The Unlucky Australians, the documentary of the Gurindjis' campaign for their land, aired on the ABC late on Sunday night 20 August 2017. The Gurindjis' successful struggle against the combined might of the Vestey empire and the Australian federal government is one of the greatest Australian stories.
In the timeless David and Goliath tradition, the opposing Lord Vestey and Vincent Lingiari were Paul Kelly's classic 'opposite men on opposite sides'. The 1975 image symbolising the Gurindjis' success — of PM Whitlam pouring a handful of earth into Vincent Lingiari's cupped hand — remains an iconic Australian visual.
But there's nothing like actually witnessing the action — and hearing the leaders' own voices — as captured in the film. The Gurindjis' sufferings were immense, yet their determination remained firm. What every Gurindji wanted was not even better wages, but simply to once more be able to protect their land and their way of life.
What struck me most was their complete solidarity. Despite the government's intense pressure — the withdrawal of the blind man's pension, the promise of solid brick houses built in sight of their tin and bush humpies, or any other threat and enticement — every Gurindji stood firm.
Half a century after the Gurindji Walkoff and half a continent away, on Saturday 19 August at a gathering in Port Adelaide, two modern beleaguered groups, one Aboriginal, one non-Aboriginal, shared their current experiences in striving to protect their own lands and ways of life. Like the Gurindji, their struggle is with the federal government and this time, indirectly, with another big business — the nuclear industry. In contrast to the Gurindji struggle however, modern day communities and even families are being torn apart by enticements and pressures.
Two months ago, South Australia's Premier Jay Weatherill conceded that there is 'no bipartisan government support' and 'not sufficient community support' to continue with the extraordinary scheme that a SA government sponsored nuclear royal commission had recommended. The Premier gave a commitment that a State Labor government, if re-elected, would now not pursue a high-level international nuclear waste dump.
The federal government however continues its pursuit in SA — the disposable state — of a federal dump for the intermediate long-term nuclear waste from the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor and for medical waste. Now, once again, three sites are being offered up: two in Kimba, at the top of Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, as well as the ongoing Flinders Ranges site.
At the 19 August meeting, Kimba farmers spoke of the offers of a paltry $10 million and a tiny 15 (or fewer) permanent jobs as the payoff for the deep divisions and the certain risk to their markets a federal dumpsite would bring. Farmer Toni Scott, overcome by describing a formerly close-knit community now torn apart, broke down in tears. The close voting statistics for and against the site belie the former Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Matt Canavan's assertion that Kimba is clearly in favour.
"Sadly, with the government's 'no-strings-attached' $2 million for community projects, the tearing apart of families has intensified."
Farmer Tom Harris's neighbour is one of two Kimba farmers who have offered possible dumpsites. However the site is closer to Tom's family homestead than it is to the neighbour's. It was sobering to hear his facts. Kimba region farmers 'are recognised as some of the best dry farmers in the world' but the competition between grain farmers for international markets is so intense that the warning from the professionals is clear: proximity to a nuclear waste dump will have predictably disastrous negative effects. And the irony — 'It's the farmers who've kept the town going.'
Meanwhile, the Adnymathanha and other Flinders Ranges station and townspeople continue their efforts to protect SA's iconic Flinders Ranges from the same fate. During the 31 months it has been a preferred site, their trauma has deepened as they have seen other locals acquiesce. Sadly, with the government's 'no-strings-attached' $2 million for community projects, the tearing apart of families has intensified.
The Gurindji had Frank Hardy and Australian unions supporting them during their terrible privations. Many Kimba farmers and townspeople, and the Adnyamathanha, together with some of the townspeople and most of the Flinders Ranges landholders, are grateful for their own southern (or eastern) supporters. They plead for more: 'Please help us to be heard!'
Michele Madigan is a Sister of St Joseph who has spent the past 38 years working with Aboriginal people in remote areas of South Australia and in Adelaide. Her work has included advocacy and support for senior Aboriginal women of Coober Pedy in their campaign against the proposed national radioactive dump.
Main image: Kimba farmer Tom Harris. Photo by Dave Laslett
Comments should be short, respectful and on topic. Email is requested for identification purposes only.
29 August 2017
A very emotive plea, Michele, but in precisely what way will 'proximity to a nuclear waste dump... have predictably disastrous negative effects' or threaten 'SA's iconic Flinders Ranges'? And if not somewhere in SA, then where? Or are you suggesting that we forgo the benefits of radio-medicine and other peaceful uses of radio isotopes?
29 August 2017
I am not sure what has happened to the Gurindji people or other Aboriginal people who worked for what seemed pittances compared with whites on cattle stations all across our North. Much of South Australian and other Australian farming is done on what would be considered marginal land. We created the nuclear waste at Lucas Heights and at other research institutions throughout the country. I believe we once dumped our nuclear waste, or part of it, in drums, which would corrode, into the Pacific Ocean. What do we do now? That is what Zen masters would call a 'real' question.
30 August 2017
Considering the vast areas of Australia why pick on places close to farming or the natural magnificence of the Flinders Ranges? The waste we have generated has been stored safely for years. A few more to find a sensible solution would not hurt.
30 August 2017
You obviously feel strongly about this Michele, but just as strongly I feel your emotion is tragically misplaced. This nuclear repository is one that Australian desperately needs. There will be no danger but it is so easy in Australia to beat things up against the common good. Unfortunately given the way populist politics works in our dear country you are likely to win, as the green-left has done in energy policy. But we will all be substantially worse off as a result with absolutely no gain. Yet again.
30 August 2017
This seems to be the way big industries work, divide and conquer,works most times. Thanks for bringing these issues to our attention.
30 August 2017
Dear Ginger Meggs and Eugene,
There are plenty of facts about the national nuclear waste deposit in this and Eureka Street previous articles that I think you have read.I quote again 'Australia does not need a national radioactive waste dump for medical wastes. Nearly all medical radioactive wastes are very short-lived - a matter of days, or even hours.' This from Christina Macpherson. My previous quotes were from Dr Margaret Beavis long -time expert on nuclear medicine.
The depository is primarily for the Lucas Heights reactor including the highly toxic spent fuel rods. There is no real plan to build the hugely expensive underground receptacle which this long term intermediate waste
requires. The highly toxic waste will just be dumped above ground for an indeterminate time perhaps forever. For the common good, landholders, farmers and Traditional Owners have a responsibility to stand up for their lands, waters, and the health of present and future generations.Economic sense as Peter points out is not to use farming land or 'iconic' areas.The SA tourist industry including the Flinders Ranges has grown by 4000 jobs over the past 2 years- What is needed is a genuine planned project by experts -not a postcode.
30 August 2017
I am appalled the Weatherill government whilst espousing renewable energy targets and the evils of coal, has positioned a nuclear waste dump in SA, supported by no less than a state sponsored RC that might now be a runaway train they cannot stop. The incompetence of this group of ruling state politicians continues to surprise at every turn. This is not to even raise the issue of Indigenous Australians and the disregard the SA government has shown towards them. Edward Fido is correct to call it a "real" question as to where we might be able to store this waste. Alas, we will all want this waste to be stored somewhere else and ultimately the economics of persuasion will have it stored in the lands of the poorest people because they will blink first.
31 August 2017
Thanks Patrick. The article is mainly about the Federal proposed nuclear dump. A middle paragraph though seeks to update and clarify the difference to the rc project
and so briefly outlines how the Premier has acknowledged there is no bipartisan or not sufficient community support to go ahead the nuclear royal commission plan for an international dump. Now he and the Leader of the Opposition are being called on to protect SA from a federal dump which site depends on various landholders offering their land.
01 September 2017
Thanks for the response, Michelle. And thanks for clarifying the position of the SA Government for Patrick. It's important that we know who is doing what. You say that the feds are proposing that 'the highly toxic waste will just be dumped above ground for an indeterminate time...'. Can you point me to where I can do some further reading on that please?
03 September 2017
The abandonment of forever deadly radioactive nuclear waste in the non reducing environment of Kimba will only be repeating the mistakes made by the abandoning radioactive waste in steel drums in a non compatible environment at Woomera costing the tax payer $30 mil. to try and mitigate. I have also experienced 52+ degree temp. in such areas and the recent French nuclear contingent suggested the max. safe threshold for the Holtec dry casks that is storing ANSTO's high grade waste under the guise of intermediate is only 60 degrees.
15 September 2017
PS to G Meggs
And click on issues for an excellent and readable page summary Best wishes
15 September 2017
To Ginger Meggs - someone has pointed out to me today your last post requesting to be pointed to further information - In case you somehow come to see it this much later.
Please google 'David Noonan SA environmental campaigner' for detailed analysis of what the nuclear Royal Commission was actually porposing. Re the Federal dump proposal http://www.foe.org.au/waste
and http://www.beyondnuclearinitiative.com/ are 2 excellent websites