How a dying rabbit was all it took to lift the lid on what it was really like at Maralinga - Colin James
A CONTAMINATED rabbit sent in a thermos flask to England has been cited as proof Australian servicemen were exposed to radiation at Maralinga.
The partially-blinded rabbit was tested by scientists after a soldier watched it run into the wall of a shed inside a contaminated area.
The soldier caught the severely malnourished rabbit by its ears and killed it with a rock before alerting British officers. A scientific team sent to retrieve the rabbit recorded high levels of radiation when swept with a Geiger counter.
An official report in November, 1956, said the animal's teeth were exposed as the "fur and skin in the vicinity of the mouth had been eaten away". Its eyes "popped out" while it was being examined. "The left eye had festered and appeared to be blind, although the eyelids were still open," it continued.
The rabbit was put into a deep freezer before being placed in "a one gallon thermos flask for immediate despatch to the United Kingdom" where it was tested for radiation. In a letter to Australian scientists on February 12, 1957, a British scientist, G.C. Dale, said the rabbit "would appear to be suffering from external radiation as well as ingestion trouble".
The discovery of the contaminated rabbit contradicts repeated claims by successive federal governments that servicemen were not exposed to radiation during the British tests.
The rabbit was found in an area at Maralinga known as the Forward Zone, where more than 3000 servicemen and civilians were based for the tests in 1956 and 1957.
This included an "Indoctrination Force" of 283 officers and support staff who were "exposed to the full effects" of nuclear explosions on September 27 and October 4, 1956.
The Defence Department stated in 1980 that the men "had not entered any areas which presented a radiation hazard" during the tests.
The department also denied the men had been exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, despite being positioned less than 1km from the blasts. According to the report, the men were located "up wind" of the detonation points "beyond the residual radiation fields generated by radioactive debris".
"Thus, with the wind directions at the times of the tests, no effects due to these residual ionising radiations were experienced by any of the Indoctrinees at these times," it said.
"The levels of thermal, optical, blast, shock and non-ionising electromagnetic radiation emanating from both tests were not in any way sufficient to cause injury or ill health."
The whistleblower who first exposed the truth about the atomic tests at Maralinga, Avon Hudson, said yesterday the Defence Department report was "typical of the lies that have been told and continue to be told" about the atomic tests.
For almost 30 years, Mr Hudson has assembled evidence of an orchestrated cover-up by the British and Australian governments of how servicemen and civilians were exposed to radiation.
Mr Hudson, 65, of Balaklava, first made his concerns public in 1973, when he prompted questions in Federal Parliament about the dumping of radioactive waste at Maralinga. Twenty-eight years later, the former engineer who built towers for nuclear explosions, remains convinced thousands of documents remain hidden from public scrutiny.
"There are truckloads still to be uncovered," Mr Hudson said. "There are medical records for every man sitting somewhere which will never, ever be released. They are there so they can be manipulated. They (government departments) can doctor them, delete them, remove them from files whenever they are challenged. It's what they have been doing for years and don't think for one moment they aren't still doing it.
You would think that after 50 years, there is no secret left worth pursuing. But they are still trying to cover up their sins of the past and their crimes against humanity. Everyone I know who went to Maralinga has had their lives destroyed to the point where some have died very early while the rest have had to suffer maltreatment at the hands of the government.
"This is the shame of what the authorities have done. Nobody is going to put the wrongs right and we are no closer to a resolution today than we were thirty years ago. I feel that we are all going to die before there is any recognition, any sort of medal, any sort of pension. They are just never, ever going to do it. That's the sad fact of it. We are just not a priority."
Mums, babies had picnics during tests - Colin James and Paul Starick
WOOMERA residents who held picnics to watch the British nuclear tests have questioned why a large number of babies died in the town.
Pauline Lister, 74, of Glenelg, said yesterday residents would drive to "picnic spots" to look at mushroom clouds from the nuclear explosions at Maralinga, 600km to the west, in the 1950s.
She and her husband, a junior doctor at the Woomera Base Hospital, and their two children left several years later when residents started "dying like flies" from cancer.
Wives of servicemen working on the missile tests also began experiencing large numbers of miscarriages and stillbirths.
"All of my friends were having miscarriages at the time," Mrs Lister said.
"We knew they (government officials) were blaming the heat but we knew it wasn't the heat. But we couldn't do anything about it. We either stayed there or got out and so we got out. "We kept saying to each other that if you want to have children, don't have them at Woomera because they will die."
Mrs Lister was responding to a report in The Advertiser yesterday which revealed the Woomera Cemetery contains the gravesites of 68 children, including 22 stillborn babies and 34 newborns, who died when they were only days or hours old.
"It was really sad," Mrs Lister said. "Everyone seemed to die."
Servicemen and their wives were told to sign the Official Secrets Act when they arrived at Woomera, she said.
"We were allowed to go out to the desert to watch the nuclear tests which was very exciting because how many people in the world got to see an atomic bomb," she said.
"We had a picnic area and we would look through binoculars or with the naked eye at these huge stalks which would turn into mushroom clouds. It was considered quite rare so it was quite something to see."
A spokeswoman for Defence Minister Robert Hill said in 2003 that medical staff would investigate sealed records on the baby deaths in Woomera for evidence of radiation exposure. She said Senator Hill believed the consequences of radiation exposure as a result of nuclear tests in central Australia had been "exhaustively considered in the past".
He would make a statement if the inquiries found anything of "public importance"
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