Firstly a note of recognition and thanks to Robin Mathews, the Maralinga Caretaker and also the Maralinga Tjarutja people for the opportunity to stay in their beautiful country and see the significant sights of Maralinga and hear Robin’s amazing historical knowledge.
The aboriginal word ‘Maralinga’means Fields of Thunder. In the 1950’s there was thunder across the land that we now look back on as unnecessary but at the time was deemed as so important as to warrant millions
of dollars, incredible secrecy, and directly and indirectly affect thousands of people’s lives.
After a morning of the obligatory bacon and eggs and a bit of a look around, award presentations were
held. Ferg took out both awards with his effort to get the news of our travels out; the only places to get phone
coverage in Maralinga are at the old fountain near the pool and on top of the water tower/ In fact he is on top of the tower posting as this is written.
We started our tour with Robin. He has been the caretaker at Maralinga for 5 years with his wife of 30 years Della. We jumped into the cars and followed Robin around. He explained that prior to the arrival of the atomic age there was only the nomadic indigenous using this country. It had been explored by Giles and Tietkens
tried to find water to establish a grazing lese but he was unsuccessful.
First stop was the dam. The water system for Maralinga is very reliable. Water that runs off the parking area at
the airport goes into the holding dam and is then pumped up into tanks. The annual rainfall is about 12 inches,
but it can be inconsistent; lots or nothing. When we say tanks, the tanks are big. When full the place is self-sufficient for four years.
Next stop the airport. To put things into perspective, first consider that the airstrip is the only one in the
southern hemisphere that is big enough to land the space shuttle on. It is 2.4 kilometres long. The landing pads have 5 metres thick concrete. Over 8000 people worked at Maralinga over its years of operation, many coming from overseas and flying into the base. The airport terminal was typical of the buildings here of Maralinga, although only a few remain. Pre-fabricated in England, as everything here was, they are made of
aluminium, with special ventilation systems (no air-conditioning). ll power is from generators.
From here we went out into the forward area where we visited a number of the sites where atomic bombs were set off. Seven in total were set off, mainly in September and October due to friendly wind directions. Four
went in 1956 and three in 1957. Another was set up to go but was stopped by an international treaty
agreement signed by Britain. The site are named mainly after Papua New Guinea sites of note or battlefields such as Taranaki, Wewak and Marcoo. Sme of the ombs were on towers, some on the ground, one dropped and some suspended bu ballons.
Kittes and Vixen Tests.
Vixen trial. The Vixen A trials were conducted at the Wewak and TM sites. In the Vixen B trials, a nuclear bomb was placed on a heavy, steel structure known as a ‘featherbed’. The bomb was detonated in a manner which prevented a nuclear explosion, but the heat and power of the chemical explosion hurled molten uranium andplutonium almost a kilometre into the air.
In the years 1960 – 63, fifteen Vixen B trials were conducted at Taranaki, dispersing 22 kg of plutonium and a similar amount of uranium far and wide. Three of the trials were calibration rounds with cores of uranium
To put it mildly, the British didn’t do a lot to clean up there mess, dumping stuff in pits and ploughing the plutonium contaminated ground up. Robin explained that subsequent projects to clean the site were more
successful including a major project conducted by Theiss to clean up pits and buried contaminated soil properly and another project involving insitu-vitrification, which is applying huge amounts of electricity to soil and
waste and turning it to glass. We visited the largest burial trench which was excavated at Taranaki. When dug it measured 205m long by 140m wide by 15m deep.
8000 people who worked there during the tests were researched in 1987; over 6000 died of cancer.
Other highlights of this interesting day was an attempt at a well dug in 1867 (by enforced labour by Tietkins, the man the plain was named after), the sheer size of the complex (over 240 kilometres of sealed roads) and a growing awareness of just how big and how secret this project was.
Once our tour finished we spent time cleaning bikes and equipment, setting up for our next day and a little bit of washing. We were traveling back to the Anne Beadell to pick up the chuck wagon. We would complete a circle
by driving along a road that Robin had showed us to pick up the dog fence to the east of where the trailer was. With over 380 kilometres to travel the next day we eased into the evening and the dark of night and the beautiful stars. We
listened to Robin’s fantastic stories of his life and life at Maralinga, and we
shared with him our lovely roast diner prepared by Hooch.
The Malt Fairy also made an appearance, and as darkness fell Hector made
his way to the top of the water tower for some bagpipe music which capped off a
truly amazing day.