Foot­loose

4 x 4 Australia - - Contents - RON MOON

IN OC­TO­BER this year, there will be cel­e­bra­tions held at Ooldea, SA, for the join­ing of the Trans-aus­tralian Rail­way Line (see Travel Bul­letin, page 16). This got me think­ing about the nearby Mar­alinga Atomic test range. For the past few years, pun­ters have been able to tour the atomic bomb­sites lo­cated here, but these A-bomb sites aren’t the only ones you can visit in Aus­tralia.

West of Ooldea, you can now visit the atomic bomb­sites scat­tered across the Mon­te­bello Is­lands, lo­cated off Dampier in the north-west of Western Aus­tralia. Those bomb blasts were part of the Cold War that ex­isted after the end of WWII, and Aus­tralia al­lowed the Bri­tish to let off a few big crackers while at the same time es­tab­lish­ing Woomera for the test­ing of their in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­siles (ICBMS).

The first test – which was also the first Bri­tish atomic bomb ex­plo­sion in history – was chris­tened Op­er­a­tion Hur­ri­cane. On Oc­to­ber 3, 1952, a 25 kilo­ton bomb (the equiv­a­lent of 25,000 tonnes of TNT) was det­o­nated on board the HMS Plym, which was an­chored off Tri­mouille Is­land. The ship was ba­si­cally va­por­ised, but a large piece of the ship’s boiler can be seen in the six-me­tre-deep, 300-me­tre­long crater that still ex­ists to­day on the ocean floor. Plus, high-fly­ing scraps of the ship’s me­tal can still be found on the nearby is­land.

The sec­ond A-bomb test in Aus­tralia – Totem 1 – took place at Emu in north­ern South Aus­tralia on Oc­to­ber 14, 1953, when a 10 kilo­ton de­vice was ex­ploded on top of a 31-me­tre tower. Twelve days later Totem 2 took place, when an eight kilo­ton bomb was again det­o­nated on top of a 31-me­tre tower. To­day, both sites can be eas­ily visited by those trav­el­ling the Anne Bead­ell High­way.

Op­er­a­tion Mo­saic G1 was det­o­nated on May 16, 1956, and was a 15 kilo­ton blast set on a tower at the north­ern end of Tri­mouille Is­land, again in the Mon­te­bello Is­lands. The third and fi­nal test – Op­er­a­tion Mo­saic G2 – took place on June 19, 1956, and was det­o­nated on Al­pha Is­land. It rated as a 98 kilo­ton blast and re­mains the big­gest ex­plo­sion ever to hap­pen in Aus­tralia.

All of the is­lands were closed off to the pub­lic for many years, but you can now visit them and en­joy the fab­u­lous fishing and div­ing of the area. Explorers can also check out the bomb­sites and ob­ser­va­tion dugouts, along with the rusty relics that lie scat­tered through the low scrub. For in­for­ma­tion on the eas­i­est way to visit the is­lands, go to: www.mon­te­bello.com.au.

In late 1956, the fo­cus of the Bri­tish A-bomb tests shifted to Mar­alinga, which could be ac­cessed and supplied much eas­ier and cheaper by the Transaus­tralian Rail­way Line. The first test – One Tree – was det­o­nated on Sep­tem­ber 27, 1956, and was a 12.9 kilo­ton ex­plo­sion on a tower.

Within the next month, three more fol­lowed: Mar­coo (1.4 kilo­ton at ground level), Kite (2.9 kilo­ton air­dropped) and Break­away (10.8 kilo­ton on a tower).

The fol­low­ing year, three more ex­plo­sions oc­curred: Tadje (0.93 kilo­ton on a tower), Biak (5.67 kilo­ton on a tower) and Taranaki (26.6 kilo­ton from a bal­loon). For the fol­low­ing 10 years or so Bri­tain car­ried out a range of nu­clear tests, but no more A-bomb tests were con­ducted – ar­guably, the nu­clear tests left be­hind more con­tam­i­na­tion than the bomb tests ever did.

After much pub­lic scru­tiny, de­bate, out­rage and ef­fort, the sites at Mar­alinga have been cleaned up and the area is now open for trav­ellers to visit. In fact, the lo­cal Mar­alinga Tjarutja Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple want vis­i­tors to come and visit, but you might baulk at the price. See: www.mar­alin­ga­tours.com.au.

There’s an­other blast as­so­ci­ated with A-bombs in Aus­tralia that few peo­ple know about. In July, 1963, a bomb – Op­er­a­tion Blow­down – was ex­ploded at Iron Range on Cape York Penin­sula. How­ever, a de­ci­sion had been made to ‘sim­u­late an A-bomb blast’, us­ing 50 tonnes of TNT sit­ting on top of a 140foot tower in the mid­dle of the vir­gin rain­for­est. The lush, grassy clear­ing, a few hun­dred me­tres in cir­cum­fer­ence, can still be seen just south of the junc­tion on the Port­land Roads to Lock­hart River Road.

Check them out, and hope we never see the likes of them again!

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