Maralinga Nuclear Test Site Reclaimed By Aboriginal Owners After Half A Century


The Australian Government has formally handed Maralinga back to its traditional Aboriginal owners, 58 years after the British Nuclear Tests Program made parts of it uninhabitable.

Today’s handback ceremony in Maralinga Village in South Australia was attended by the Minister for Resources and Energy, Martin Ferguson AM, and the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin.

Mr Ferguson paid tribute to all those who contributed to the clean-up.

“Due to the scale of the task, nine of my predecessors have been involved in dealing with the legacy of nuclear testing at Maralinga,” he said. “On behalf of all those who brought us closer to this day, it’s a great pleasure to finally hand these lands back to the Maralinga Tjarutja community.

“Today is about closing the most recent, and least welcome, chapter of Maralinga’s history. Although the story of Maralinga as a test site goes back to the 1950s, it covers just a tiny part of the long association between this land and its people.

“Unity of purpose has characterised the clean-up and handback of these lands – across political divides, between levels of government and within the community. As the attitudes of political leaders changed over the years, so has our understanding of the importance of the land to indigenous people.”

The Government will continue to monitor the site to assess the ongoing effectiveness of the rehabilitation work and, if necessary, take remedial action.

Under the Maralinga Maintenance Deed, the Government is providing $6 million to MT for improvement and maintenance of infrastructure at Maralinga Village to help bring about its use for community purposes.

Ms Macklin said the final handback of the Maralinga lands was a time to reflect on past decisions and policies which had all but destroyed the traditional ways of life and the loss and the grief that this had brought.

“But it also celebrates the strength and determination of the Maralinga Tjarutja people to reclaim their land and their strong links to country, and to build a future where their children can thrive and prosper, through improved education, health and employment opportunities,” Ms Macklin said.

In response to the recommendations of the 1985 Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia, the Hawke Government agreed to clean up the land for return to its traditional owners. The Maralinga Rehabilitation Project was successfully undertaken between 1995 and 2000.

Most of the 3,100 square kilometre site is now suitable for unrestricted access by traditional owners. The remaining 412 square kilometres are deemed safe for casual access such as hunting.



CEREMONY MARKING THE HANDBACK OF THE FORMER MARALINGA NUCLEAR TEST SITE TO THE MARALINGA TJARUTJA

Good morning ladies and gentlemen.

Standing here in Maralinga Village, it is fitting to reflect on the events that lead to us being here today including:

· The 1980s Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests · The resolution of Australia’s claims against the British Government · The Maralinga Rehabilitation Project · And most importantly throughout, the determination of the Maralinga people to regain their traditional lands

Due to the scale of the task, nine of my predecessors have been involved for over twenty years in dealing with the legacy of nuclear testing at Maralinga.

On behalf of all those who brought us closer to this day, it’s a great pleasure to finally hand these lands back to the Maralinga Tjarutja community.

Today is about closing the most recent, and least welcome, chapter of Maralinga’s history.

Although the story of Maralinga as a test site goes back to before some of us were born, it covers just a tiny fraction of the long association between this land and its people.

From today, we are creating the opportunities that were denied to the Maralinga Tjarutja community for more than half a century.

They are long over-due.

In 1991, the Commonwealth Government, South Australian Government and Maralinga Tjarutja agreed on a strategy for rehabilitation.

Thanks to the efforts of all those who worked on the Maralinga rehabilitation project between 1995 and 2000, most of the 3,100 square kilometre site is available for unrestricted access.

The remaining 412 square kilometres is suitable for casual access such as hunting.

This task has set a benchmark – the first time that a clean-up of a nuclear test site has been completed on this scale and to this standard.

I recently signed the Maralinga Handback Deed, completing the Commonwealth’s response to the 1985 Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia.

Unity of purpose has characterised the clean-up and hand-back of these lands – across political divides, between levels of government and within the community.

As the attitudes of political leaders changed over the years, so did our understanding of the importance of the land to indigenous people.

There are too many partners to name them all, or even some. That said - I would like to pay tribute to three key players in the rehabilitation of the Maralinga lands:

· The late Archie Barton who led the Maralinga Tjarutja people in their campaign for over 20 years · Andrew Collett who has tirelessly represented the Maralinga Tjarutja community’s interests during and since the Royal Commission · And Des Davy, convenor of the Technical Assessment Group and the Maralinga Rehabilitation Technical Advisory Committee.

Though the cleanup has been completed, other work continues.

The Commonwealth is committed to a formal program of monitoring the site in consultation with Maralinga Tjarutja and the South Australian Government.

We will ensure the ongoing effectiveness of the rehabilitation work and take action to remedy any problems that arise.

Equally important, the Commonwealth is engaged in discussions with the Maralinga Tjarutja to develop business opportunities.

Under the Maralinga Maintenance Deed, the Commonwealth is paying $6 million to MT for improvement and maintenance of infrastructure at Maralinga Village to help bring about its use for community purposes.

I look forward to working with the Minister for Indigenous Affairs to put in place long-term economic opportunities.

Realising these opportunities with the Maralinga people will represent a practical example of reconciliation, with better prospects for jobs and economic growth.

Ladies and gentlemen, today is about more than reclaiming the land – it’s about reclaiming the story.

The story of Maralinga as a nuclear test site began in 1953 when it was identified as a potential site by Len Beadell and Sir William Penney.

Today, in 2009, we open a new chapter based on access and opportunity.

I’m confident the history books of the future will describe Maralinga as a tribute to those who cleaned it up, and those who took it back.

On behalf of the Commonwealth, thank you for coming this morning, and to everyone who brought us to this day.



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