The Secret of Emu Field
Britain’s forgotten atomic tests in Australia
By Elizabeth Tynan
Published by NewSouth
RRP $34.99 in paperback
Is what happened with atomic tests in Australia in the 1950s the worst example of Britain’s patronising contempt for Australia as a colonial outpost?
Elizabeth Tynan, the award-winning author of Atomic Thunder: The Maralinga Story, reveals the story of a cataclysmic collision between an ancient Aboriginal land, a sycophantic Australian government led by Robert Menzies and the post-war Britain of Winston Churchill intent on an atomic testing program that could not be conducted on their own soil.
Emu Field is overshadowed by Maralinga, the larger and much more prominent British atomic test site about 193 kilometres to the south.
But Emu Field has its own secrets which interestingly the British Government is keen to keep to this day, having withdrawn UK MOD files previously accessible.
Only at Emu Field in October 1953 did a terrifying black mist speed across the land after an atomic bomb detonation, bringing death and sickness to Aboriginal populations in its path.
The British undertook Operation Totem at Emu Field under cover of extreme secrecy with scant regard for the local indigenous population, which Tynan describes as ‘beneath contempt’.
It was, as Tynan writes, ‘a largely useless dead end that had the worst consequences for those with the least power …’ aided and abetted by a government in thrall to the British establishment.
Nearly seventy years on, it’s hard not to be moved to anger by this story, followed by dismay, at Australia having a government so ready to expose its own citizens to such appalling treatment.