• Aboriginal land was used to test nuclear weaponry in WA and SA in the 1950s and 60s. The nuclear tests have left a legacy of health impacts. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
"Will nuclear weapons remove us completely, or us completely remove nuclear weapons?"
Laura Morelli

6 Feb 2018 - 3:46 PM  UPDATED 6 Feb 2018 - 3:46 PM

From descendants of Aboriginal survivors of the 1950s Maralinga nuclear testing to survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, the people of Japan and Australia have experienced the impacts of the nuclear fuel chain.

Several years have passed and 122 countries across the world have signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, yet Australia and Japan have still failed to do so.

Monday saw several events across Sydney take place in a bid to raise awareness of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and push to have both nations sign the treaty. Leading the way for Indigenous Australia was Karina Lester. 

The Yankunytjatjara-Anangu second-generation nuclear test survivor has been campaigning on behalf of Indigenous people who have been affected by nuclear testing, including her father. Yami lester was an Elder who was blinded during atomic weapons testing carried out by the British in south Australia in the 1950’s.

"Anytime from now on there’s a chance we will be looking right down the barrel of a nuclear war."

"By the age of 57 my dad was robbed of his eye sight. His cousins and brothers also had blindness and sore eyes. The community had skin infections, rashes, people suffered. When nuclear tests happened in the morning by evening people were already sick. It hit everyone hard," Karina expalined.

Stories from the nuclear age 

Monday morning kicked off with Japan’s Peace Boat arriving in Sydney Harbour as part of the 'Making Waves' tour, which saw survivors from Japan and Indigenous Australia share stories and strategies to end the nuclear age.

By midday, more than 300 people rallied in Sydney's city, with the survivors of the 1950s British nuclear weapons testing at Maralinga in South Australia leading the way to address Australian Government offices and the Japanese Consulate-General, demanding their leaders reject these weapons of mass destruction and abide by the new international legal norm.


Karina said Nuclear Weapons have no place in our society and no place in our world.

"The conversation is now about seeing if nuclear weapons remove us completely, or us completely removing nuclear weapons," she explained.  

"It not only harms us as human beings, but our environment and the whole ripple effect. If one president in rage and anger presses the button and launches this weapon. BOOM. it’s a real fear." 

Treaty turmoil

Karina says it’s disappointing that Australia has refused to sign the treaty and boycotted important conversations.

"There’s no real agreememnet protecting Australia and at the moment we are just following around Trump," she said.  

"It's important to remind Austrlaia that the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was awarded the noble peace prize in 2017, becoming the first organisation in Australia to be acknowledged for their work for peace... yet the Australian Government hasn’t congratulated them and have failed to sign off after more than 100 countries around the world have done so." 

ICAN Australia representitive, Gem Romuld says the nuclear tests have left a legacy of intergenerational health impacts and vast tracts of Aboriginal land still poisoned. 

"First Nations survivors and their families worldwide have played a central role in achieving the nuclear weapon ban treaty."

Romuld says this speaking tour enabled people to draw the connections between Japan and Australia.

"We heard the call from nuclear survivors from Japan and Australia, for both of their governments to take nuclear disarmament seriously and join the nuclear weapon ban treaty. If they support the goal of a world without nuclear weapons, they will sign this treaty."

Karina says if the treaty isn't signed, it may mean war.

"We just found out the doomsday clock has moved closer two minutes to midnight. That means anytime from now on there’s a chance we will be looking right down the barrel of a nuclear war," she said.

Karina says the last time it moved closer was back in the 50’s and now in 2018 there’s a lot of work to be done.

"Not only talking to our government officials but to wider Australia, and globally get people to sign the treaty so we don’t look down the barrel of extinction. The effect of an atom bomb on the globe is going to have a huge, huge impact." 

Toxic spread

For years, Karina has been sharing her fathers personal story of the impact nuclear tests and their damaging spread acorss Traditional Lands Indigenous people still live on.

"Dad recalls a black mist that fell over the main camp. People were in fear because it wasn’t like a dust shower; it was an unnatural dusty, sooty coat. You couldn’t hide from it. The ripe oranges had a coating of oily soot which then created the fruit to welt and shrivel up," she explained. 

"The Australian government never spoke to Aboriginal people to say, 'by the way we’re conducting nuclear waste testing in your traditional area’, dad saw the impact with his own eyes and felt the need to remind everybody and let them know the dangers that it caused."  

The big worry Karina says is of course the detrimental impact for the generations yet to come. 

"The poison used to create this is toxic substances that lay in our land for thousands and thousnads of years. It is not biodegradable and that is worrying."

Long term effects

On Monday evening, an event at the Redfern Community Centre heard survivors sharing their stories and perspectives of the impacts of nuclear weapons. Karina was able to discuss how the Australian government continues to put pressure on South Australia.

"Indigenous Australians are expected to store toxic waste on traditional lands. They’ve created this waste but they don’t know how to manage it and the only thing they’re doing is sticking it in the ground," she said.

"These are really negative long term effects but the government’s only around short term so it’s not their long term problem, its ours."

Karina hopes people listen to the stories and to what these survivors and Aboriginal people are saying. She believes we need to learn from these dangerous mistakes before it happens again. 

"My grandmother was fighting against the government in 1988 and we are still trying to continue that fight to say no but again, still nobody is listening," she said.

"The chance of people, communities, and countries being close to getting wiped out… the fear is just so real at the moment. These effects are catastrophic."

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