Nu­clear test vets re­turn to Mon­tys

Pilbara News - - Front Page - Ali­cia Per­era

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”.

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