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South Australia
Red Earth Desert.jpg
Landscape of Maralinga site
Maralinga is located in South Australia
Coordinates30°09′S 131°35′E / 30.150°S 131.583°E / -30.150; 131.583Coordinates: 30°09′S 131°35′E / 30.150°S 131.583°E / -30.150; 131.583

Maralinga in the remote western areas of South Australia was the home of the Maralinga Tjarutja, a southern Pitjantjatjara Indigenous Australian people. Maralinga was the site of the British nuclear tests in the 1950s; the site measures about 3,300 km² in area.

Historical background[edit]

In January 1985, the Maralinga Tjarutja native title land was handed over to the Maralinga people under the Maralinga Tjarutja Land Rights Act, 1984[1] passed by both houses of the South Australian Parliament in December 1984 and proclaimed in January 1987.

In 2003 South Australian Premier Mike Rann and Education Minister Trish White opened a new school at Oak Valley replacing what had been described as the "worst school in Australia".[2] In May 2004, following the passage of special legislation, Premier Rann handed back title to 21,000 square kilometres of land to the Maralinga Tjarutja and Pila Nguru people.

The land, 1000 km northwest of Adelaide and abutting the Western Australia border, was called the Unnamed Conservation Park, it is now known as Mamungari Conservation Park. It includes the Serpentine Lakes and was the largest land return since Premier John Bannon's hand over of Maralinga lands in 1984. At the 2004 ceremony Premier Rann said the return of the land fulfilled a promise he made in 1991 when he was Aboriginal Affairs Minister, after he passed legislation to return lands including the sacred Ooldea area (which also included the site of Daisy Bates' mission camp) to the Maralinga Tjarutja people.[3] In 2014 the last part of the land remaining in the Woomera Prohibited Area, known as "Section 400", was excised and returned to free access.[4]

Under an agreement between the governments of the United Kingdom and Australia, efforts were made to clean up the site before the Maralinga people resettled on the land in 1995, they named their new community Oak Valley it is approximately 128 km NNW of the original township. The effectiveness of the cleanup has been disputed on a number of occasions.

The population is generally around 23–50. During special cultural activities with visitors from neighbouring communities, it rises to 1,500 people.[citation needed]

Nuclear tests and cleanup[edit]

Maralinga was the scene of UK nuclear testing and was contaminated with radioactive waste in the 1950s and early 1960s. Maralinga was surveyed by Len Beadell in the early 1950s, and followed the survey of Emu Field, which was further north and where the first two tests were conducted.

On 27 September 1956, Operation Buffalo commenced at Maralinga, as Emu Field was found to be too remote a site; the operation consisted of the testing of four fission bombs. Two were exploded from towers; one at ground level and one was released by a Royal Air Force Vickers Valiant bomber from a height of 30,000 ft (9,144 m); this was the first launching of a British atomic weapon from an aircraft.[5]

Operation Antler followed in 1957. Antler was designed to test the triggering mechanisms of the weapons. Three tests began in September; the first two tests were conducted from towers; the last was suspended from balloons. Yields from the weapons were 1 kiloton, 6 kilotons and 25 kilotons respectively.[6]

Participants in the test programme were prohibited from disclosing details of its undertakings. Risking incarceration, nuclear veteran Avon Hudson became a whistle-blower and spoke out to the media in the 1970s, his disclosures helped pave the way towards a public inquiry into the tests and their legacy.

The McClelland Royal Commission of 1984–1985 identified significant residual contamination at some sites. British and Australian servicemen were purposely exposed to fallout from the blasts, to study radiological effects; the local Aboriginal people have claimed they were poisoned by the tests and, in 1994, the Australian Government reached a compensation settlement with Maralinga Tjarutja of $13.5 million in settlement of all claims in relation to the nuclear testing.[7] Previously many of these facts were kept from the public.

Despite the governments of Australia and the UK paying for two decontamination programmes, concerns have been expressed that some areas of the Maralinga test sites are still contaminated 10 years after being declared 'clean'.[8][9][10][11][12]


  • Temperature from 6.5 °C in winter to 44.7 °C in summer; overnight minimum of -3 C in winter.
  • Rainfall average 0.75 mm – 1.25 mm


  1. ^ Maralinga Tjarutja Land Rights Act, 1984
  2. ^ ABC News May 4 2003 "Maralinga Students Welcome New School"
  3. ^ The Age, 25 August 2004, "Maralinga Handover Prompts Celebration"
  4. ^ "Minister for Defence and Minister for Indigenous Affairs – Joint Media Release – Part of Maralinga Lands excised for traditional owners at Woomera". Australian Government Department of Defence. 3 June 2014. Retrieved 5 August 2019.
  5. ^ Operation Buffalo
  6. ^ "Summary of findings of the Royal Commission". Retrieved 6 October 2006.
  7. ^ "Maralinga rehabilitation project". Australian Department of Education, Science and Training. Archived from the original on 19 July 2008. Retrieved 2 December 2008.
  8. ^ "Maralinga finally cleaned up", 7.30 Report, ABC TV, broadcast 1 March 2000
  9. ^ "Maralinga: The Fall Out Continues", Background Briefing, ABC Radio National, broadcast 16 April 2000
  10. ^ Parkinson, A., (2007), Maralinga: Australia's Nuclear Waste Cover-up, ABC Books, Sydney, ISBN 978-0-7333-2108-5
  11. ^ Jim Green, "Nuclear waste and indigenous rights", Perspective, ABC Radio National, broadcast 7 February 2008, accessed 9 March 2008
  12. ^ Philip Dorling. "Ten years after the all-clear, Maralinga is still toxic", Sydney Morning Herald 12 November 2011, accessed 12 Nov 2011

Further reading[edit]

  • Parkinson, Alan 2007. Maralinga: Australia’s Nuclear Waste Cover-up
  • Tame, Adrian & Robotham, F.P.J. 1982. Maralinga: British A-Bomb Australian Legacy. Fontana / Collins, Melbourne. ISBN 0-00-636391-1.
  • Mattingley, Christobel; Yalata & Oak Communities. 2009. Maralinga: The Anangu Story. Allen & Unwin – a children's book about the history and culture of the region, the nuclear testing controversy and the region's original owners
  • Beadell, Len 1967. Blast The Bush New Holland Publishers, Sydney. ISBN 1864367369

External links[edit]