Artists paint the truth of SA nuclear la la land



'It will be your artists: the poets, painters, actors, dancers, musicians, orators — they will be the ones to lead the changes.'

National Day of Action Rally, No Dumps, Parliament House Adelaide, October 2016 (Kath Whitta)It was one of the many international invited guests, a Maori woman speaker, who made this prediction to the huge 40,000 strong crowd; to the 30,000 First Nations people from across the nation and 10,000 of us non-Aboriginal supporters who had joined them enroute to Hyde Park, Sydney, on 26 January 1988.

In South Australia almost 30 years later, this prophecy continues to unfold in the ongoing high-stakes battle for country that surrounds the proposed nuclear waste dump.

The orators have been long leading the way. 'We can't sell that country — we can't sell it. Just like selling your own kid, own grandmother, own grandfather,' said Arabunna Elder Kevin Buzzacott at the 1998 Global Survival and Indigenous Rights Conference in Melbourne 1998.

Tjunmutja Myra Watson told the Olympic Games international media, Botany Bay, 2000: 'We already lost everything at Maralinga' — the site of the 1950s and 1960s British nuclear tests.

'We thought that Maralinga would be the last one ... We love our land ... We got the Dreaming, we got the songs and we got the culture. We're going to fight to keep it. Let's keep it, let's keep the country, not this man coming in and digging up our spirit and our land and all our songs. They're spoiling it when they put the poison in. They're taking everything and they did it before.'

They are joined in the struggle by other artists: painters Eileen Wani Wingfield and Eileen Unkari Crombie; dancers Eileen Kampakuta Brown, Edie Nyimpula King and other Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta, dancing for protection of country in the bush; singers like Ivy Makinti Stewart, whose astonishing voice filled the Adelaide Town Hall with the lament of the Seven Sisters: Irati Wanti — the poison — leave it!


"Since 2015, in the face of the new threat of being swamped with international high level nuclear waste as well as Australia's intermediate and low level waste, the newer generation have emerged."


Long before that there was Victor Tunkin's 'Maralinga' classic:

Where the red dust flows across the land
There's a place where my people used to stand
Where the Maralinga bomb went off that day.
It's my father's land you see.
And it's calling out inside of me.

Since 2015, in the face of the new threat of being swamped with international high level nuclear waste as well as Australia's intermediate and low level waste, the newer generation have emerged. Painters such as Mima Smart, Rita Tjunkuna Bryant. Musicians such as Johnny Lovett and the Yalata band.

Among the many orators is Adnyamathanya Vivianne McKenzie: 'As a member of the First Nations I want to ask you that when you go home tonight, to look at your children or your grandchildren. In other words look in the mirror. What do want them to know — that you voted for this waste coming to South Australia? Or that you voted against it?' (Citizens Jury 2016)

In the first weeks of 2017, Adelaide Weekend Advertiser readers have been exposed to two rather more mainstream artists, deeply concerned about the same phenomena. On 28 January, South Australian arts icon Robyn Archer told of of her connection to her home state. Titled 'Into the Unknown', it devoted half a page to her specific concern, urging 'a future built on risk-taking and creativity, not nuclear dumps'.

'Mainly what I'm thinking ... is the arrogance with which any human here thinks they can predict what nature will do even tomorrow, let alone in ten, 100, 1000, 10,000, 100,000 years. Because a royal commission has now declared nuclear storage safe to consider, and we South Australians are being asked to share the commissioners confidence ... 

'We love the state, its natural beauty, splendid produce ... For those of us who love the place some of the damage is already done. Many who have worked hard at building South Australia's cultural reputation see that reputation being eaten away by the prospect of the state becoming labelled a dump. It risks becoming a laughing stock ... '

A week later, on 4 February, acclaimed South Australian film director Scott Hicks' satirical piece 'Nuclear fantasy has a real Oscar glow!' was given a page of its own. The 'imagined email from a hotshot producer' opened: 'Loved your pitch, Scott! What a premise! Who could imagine that anyone would build a Nuclear Waste Dump in such a dazzling landscape? And import toxic waste into a state so proud of its clean environment — Hilarious! I'm thinking musical comedy ... ' And it closed: ' ... Scott. This has Oscar written all over it! Forget about La La Land — mind you, that would have been a good title. Let's talk.'

As the Bicentenary Maori visitor declared, the artists see. And help us see.


Michele MadiganMichele Madigan is a Sister of St Joseph who has spent the past 38 years working with Aboriginal people in remote areas of South Australia and in Adelaide. Her work has included advocacy and support for senior Aboriginal women of Coober Pedy in their campaign against the proposed national radioactive dump.

Pictured: National Day of Action Rally, No Dumps, Parliament House Adelaide, October 2016. Scott Hicks is pictured far right. Photo by Kath Whitta

Topic tags: Michele Madigan, South Australia, nuclear waste



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Existing comments

"threat of being swamped with international high level nuclear waste"; a bit OTT don`t you think, perhaps? When you are the most suitable place in the world for this safe facility, and in an uranium exporting state, it seems to me very reasonable, and even one`s duty to put it there. And it really won`t be in the way, and certainly not the end of the world. That will come from the Sun; our own God-given nuclear furnace.

Eugene | 14 February 2017  

Agree Eugene. We've got to put the world first, Australia second. Same with coal mining. If Australian coal, sold to India, can lead to reduced CO2 emissions from the world as a whole, we should let it happen.

Gavan | 14 February 2017  

Thank you Michele for reminding us what happened to the Aboriginal people of the Maralinga lands. A dreadful crime was committed against these people by the British government in the 1950s which was sanctioned by the former PM Robert Menzies. It is very understandable that they do not want to take nuclear waste from other parts of the world. Their lands have had enough radioactive wastes. It is true that nuclear wastes need to be stored as safely as possible. The best places for it are close to where it has been used. Sending wastes long distances can mean that many people could be affected when accidents occur. The fact is that governments and industries have not been very responsible in ensuring there is safe storage for chemical wastes. Not one place should be responsible for taking wastes from all around the world. The sooner we go for safe, clean and renewable energy the better the environment will be for us and other species.

Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 14 February 2017  

It is incredulous to suggest any one place and people take the total responsibility of the worlds nuclear waste. What in the universe is completely safe? With every caution accidents happen everyday. Put in the mix the evolving universe and humanity and accidents are a surety!!! It is common sense for every country to take responsibility for their own waste...and terrifying to do as we have done in the past and condemn one place to a catastrophic and irrevocable accident waiting to happen. My own family suffered as a result of the decision our country took to allow the British Nuclear Tests. Are we really stupid enough to make the same mistake again!!! Is it wise for any country or people to be expected to risk everything for the sake of the dollar? I suggest it is not a sure bet! I absolutely agree we have no right to condemn India to poverty. Therefore we provide coal to India. ...and decrease our own use of coal by creating better and more reliable renewable energy sources. We are leading the way with renewable energy ...let us be a state that tasks real risks to improve the future for the next and future generations in India and here. Kenise Neill

Kenise Neill | 15 February 2017  

Crying shame that the SA Government won't accept the outcome of the citizens jury. Jay said he would listen to the people on Q&A but has continued the push - shame on you Jay.

Glenn | 15 February 2017  

Is the ethical question trying to squeeze out of us the true coal-less solution?

Kay McPadden | 15 February 2017  

On the bank of the Ernabella Ck in the gathering darkness of the day of the first Maralinga bomb test, I stood talking with Andy Tjilari, a young Pitjantjatjara man of about my own age. "What made the bang?" he asked curiously. I explained about atomic bombs. Andy, looking confused, asked, "But why would they have such things?" "Well, we might need them to drop... on people who do bad things." Totally mystified, Andy said, 'But white people are Christians...' Silence...I tried to think what to say...eventually, feebly... 'Oh... but these would be very, very bad people..." Andy looked at me...didn't speak... the darkness deepened...

Nancy Sheppard | 17 February 2017  

A well research article. Thanks Michelle. Our water table is too precious to risk.

Alma Cabassi | 19 February 2017  

I imagine that if the Australian public had been asked to take back waste once mined, there would have been a resounding 'NO' and we may not be exporting uranium at all. Changing the rules part-way through the game is bad sportsmanship. The rule is to keep waste as close to the source as possible. Do we see us taking back all our mined steel, e.g.? NO. Why do we need to take back uranium waste? The people have spoken. No to nuclear. Propping up a failing industry by helping it get rid of waste? No way, Jay!

Bronwyn | 04 May 2017  


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