Nuclear test survivors’ plea for Australia to sign treaty, as they speak at UN meeting

Nuclear test survivors’ plea for Australia to sign treaty, as they speak at UN meeting

Three generations of First Nations survivors of historic nuclear tests have told the United Nations that Australia must do more to address the devastating impact the tests have had on their families.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) invited survivors to address a conference in Vienna, more than 60 years after nuclear bombs were detonated in the South Australian outback.

Yankunytjatjara woman Karina Lester, Kokatha elder Sue Coleman-Haseldine and her granddaughter, Mia Haseldine, shared their experiences via video link from Port Augusta.

The women told the conference how the tests conducted by the British government at Maralinga and Emu Fields in the 1950s had affected the health of successive generations of Aboriginal families from the region.

They called on the Australian government to sign the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which came into force in January last year.

Signs on a table saying 'ban nukes'.
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons hosted a forum in Vienna as part of a ‘Nuclear Ban Week’.(ABC North and West SA: Bethanie Alderson)

Intergenerational toll

Survivor June Lennon, who was in the audience, said she was only a week old when her father covered her with a tarp to protect her from a nuclear blast at Emu Fields.

She told the ABC her family would continue to suffer physical and mental trauma from the testing for generations to come.

“Most of our grandchildren have got pretty bad eyesight, and we were born basically with epilepsy,” Ms Lennon said.

“It’s quite likely that I’m going to die because I’ve got bleeding from my kidneys.

A group of four women standing and smiling.
The community came together in Port Augusta to share their lived experiences before watching the presentation to the UN. (ABC North and West SA: Bethanie Alderson)

In her presentation, third-generation survivor Mia Haseldine said she suffered from post-traumatic stress following the death of her unborn daughter.

“A genetic complication meant my daughter developed tumour-shaped growths and tumors in her kidneys, her heart and her brain all while she was in utero,” Ms Haseldine said.

“There are no external factors that contributed to it which means it was genetic, which means that our DNA has been mutated.”

She feared her children would one day have to experience the loss that she had felt.

‘We still eat the bush tucker’ in test zone

Ms Haseldine outlined gaps she believed the government needed to address to support the next generation of survivors, including a commitment to greater research and education with Aboriginal communities on the impact of the testing.

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