A blast from the past
Starting in 1956, the British government detonated seven atomic bombs at Maralinga in South Australia. The sites have been decontaminated, so a mate and I decided to visit. We contacted Maralinga Tours and booked a holiday of two nights camping and a day’s bus tour.
To get there we turned north off the Eyre Highway about 175km east of Ceduna and travelled over interesting roads for about 150km to Ooldea, where we crossed the Indian Pacific railway track. There we saw a memorial to Daisy Bates, a pioneer who spent part of her life working with local Aborigines. Another 50km took us to the Maralinga village gates, where we were met by Robin Matthews, our host and guide for the next day. At Maralinga, we camped, with hot showers, good toilets, free Wi-Fi and a very welcome fire pit.
The following morning Robin picked us up in his ute (normally he uses a minibus but we were the only visitors that day) and took us on a full day’s tour of the bomb sites, and told all about the history of the project and about the effects on the local people. There was much to see, includ- ing an aerodrome built on concrete so thick that the space shuttle could land there. The aircraft parking tarmac is still used to capture the limited rainfall and store it in tanks and dams.
Maralinga is a ghost town now but was built, owned and operated by the British to house the staff and armed forces involved in the testing of atomic bombs less than 30km away to the north. You can still see the layout of the town and the Olympic-sized swimming pool and tennis and basketball courts. At the bomb sites we saw the ground zero for each detonation and massive pits used to bury plutonium-contaminated soil. One section of sand has turned to glass.
After a great day’s sightseeing, Robin joined us around the campfire for further discussion, then showed us several videos and articles giving more details about the project. Next morning we headed southwest, past Watson, directly across the true Nullarbor Plain along a stony rutted track for about 150km to Nullarbor roadhouse. There we visited the Murrawijinie limestone caves and visited Head of Bight to watch southern right whales frolicking. It felt so carefree and so different from the fascinating but troubled history of Maralinga.