Parliamentary Statement on Atomic Survivors’ Delegation

Jun 15, 2023 | News

Statement by the Parliamentary Friends of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on the visit of British nuclear test survivors and their families to the Australian Parliament

Josh Wilson MP – Member for Fremantle | Senator Steele-John – Senator for Western Australia | Russell Broadbent MP – Member for Monash

Canberra, 14 June 2023

On 15 October 2023 we will mark the 70th anniversary of the first mainland British nuclear test in Australia, at Emu Field in South Australia, on the country of the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara peoples.

This week, parliamentarians have the opportunity to hear from Yankunytjatjara, Antikarinya, and Pitjantjatjara woman and nuclear test survivor, June Lennon, who was four months old, in October 1953, when the Totem 1 nuclear bomb was detonated at Emu Field.

We should never forget that Ms Lennon’s family and First Nations people were treated abysmally in this matter – given no proper warning or protection, let alone consultation and prior informed consent in relation to the profoundly harmful and toxic use of their country. There is no disputing the fact that the British and Australian governments were utterly carless in their consideration of Aboriginal people.

Through these secret nuclear weapons test, which were not sanctioned by an Australian cabinet or parliamentary process, Aboriginal people experienced dispossession and displacement, and their sacred lands were irrevocably poisoned.  The truth about the tests and their impact was covered up, and the severe injustice went unrecognised and unaddressed for decades. Indeed, it is not well understood or acknowledged in Australia today.

As co-chairs, we acknowledge the bravery, fortitude, and advocacy of the Australian Atomic Survivors Delegation that is visiting the Parliament and for their continuing work to raise awareness of those Australians who have had their lives blighted and shortened due to exposure to radiation as part of British nuclear testing. The delegation members include:

  • Douglas Brooks: A Royal Australian Navy nuclear veteran who was exposed to the full blast of the explosion aboard HMS Alert at the first atomic explosion in Australia in the Monte Bello Islands.
  • Maxine Goodwin: The daughter of a nuclear veteran who flew through the Operation Mosaic mushroom cloud in 1952, who later died at 49 of cancer. 
  • Karina Lester: Yankunytjatjara Anangu woman and second-generation nuclear test survivor who participated in the negotiating conference for the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in 2017.
  • June Lennon: Yankunytjatjara, Antikarinya and Pitjantjatjara woman and nuclear test survivor who was four months old, in October 1953, when the Totem 1 nuclear bomb was detonated at Emu Field, South Australia.

Their stories are an important reminder of the extraordinary threat that nuclear weapons present to human life and to the health of our planet. We know that in recent years the risk of nuclear conflict has increased, and some nations have indicated a preparedness to consider the resumption of nuclear weapon testing.

As we approach, on 7 July, the six-year anniversary of the UN’s adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), we can celebrate the fact that there are now 92 countries who are signatories to the treaty, and 68 countries who are state parties.  

As co-chairs of the Parliamentary Friends of the TPNW, we have no doubt that Australia’s timely signature and ratification of the Treaty would be a meaningful contribution to strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime at a time when that is urgently needed.

This would be in keeping with Australia’s history of making such contributions, and it would be appropriate for a nation that has directly suffered the harm of nuclear weapons to human health and our environment through poor governance, misguided subordination to the interests of another country, and shameful disregard for the rights and wellbeing of Indigenous Australians.


Co-Chairs of Parliamentary Friends of the TPNW with the delegates and ICAN. Credit: Jesse Boylan.

Maxine Goodwin, June Lennon, Douglas Brooks and Karina Lester. Credit: Jesse Boylan.