Friday, June 03, 2005

Kourou controversy

The teaching term is now over at the University of Western Australia. What a relief! I was giving four lectures a week, all requiring a lot of preparation, and I had hardly any time to think of anything else.

Now, finally, there is space in my head to write about Kourou for Sky and Space magazine.

My Kourou experience was very different to my expectations. I was to give a presentation about Woomera, and they asked me to censor it, removing all references to the 1947 protest about the impact of Woomera on Pitjantjatjara people, and to the detention centre. Why would I be talking about the detention centre (one might ask)?  Part of my argument is that Woomera has been a landscape of protest since 1947 until the present day. I also made the mistake of calling the detention centre a concentration camp in my abstract. This is accurate by whatever definition you use. Wikipedia says "the term refers to situations where the internees are persons selected for their conformance to broad criteria without judicial process, rather than having been judged as individuals". The use of this term caused some consternation, apparently.

Unbeknownst to me, at the same time that I was proposing to speak about all these issues, a protest was actually happening at Kourou over the construction of the new Soyuz launch pad. The Guyana Space Centre feared that knowledge of the Woomera protest would fan the flames of rebellion among the local populace.

In some ways I wasn't displeased to think that ideas and history could have so much impact that a lone Aussie archaeologist was a threat to European space operations. On the other hand, the ethical dilemma I faced made me deeply uneasy.

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