The final section of the former Maralinga nuclear test site in South Australia's north has been handed back to its traditional owners.
18 Dec 2009 - 6:38 PM  UPDATED 24 Feb 2015 - 2:44 PM

After the devastation of nuclear blasts and a wait of more than 50 years, the Maralinga Tjarutja people finally have their land back.

The final section of the former Maralinga nuclear test site in South Australia's north was returned to the traditional owners in a ceremony on Friday.

It followed the passing of legislation in the SA parliament allowing for Section 400, an area of 3,100 square kilometres, to be handed back.

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin attended the ceremony and said it was a day to reflect on history and past decisions which disturbed and then all but destroyed traditional ways of life.

"But we also reflect on the determination of the Maralinga Tjarutja people to reclaim their land and their strong links to country," she said.

"Their determination to move from the north, the south and the west back to their homelands - to establish the community of Oak Valley and live again in the red desert country."

Ms Macklin said the Maralinga Tjarutja people faced many challenges as they continued to build a strong, independent future.

"But now they can build their own future on the land that has been rightfully returned to them," she said. "A future where children living in this remote part of Australia are given every chance to benefit from change to be healthy, to be safe and to learn.

"Where children grow up understanding and holding close their connection to their land, the songs and stories of their elders, their culture and their traditions."

South Australian Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jay Weatherill said while the Maralinga story was one of suffering and loss, Friday's ceremony was about healing.

"The British nuclear tests occurred during a period in our history when little regard was given to Aboriginal people or their connection to the land," he said.

"The Maralinga Tjarutja people were put through an unthinkable experience.

"They were forced from their lands against their will, they had nuclear weapons tested on their traditional sacred lands and important parts of their community and beliefs were torn from them."

Mr Weatherill said the handback followed years of negotiations and extensive rehabilitation work. The Maralinga area was used by the British government for nuclear tests between 1953 and 1963.

The first handback of land to the Maralinga Tjarutja occurred in 1984 with two further parcels of land returned in 1991. The final section to be returned is located about