Monday, December 07, 2009

The brumby and the bomb: archaeology at Maralinga

So much going on at the moment.  New Zealand's recent launch, new stuff in Australian space development and orbital debris mitigation, and many many thoughts that my three functioning brain cells are somehow managing to produce, despite the resemblance of the rest of my brain to lime jelly.

For yes, I am the nominal chief organiser of this year's Australian Archaeological Association conference, being held at Flinders University in less than a week.  This is an experience that I hope never to have again.

And no - just in case you were going to ask - I haven't written my paper yet.

BUT for your delectation, here is the abstract.

In the 1950s and 60s, Maralinga and Emu Field in South Australia were the site of a series of nuclear tests, controversial not least because of their effects on the Aboriginal people of the region.  Following the period of active testing, Maralinga Village was largely dismantled with buildings, equipment and materials sold and dispersed.  The “ground zero” areas were remediated in 1967, and in several phases between 1994 and 2000. 

With proposals to develop the tourist potential of Maralinga, the challenge is to represent what is no longer there.  The ground zeros are now marked by monuments, and warning signs, the pits of nuclear testing filled in and smoothed over by remediation.  However, despite this massive re-landscaping, the ground is still littered with the remnants of test infrastructure.  In places, vehicle tracks from the remediation phase survive, overlain by those of more recent visitors.  Among the more personal remains are “dinner camps” left from the 1950s survey by Len Beadell, and construction workers into the 1960s.  Ephemeral sites such as these have been the focus of a contemporary archaeological approach at other nuclear test landscapes, such as the Nevada Test Site in the US.  In this paper, I consider the potential of archaeology to inform the stories that can be told about this brief phase in Australia’s Cold War history.