Gem Romuld and Jim Green
Friends of the Earth has been organising Radioactive Exposure Tours (‘radtours’) since the 1980s. In that time, the tours have exposed thousands of people first-hand to the realities of the nuclear industry. This year’s radtour travelled for 10 days from Melbourne to Adelaide then into the heart of the SA nuclear industry and back.
We stopped in Port Augusta to meet with Sandra Dingamen at the site of the Gugada Tent Embassy and visited Emily Austin, one of the senior Aboriginal women of the Irati Wanti campaign that stopped the Howard government building a nuclear waste dump in SA in 2004. Mrs Austin and the other kungkas (women) beseeched the politicians to ‘get their ears out of their pockets’, and after a six-year campaign the politicians finally gave up on the plan.
Another highlight of this year’s radtour was the participation of Maralinga nuclear bomb test veteran Avon Hudson for the whole 10-day trip. Visit the Woomera Missile Park and you’ll see big chunks of metal − but Avon brings them to life with his encyclopaedic recollection of the history of missile testing in the region. Avon refuses to visit the Woomera cemetery these days − the large number of infant and childhood deaths points to the dark side of the nuclear bomb tests further west at Maralinga and Emu Field.
We drove past Roxby Downs and up Borefield Road into Arabunna Country, visiting the Mound Springs, desert oases that are very important for Arabunna people and host unique flora and fauna. These springs have suffered dramatically, some drying up almost completely, because of the water usage of the Olympic Dam uranium mine further south on Kokatha country. Small consolation that the problem would be still worse if not for the ongoing efforts of Arabunna Traditional Owners and ‘greenie’ groups like Friends of the Earth to hold BHP to account for its unsustainable water extraction.
We stopped for a swim at the Coward Springs on the Oodnadatta Track and camped for two nights on the edge of Lake Eyre South, witnessing two stunning sunsets and sunrises. The ‘Old Lake’ is different every time we visit it. It’s beautiful when full of water, even more beautiful in the dry years when thick layers of salt naturally form an endless array of knee-high sculptures. This year, stretches of dry salt were interspersed with water from recent rain.
We back-tracked for a tour of the Olympic Dam mine, owned and operated by BHP Billiton. Olympic Dam is the largest uranium deposit in the world and was constructed in the early 1980s without proper consent of the Traditional Owners. BHP’s monolithic expansion plans for the mine were shelved in August 2012 but the mine remains an environmental and social disaster in itself.
Back up the Borefield Road and onwards east through Marree, after a stop at the Marree Cultural Centre to meet with Reg Dodd, brother of Kevin Buzzacott. We visited the spectacular ochre cliffs and ate quandong pies in Copley before making camp for two nights in the Gammon Ranges on Adnyamathanha country. Visiting the Beverley in-situ leach uranium mine provided the opportunity to see how the mine works and grill staff on many topics.
We were privileged to hear from Marg Sprigg at the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary − land that is 1.8 billion years old. The Spriggs − descendants of famous rock star (geologist) Reg Sprigg − are celebrating a successful campaign to prevent Marathon Resources from establishing a uranium mine inside the precious sanctuary. Marathon did itself no favours by illegally disposing of hundreds of low-level radioactive drill samples inside the Sanctuary; the company was caught out by brilliant detective work by Marg and Doug Sprigg.
After a camp-fire debrief and a good sleep we ventured south to camp in Brachina Gorge in the Flinders Ranges. After farewelling the desert we spent our last night in Adelaide watching anti-nuclear films.
On the trip we also heard about many other related campaigns including the battle to protect Walmadan at James Price Point (which has recently been won!) and the ongoing fight to protect Muckaty from a radioactive waste dump. The radtour group included visitors from Vietnam, India and Germany. Bhargavi Dilipkumar joined us from India before travelling to Sydney and Canberra for meetings regarding massive campaigns in her home country against poorly-managed nuclear power reactors − a problem exacerbated by the Australian Government’s decision to permit uranium sales to India.
We organised in affinity groups, practiced consensus decision-making, experienced desert camping and vegetarian, communal cooking while amongst some of the most beautiful and ecologically significant environments in Australia.
Stay tuned for the Radioactive Exposure Tour 2014!
Gem Romuld and Jim Green are members of FoE’s Anti-nuclear & Clean Energy campaign.