Maralinga Tjarutja

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Template:Use Australian English Template:Infobox Australian place The Maralinga Tjarutja, or Maralinga Tjarutja Council, is the corporation representing the traditional Anangu owners of the remote western areas of South Australia known as the Maralinga Tjarutja lands. The council was established by the Maralinga Tjarutja Land Rights Act 1984. The area is one of the four regions of South Australia classified as an Aboriginal Council (AC) and not incorporated within a local government area.

The Aboriginal Australian people whose historic rights over the area have been officially recognised belong to the southern branch of the Pitjantjatjara people. The land includes a large area of land contaminated by British nuclear testing in the 1950s, for which the inhabitants were eventually compensated in 1991.

There is a community centre at Oak Valley, 840 km (520 mi) NW of Ceduna, and close historical and kinship links with the Yalata 350 km (220 mi) south, and the Pila Nguru centre of Tjuntjuntjara 370 km (230 mi) to their west.Template:Sfn

Languages and peoples

The Maralinga Tjarutja people belong to a general Western Desert ecological zone sharing cultural affinities with the Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara and Ngaanyatjarra to their north and the Pila Nguru of the spinifex plains to their west, They speak dialects of Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara.Template:Sfn

Ecology and cultural beliefs

The term maralinga is not of local origin. It is a term chosen from the Garig or Garik dialect of the now-extinct Northern Territory Ilgar language, signifying "field of thunder/thunder", and was selected to designate the area where atomic bomb testing was to be undertaken by the then Chief Scientist of the Department of Supply, W. A. S. Butement.Template:Sfn The land was covered in spinifex grassesTemplate:Sfn and good red soil (parna wiru) furnishing fine camping.Template:Sfn

Waterholes (kapi) have a prominent function in their mythology: they are inhabited by spirit children and thought of as birth places, and control of them demarcate the various tribal groups.Template:Sfn According to Ronald Berndt, one particular water snake, Wanampi, tutelage spirit over native doctors, whose fertility function appears to parallel in some respects that of the Rainbow serpent of Arnhem Land myth, was regarded as the creator of these kapi, and figured prominently in male initiation ceremonies.Template:Sfn


Ooldea or Yuldi/Yutulynga/Yooldool (the place of abundant water) sits on a permanent underground aquifer .Template:Sfn The area is thought to have been originally part of Wirangu land, lying on its northern border,Template:Sfn though it fell within the boundaries of a Kokatha emu totem group. It served several Aboriginal peoples, furnishing them with a ceremonial site, trade node and meeting place for other groups, from the northeast who would travel several hundred miles to visit kin. Among the peoples who congregated there were tribes from the Kokatha and Ngalea northern groups and Wirangu of south-east and Mirning south-west.Template:Sfn By the time Daisy Bates (1919–1935) took up residence there it was thought that earlier groups had disappeared, replaced by an influx of spinifex people from the north. By her time, the Trans-Australian Railway route had just been completed, coinciding with a drought that drew the Western desert peoples to the depot at Ooldea.Template:SfnTemplate:Sfn

Beginning in the 1890s, there was a gradual encroachment by pastoralists up to the southern periphery of the Nullarbor Plain, but the lack of adequate water to sustain stock maintained the region relatively intact from intense exploitation.Template:Sfn In 1933 the United Aborigines Missions established itself there, drawing substantial numbers of desert folk to the site for food and clothing, and four years later, the government established a 2,000-square-mile (5,200 km2) reserve.Template:Sfn In 1941, the anthropologists Ronald and Catherine Berndt spent several months in the Aboriginal camp at the water soak and mission, and in the following three-year period (1942–1945) wrote one of the first scientific ethnographies of an Australian tribal group, based on his interviews in a community of some 700 desert people.Template:Sfn Traditional life still continued since Ooldea lay on the fringe of the desert, and incoming Aboriginal people could return to their old hunting style.

Nuclear testing, dispossession and return

When the Australian Government decided in the early 1950s to set aside the Emu Field and Maralinga in the area for British nuclear testing, the community at Ooldea was forcibly removed from the land and resettled further south at Yalata, in 1952. Road blocks and soldiers barred any return.Template:Sfn

Yalata, bordering on the Nullarbor Plain offered a totally different ecological environment; in place of the spinifex plains to the north, the Maralinga Tjaruta people found an arid stone plain, with poor thin soil and a powdery limestone that kicked up a grey dust when disturbed. Their word for "grey", namely tjilpi also signified the greying elders of a tribe, and the Aboriginal residents of Yalata called the new area parna tjilpi, the "grey earth/ground", suggesting that their forced relocation to Yalata went concomitantly with ageing towards death.Template:Sfn

Between 1956 and 1957, seven atomic bombs were exploded on Maralinga land. In further minor trials from 1957 to 1962, plutonium was dispersed widely over much of the area.Template:Sfn Compensation in 1993 of A$13.5 million was determined after three elders flew to London and presented samples of the contaminated soil in London in October 1991.Template:Sfn

In 1962, the long-serving Premier of South Australia, Sir Thomas Playford, made a promise that their traditional lands would be restored to the people displaced at Yalata sometime in the future.Template:Sfn Under the administration of his successor Frank Walsh, short two-week long bush trips were permitted, enabling them to re-connect with their traditional lifestyles.Template:Sfn As negotiations got underway in the 1980s, the Indigenous peoples started setting up outstations near their original lands. With the passage of the Maralinga Tjarutja Land Rights Act 1984 under Premier John Bannon's government, the Maralinga Tjarutja secured freehold title in 1984, and the right to developmental funds from the State and Federal governments. They completed a move back into the area, to a new community called Oak Valley in March 1985.Template:Sfn

Under an agreement between the governments of the United Kingdom and Australia in 1995, efforts were made to clean up the Maralinga site, being completed in 1995. Tonnes of soil and debris contaminated with plutonium and uranium were buried in two trenches about 16 metres (52 ft) deep.[1] The effectiveness of the cleanup has been disputed on a number of occasions.[2][3]

In 2003 South Australian Premier Mike Rann opened a new school costing A$2,000,000 at Oak Valley. The new school replaced two caravans with no running water or air-conditioning, a facility that had been described as the "worst school in Australia".Template:Sfn

In May 2004, following the passage of special legislation, Rann fulfilled a pledge he had made to Maralinga leader Archie Barton as Aboriginal Affairs Minister in 1991,Template:Sfn by handing back title to 21,000 square kilometres (8,100 sq mi) of land to the Maralinga Tjarutja and Pila Nguru people. The land, 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) north-west of Adelaide and abutting the Western Australia border, is now known as Mamungari Conservation Park. It includes the Serpentine Lakes and was the largest land return since Premier John Bannon's hand over of Maralinga lands in 1984. The returned lands included the sacred Ooldea area, which also included the site of Daisy Bates' mission camp.[4]

In 2014, the last part of the land remaining in the Woomera Prohibited Area, known as "Section 400", was excised and returned to free access.[5]

Maralinga Tjarutja Council

The Maralinga Tjarutja Council is an incorporated body constituted by the traditional Yalata and Maralinga owners to administer the lands granted to them under the Maralinga Tjarutja Land Rights Act 1984 (SA).Template:Sfn The head office is in Ceduna.

The Maralinga Tjarutja and the Pila Nguru (or Spinifex people) also jointly own and administer the 21,357.85-square-kilometre (8,246.31 sq mi) Mamungari Conservation Park, which area is contained in the area total for the council area. Emu Field is now part of the council area, too, while the 3,300-square-kilometre (1,300 sq mi) Maralinga area is still a roughly square-shaped enclave within the council area.

The land surveyed and known as Section 400, 120 km2 (46 sq mi) within the Taranaki Plumes,Template:Sfn was returned to Traditional Ownership in 2007. This land includes the area of land occupied by the Maralinga Township and the areas in which atomic tests were carried out by the British and Australian governments.

The final part of the 1,782 km2 (688 sq mi) former nuclear test site was returned in 2014.Template:Sfn

Documentary film

Maralinga Tjarutja,[6] a May 2020 television documentary film directed by Larissa Behrendt and made by Blackfella Films for ABC Television, tells the story of the people of Maralinga. It was deliberately broadcast around the same time that the drama series Operation Buffalo[7] was on, to give voice to the Indigenous people of the area and show how it disrupted their lives.[8][9] Screenhub gave it 4.5 stars, calling it an "excellent documentary".[10] The film shows the resilience of the Maralinga Tjarutja people, in which the elders "reveal a perspective of deep time and an understanding of place that generates respect for the sacredness of both", their ancestors having lived in the area for millennia.[11] Despite the callous disregard for their occupation of the land shown by the British and Australians involved in the testing, the people have continued to fight for their rights to look after the contaminated land.[12]

See also



  1. "Minister backs Maralinga clean-up". The Sydney Morning Herald. 7 March 2003. Retrieved 13 September 2020.
  2. "Maralinga". Australian Nuclear and Uranium Sites. 23 July 2011. Retrieved 13 September 2020.
  3. Ladd, Mike (23 March 2020). "The lesser known history of the Maralinga nuclear tests - and what it's like to stand at ground zero". ABC News (Radio National). Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 13 September 2020.
  4. "Maralinga hand-over prompts celebration". The Age. 25 August 2004. Retrieved 13 September 2020.
  5. "Minister for Defence and Minister for Indigenous Affairs – Joint Media Release – Part of Maralinga Lands excised for traditional owners at Woomera". Australian Government Department of Defence. 3 June 2014. Retrieved 5 August 2019.
  6. Template:Imdb title
  7. Template:Cite news
  8. "When the dust settles, culture remains: Maralinga Tjarutja". Australian Government. 22 May 2020. Retrieved 13 September 2020.
  9. "Maralinga Tjarutja". ABC iview. 6 March 2018. Retrieved 13 September 2020.
  10. Campbell, Mel (11 June 2020). "TV Review: Maralinga Tjarutja paints a full picture". screenhub Australia. Retrieved 13 September 2020.
  11. Broderick, Mick (4 June 2020). "Sixty years on, two TV programs revisit Australia's nuclear history at Maralinga". The Conversation. Retrieved 13 September 2020.
  12. Marsh, Walter (22 May 2020). "The story of Maralinga is much more than a period drama". The Adelaide Review. Retrieved 13 September 2020.




Further reading

External links

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