Australian Atomic Survivors’ Delegation heads to Parliament House

Jun 13, 2023 | News

MEDIA RELEASE: Atomic Survivors travel thousands of kilometres to call on PM to sign nuclear weapon ban treaty


A group of Australian atomic survivors are travelling to Canberra this week to speak with government decision-makers about their experiences as survivors of the British nuclear testing program in WA and SA. They will outline expectations for future actions from the government to acknowledge and address the harms caused by nuclear weapons testing, calling directly on the Prime Minister to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the British nuclear testing program at Emu Field in South Australia, and one of the delegates, Karina Lester, a Yankunytjatjara Anangu woman from north-west South Australia, is a second generation nuclear test survivor from these tests. Her late father, Yami Lester, was blinded by the tests at Emu Field, and Karina carries his story as well as her grandmother’s story about the impacts of the tests on her people.

“Our mob were not informed of those tests that were about to take place on our traditional lands,” said Karina. “Consent was never given by Anangu for the Emu Field tests. The Government did not come and ask Anangu if it was okay to test on our traditional lands.

“First Nations peoples of this Country have been speaking up strong about truth telling, this is our truth telling, about the impacts felt by my people, Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara, the contamination of our traditional lands, the hurt and pain and suffering still felt to this day. All Australians need to know the truth about what happened on our own soil.

“I’m travelling to Canberra because we Aboriginal people need to be around the tables to make the decisions, and the nuclear ban treaty is a good opportunity to be part of the solution.”

Maxine Goodwin is the daughter of an Australian nuclear veteran who became ill as a result of his involvement in the first atomic test in Western Australia. She is joining the delegation because she wants to see the government be held accountable for what happened to veterans and their families. 

“History has demonstrated that governments have been elusive and unaccountable,” said Maxine. “They have been less than accountable when it comes to the history of nuclear testing in Australia. Signing the TPNW is a significant step towards addressing the harm experienced by individuals and communities. From my community’s experience, there has been no accountability for the impacts of the nuclear tests on veterans and their families.”

June Lennon is a Yankunytjatjara, Antikarinya and Pitjantjatjara woman, who was four months old, in October 1953, when the Totem 1 nuclear bomb was detonated at Emu Field. June’s family witnessed the test and have suffered from ill-health ever since. 

“The government didn’t tell the truth about the nuclear testing program,” said June “There were so many lies—they didn’t tell people what they were doing. The people who suffered really need an apology and recognition. We need it so we can remember those people we lost, so their names won’t be forgotten.”

In 1956, Doug Brooks was eighteen when he was stationed at Monte Bello Islands as a serving member of the Royal Australian Navy. He was onboard HMS Alert when, as part of Operation Mosaic, the G2 98 kiloton nuclear bomb was detonated just ten miles away. He and the rest of the crew were exposed to the full blast of the explosion. 

“The 19th of June is the 67th anniversary of my exposure at Monte Bello Islands,” said Doug. “After all these years of fighting with the government, it comes at an appropriate time. I will never stop fighting to get recognition for these people.”

ICAN Australia Director, Gem Romuld, says “this is an incredibly important delegation, some of whom are travelling thousands of kilometres to be in Canberra. 

“Nuclear survivors are experts on the devastating humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons. Australia’s experience with nuclear weapons testing is a powerful motivation to join the nuclear weapon ban treaty. Joining the treaty will help prevent more people and land from suffering, as well as address historic harms. It’s about the past, the present, and the future.”

The delegation will be in Canberra on the 14th and 15th of June. They will meet with parliamentarians, including the Foreign Minister, and speak at an event hosted by Parliamentary Friends of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. 

On Wed 14th June there will be a picfac at 9:30 am in the Senate Courtyard 28L, followed by a press conference with Co-Chairs of the Parliamentary Friends of the TPNW, at 10 am, in the Mural Hall, Second Floor.