Nuclear test vets return to Montys
A group of Australian former servicemen who experienced British nuclear testing on the Montebello Islands were in town last week to mark the 60th anniversary and draw attention to their little-known cause.
Seventeen of the 180 members of the Australian Ex-Services Atomic Survivors Association visited Dampier to erect a plaque commemorating 60 years since the last of three explosions on the isolated Montebello Islands, about 20km north of Barrow Island.
The group spent last Wednesday and Thursday travelling by boat to the three detonation sites on the islands and installing the plaque, before meeting with the Pilbara Regiment, the Karratha RSL sub-branch members and City of Karratha representatives on Friday.
Eight members of the group were at the Montebello Islands during or in the aftermath of the atomic blasts between 1952 and 1956, including a particularly powerful bomb exploded on Alpha Island.
Association secretary Jim Marlow, who witnessed one of the Montebello bombs go off firsthand, said while the scientists on site had worn “top-to-toe” protective clothing, the men on his crew were allowed to wear T-shirts, shorts and sandals to be “guinea pigs” for the effects of nuclear fallout on humans.
Association member Ray Whitby remembered what it was like to visit the islands months later, when he was part of a team sent to test the lingering effects.
“In 1958 when I went back … the only thing on the island was birds that were deformed,” he said. “There wasn’t a blade of grass or vegetation, it was completely devoid of anything like that,” he said.
“Towers had been built prior to the bombs’ explosion, cars were there, small trucks … that were in the explosion just completely devastated. “You could have been on another planet. It was just unbelievable.”
Mr Whitby said many of his ship mates on the trip had died in their 30s “riddled with cancer”.