAD Tour was full on.
The days driving covered miles and miles of South Australian landscape. The soil turned from dusty grayish-ochre to burnt umber and red. The earth rolled under us, past roving steer, mile after mile. The wheels on the bus, as the children sang, rolled round and round. Old friends were reconnecting and new friends were becoming acquainted. Trailing in the Toyota, Avon recollected history with one eye on the rising needle; he recited experiences with the accuracy of a scientist, but with a poet’s passion and potency. Propelled by stories and prayers, we rolled on toward the next town.
At Maralinga, statue-like missile bodies sprung from the dry ground: once aimed toward destruction, now hollow and empty. Outside a small school painted with aboriginal faces, Avon offered a detailed account of the missile testing. The fallout after a nuclear explosion can be radioactive for decades, contaminating the dust that intermingles with breathable air. Avon described how the men working at Maralinga were uninformed (by their British officers) about the harmful effects of the nuclear radiation. Men were sent out in severely contaminated fields wearing only shorts and t-shirts, while higher officials wore white suits and silk gloves for full body protection. Time and history would reveal the deception to those involved in the nuclear testing. The unseen sacrifice to the men and their families was to their cells and genes; from the fallout of the nuclear missiles, the environment remained contaminated by radiation…and so did the men.
After lunch, our caravan forged along miles of dusty gravel roads, heading deeper and deeper into the country toward Lake Eyre. To understand what we were about to experience, you would have to know that Lake Eyre has not been a “lake” in 35 years. Twelve meters below sea level, the salty lakebed sat empty, crusted with white flaky salt crystals. Because of the heavy rain in northern Australia, water began to fill the bed—and fill it did! As the group prepared camp, children tromped in the mucky soft soil that had been cracked and dry for over three decades. Some dredged to the salty waters’ edge for a wade. Here we were joined by the Adelaide mob that brought along Uncle Kevin Buzzacott, an Arabunna elder. Uncle Kevin planned to share stories with us, but urged us to watch the sunset over Lake Eyre first; knowing the land, he also knew the experience was rare, one we would want to see and remember.
Much of the activity of the next few days occurred around Lake Eyre. The first, an easy morning: breakfast and a chance to relax. The mornings generally revolved around coffee, children and campfire. Cups clanging and fire stoking, morning meetings organised the camp duties and the plans for our day. We also compared notes from the night: Any mice in your swag? Did you stay warm? Dry? In the afternoon a bus loaded with twenty campers, including the five children, left to check out the local culture of Andamooka, an opal-mining town nearby. By nightfall, we were back around the fire, preparing for the Olympic Dam Tour at Roxby Downs.
The next morning the group left for Roxby Downs and the mine tour. As we drove onto the premises of the mining operation, the tour leader began describing the history and resources of the mine. Uranium is one of the four resources extracted from Olympic Dam, along with copper, gold and silver. With approximately 1,000 employees on site at any given hour, the mine is a tremendous operation. The above ground infrastructure was reminiscent of a city newly under construction, consisting of few walls and deeply trenched pits. Iron and steel beams shot at right angles, cutting horizontal and vertical planes of steel into the blue sky.
Because of a growing concern for the Olympic Dam expansion, and the potential environmental threats to Spencer Gulf (at Point Lowly) the group inquired: Would the mine oppose relocation of the desalination plant? What if the excess salt turned Spencer Gulf into a “dead sea?” Was there proper consideration of the cuttlefish? Other questions concerned the working operations and safety of mine employees handling uranium and other waste products. Unfortunately, our guide could not offer solid answers to our critical inquiries, referring us instead to a newly published mining document. Leaving the mine, the tour bus drove over a small bridge and the tires were sprayed to remove potential contaminates. Post-mine tour, we ate lunch at a nearby park and posed for a photo op with a local newspaper; standing in the foreground was Uncle Kevin, arms crossing his chest, saying “NO DEAL” to the mine expansion.
Day six took us to fragile Mound Springs. Uncle Kevin captivated the children with his story about the two snakes that became the mounds, one the source of the life giving spring. Lunch at Coward Springs afforded some coveted reprieve from showerlessness. While falafel sizzled on the burner, children danced to Madeline’s ukulele renditions of favorite songs. Others showered or sat in the bubbly warm spring that looked like a wooden Jacuzzi, powered by nature. Driving back to Lake Eyre, our bus turned onto a mucky path and the wheels sunk in deep. Within minutes, everyone was off the bus, giving a big heave-ho shove. By now our group was united. Working together, we were becoming an excellent team: a solid force of collective awareness.
Day seven broke camp at Lake Eyre and said goodbye to the strange and wonderful region, the source of many Arubunna dreamings. Jessie, co-leader extraordinaire, had us salivating at the mention of quandong and roo pies at Copley. As an appetizer we stopped off in Marree to see the aboriginal cultural center and found ourselves pulled by near gravitational force toward another kind of culture: the general store. Suddenly, we found ourselves ordering chips and coffees—captivated by the strange array of items from camping equipment to cough drops to authentic bush attire, all available in one convenient location. The cultural center, by contrast was filled with art, artifacts and relics from the desert; a brief talk offered another dimension to the aboriginal struggle to ward off further mining on native land. For the last leg with Uncle Kevin, we stopped off at the Ochre Pits, a deep hand-dug canyon, millennia in the making. Used for the purpose of ceremonial painting, medicine and trading, the clay walls of the canyon echoed the colors of region: mustard, beige, ivory, pumpkin, and rust. Before saying goodbye, Uncle Kevin appealed to the group one last time. He wanted our experience to incite change. We said farewell and then drove for pies. By torchlight we made camp at Nepoire Creek.
The next morning a bus left camp and drove to the Beverly Mine. In contrast to the very public location of the Olympic Dam, the Beverly Mine is tucked below the Gammon Ranges, far from observing eyes. With a gated periphery, the bus awaited chaperone. Escorted into the conference room, we were welcomed with a tray of yellow frosted yellow cake, warm cups of tea, coffee and a slideshow. Prepped for the potential spear flinging Rad Toursits, the presenters were forthright on some occasions, however, they deflected many tough questions, leaving palpable dissatisfaction. We were hungry for concrete answers. The company reassured us that stored tailings sealed underground aquifer was a secure solution for the long haul. Their convictions validated by current scientific standards. The skeptics among the group were well acquainted with the occasional misgivings of scientific validation. Unfortunately, the gap between the present and future sometimes presents a void too great to predict potential calamities.
Our next stop was lunch and showers at Balcanoona Station. The warm camp showers were a sweet reprieve from the dust and grit of camp life. By mid-afternoon we would be settled in the Gammon Ranges. Marsupial mice were rumored to be lurking about and the site was lively with the adventures of hiking explorations. Camped near a creek bed on the rolling slope of hillside, we made shelter for the evening. By accidentally digging the pit toilet in the creek bed, I witnessed firsthand the salt of my fellow camper, Kate, pregnant as could be, who helped me dig a second hole across the road. Though digging silently, I felt a sense of comfort in knowing that my traveling companions followed their conviction with solid action.
Day nine brought us to Arkaroola. Our fearless explorers examined the mountains and the gift shop with equal fervor. We met with Marg Sprigg, whose family once journeyed across Australia and settled in the Arkaroola wilderness area. Widely known as caretakers of the region, Marg spoke of opposing Marathon mining company if their explorations of the sanctuary proved fruitful. After lunch, we boarded the bus. With plenty of daylight and miles to cover, we pressed on toward the Flinders Ranges, through mountain valleys, once thirsty, now fed by brimming streams, past hopping kangaroos and camels, rolling hillsides and plains.
The final days were heavy with driving. Near nightfall, we said goodbye to Avon and pressed on toward Adelaide, leaving others there, until only the Melbourne mob remained. To lessen the miles, we drove late and made camp around midnight. The small group cozied around a warm fire, on soft, grassy terrain. In high spirits the fire brimmed with laughter; the worn and weary were raised by the hand of friendship—swag and all—to higher ground and restful sleep.
By the time we arrived in Melbourne, everyone was tired, but giddy. Hugs and laughter peppered Smith Street as we unloaded swags and gear from the bus. The trip had gathered an incredible group of people, uniting them toward a common cause. If we struggled at all, the lesser force was the wind. Though the tour had equipped us with a better understanding of the challenges the greater resistance lie ahead, in a future we would need to create.
The 2011 Radioactive Exposure Tour began almost three decades ago as a simple idea that manifest into action. This year the RAD Tour brought together a melting pot of citizens: students, activists, professionals and tradesman. People concerned about the well being of both Australia and the earth. Participants gained an over-whelming awareness of the potential impact of the human use of radioactive materials. They were learning by doing…and only by action can our ideas take flight.
Radiaoctive Exposure Tour – 2009
Write-up of the radtour by Ania Anderst
As a student living in Perth, I found myself remarkably lucky to have made it out to the South Australian desert for ten days in May on the Friends of the Earth Radioactive Exposure Tour. The ‘radtour’ is a unique experience allowing people interested in learning about the nuclear industry to go out on country to see uranium mines and to meet people directly affected by the nuclear industry past and present.
Tackling the nuclear industry can be an overwhelming experience, mostly because there is no end to the amount of information on the issue; from uranium mining, nuclear reactors, waste issues, to nuclear proliferation, it’s easy to get lost in the information. And there’s also the added factor of the multi-million dollar mining companies we’re fighting, not to mention the governments siding with them.
The big picture can be rather scary, but actually stepping out onto uranium mines, onto country, and making connections with people who have for years been directly affected by these mining operations makes it easier to understand. It’s no longer some abstract mine in some landscape you can’t imagine, affecting some people you’ve never met before; these are real people with the real deal on their doorstep.
That abstract image of a mine in the back of your head becomes the physical site of the ugly and protruding Olympic Dam uranium/copper mine, or the hundreds of white pipes sticking out of the ground at Beverley uranium mine where they practice in-situ leach uranium mining. Those people become real when you hear the stories of Arabunna Elder Uncle Kevin Buzzacott, Maralinga veteran Avon Hudson and Adnyamathanha custodian Jillian Marsh. Their personal stories, dating decades back, make the issues more human, more accessible.
There’s no better way than to see it yourself – and not only tour the mines and ask the workers questions, but then to juxtapose that intense, sometimes hostile experience with the peaceful time shared around the campfire with people who share your passions and willingness to fight the machine.
When BHP Billiton took us on a tour of Olympic Dam – which takes 35 million litres of water daily from the Great Artesian Basin for free – it was hard to believe some of the things they had to say. According to the BHP employee giving the tour, the mine had less of an environmental impact than pastoralism would have, and the nuclear industry was alleviating people from poverty by providing poor countries with power. It was difficult not to get hostile and emotional hearing that somewhat bent rationale for the existence of such an unsound industry. There was an answer to every one of our questions and the tour bus was filled with suffocating negative energy, lie after lie.
For me, Heathgate Resources’ Beverley mine was even harder to stomach because of the propaganda which included giant placards covering an entire wall concerning their ongoing relationship with Aboriginal communities in the area and showing pictures of Aboriginal kids smiling. When in fact, in May 2000, local Aboriginal communities were at the gates of Beverley protesting and were subsequently put in a shipment container and capsicum sprayed by the SA police. An 11-year-old local Adnyamathanha girl was capsicum sprayed.
BHP Billiton really seemed to believe what they were saying, they were proud of what they were doing. In comparison, the PR chump at Heathgate Resources was a blundering boy behind a company t-shirt. He didn’t answer questions properly, referring mostly to reports he hadn’t seemed to have read, and it felt like he had something to hide. When asked about the shipping container episode, he refused to comment.
Both companies claimed to have excellent relations with Aboriginal communities, but after listening to Jillian and Uncle Kevin talk, it seemed more like mining companies were deliberately creating an ongoing war of attrition amongst Aboriginal communities who are not consulted properly, and are instead split over whether to take a mining company’s money. If resources are needed in a remote community, people living there shouldn’t have to have a uranium mine (or a waste dump for that matter) in order to have health care and infrastructure. These are basic human rights and Aboriginal communities shouldn’t have to settle on corporate sponsorship and give up land rights for health and housing.
Coming face to face with these issues on country was confronting but the land itself allowed some peace of mind. Being out there, seeing the landscape and setting foot on red earth or on Lake Eyre, I had the strong sense that this country was alive. It surprised me how alive it was, with it’s gentle and soft sands, yet rough, hard, contrasts in colour.
Every night we camped somewhere different, and by the end it felt like we’d been all over the state of South Australia – Woomera, Roxby Downs, Lake Eyre, Copley for coffee and quandong pie (more than once thanks to a trailer tyre which caught on fire), Marree, a bit of a crazed dip into the hot springs at Coward Springs, the Blanche Cup and Bubbler Mound Springs with Uncle Kevin, the Beverley uranium mine, Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, the ochre cliffs near Lyndhurst, Brachina Gorge, the surrounding Gammon Ranges, Port Pirie …
Aside from the heavy nature of what we were doing, life on tour was a lot of fun. As a group of 40 people with a range of ages, levels of experience, and approaches to the issue, it was what some called a social experiment. It was particularly lovely having a few children on the tour to emphasise the importance of the issues. Each night a different group helped set up dinner and campfires, and slowly the swags would surround the fires and the stars would come out at full capacity. Music was around all the time, singing tunes on the bus, off the bus, while the bus was bogged, while tyres were flat, while the bus wouldn’t start, while faffing …
And while we were out in the desert it was interesting to see the newspapers filling with related stories; with BHP announcing its proposal to the federal government for a uranium mine at Yeelirrie in WA, followed by the nuclear bomb test in North Korea. While North Korea gets a slap on the wrists from the UN, BHP in WA gets a tidal wave of anti-nuclear groups on it’s ass. This spells out to me that it’s better to stop them before the mines get going, because the safeguards against nuclear proliferation aren’t safe, and while they’re not we shouldn’t be touching uranium (amongst other reasons to leave it in the ground).
Seeing such amazing country, meeting so many beautiful people and seeing the mines for what they are was an inspiring experience, and thanks to this opportunity I feel a lot more equipped to do whatever I can to make sure uranium stays where it belongs – in the ground.