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.
- Three First Nations survivors of nuclear testing share their stories at a United Nations meeting
- They are calling on the Australian government to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
- They say they are facing intergenerational trauma from nuclear tests carried out in the 1950s in outback South Australia’
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.
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.
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.
“If we can somehow link those scientists or researchers studying DNA into people that live on community, eat food from this community,” Ms Haseldine said.
Last year, Australian researchers found that radioactive particles released during the nuclear tests remained highly reactive.
Second-generation survivor Karina Lester noted in her presentation the importance of language for Aboriginal communities who never gave consent to the testing.
“Our mob were not informed of those tests that were about to take place on their traditional lands,” Ms Lester said.
“It’s important for information to be in traditional language so they know of the impacts it has on our bodies and our environment.”
Need for more reconciliation
Ms Lennon said although she was hopeful the change of federal government would lead to a greater focus on reconciliation, she had lost faith.
“I haven’t seen the government do anything to reconcile with the Aboriginal people from this country,” she said.
“If they had, we would have more people in government, we would have more people in places that mattered that made our health better, that made our education better for our children, that made things better for our children who couldn’t face this world no longer and took their own lives.”
Ms Lester ended her presentation to ICAN on a proud and defiant note.
“This is a huge story that needs to be shared,” she said.
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