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The nuclear fight: then and now

  • 04 June 2020
On Sunday 24th May, the ABC showed the documentary Maralinga Tjarutja produced and directed by lawyer, academic, filmmaker and Eualeyai/Kamillaroi woman Larissa Berendt. It was wonderful to see the Traditional Owners including the women given a current national voice as survivors of the British nuclear tests on their lands. Mima Smart OAM former long-term chairperson of Yalata Community was co-presenter with the chair of Maralinga Tjarutja, Jeremy Lebois; Mima’s Maralinga art, painted in collaboration with other Yalata minyma tjuta — women artists, becoming an integral background story — sometimes even in animation.

In the early 80s, after a monumental effort by the Aboriginal peoples of South Australia’s Far North West and their supporters, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunyjatjara Anangu gained their Land title. The Yalata people to the south at the time, I remember, had been discouraged by their then Community Advisor to take part. As a result, when the Yalata people’s will finally had their way, it meant that they had to make their own path.

In response, the South Australian Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement called together previous supporters. I recall at this first meeting, various priests/pastors/church workers standing together in a circle declaring that they could see that the Pitjantjatjara (in those days the Yankunyjatjara were not named) had really deserved their title as they had remained on their land and kept their ceremonies.

What an extraordinary thing that it had to be pointed out to most of them that surely the Maralinga Tjarutja People had been doubly disadvantaged. Surely their forced removal from their traditional lands, then ‘blocked off’ (as they named it) for 30 years, made their cry for their title and their return just as, or even more, worthy.

As in the previous campaign, Yalata Anangu travelled to the capital city — this time the 1000 kms from SA’s Far West Coast. The struggle through the South Australian Parliament made harder this second time around as parliamentarians, having learned from the first Land Rights granted, were determined to force even more concessions.

But the 18th December 1984 victory celebration is a wonderful scene in the film. On site, on the Maralinga Lands, the nominated Elders Mr Queama and Mr Baker brought in by younger family to receive — at last — from Premier Bannon the so long awaited Land Title named the ‘Maralinga Land Rights’. Tjilpi kutjara, both Old Men, triumphantly flourishing the document and the faces of so many women and men,