Kate Downhill, Operation Hurricane, 2013, Acrylic on dress fabric laid on canvas, 101 x 76 cm. Copyright of the artist.
On 27 September 1956 the British exploded an atomic bomb on Pitjantjatjara land in the southern part of the Great Victoria Desert of South Australia. The place would become known as Maralinga. It was the first of seven British atomic tests at Maralinga in 1956 and 1957. These were accompanied by over 600 so called ‘minor trials’ until 1963, which caused additional longterm contamination with highly toxic substances such as plutonium and beryllium.
The Maralinga tests were indeed not the first the British Government conducted on Australian territory. Three atomic devices were detonated in the Montebello archipelago off the coast of Western Australia and further two in Emu Field, about 250 km north of Maralinga. Yet it was the term Maralinga, which means ‘thunder’ in the now-extinct Garik Aboriginal language of the Northern Territory, which gave this dark part of Australian history its iconic name.
Atomic testing in Australia resulted in the forced removal of its original inhabitants, the Anangu Pitjantjatjara people, and their exposure, as well as that of military and civil personnel to radiation. The test program caused radioactive fall-out across the Australian continent and resulted in thedesecration and devastation of Aboriginal country.
Black Mist Burnt Country is a national touring exhibition concerned with the British atomic tests in Australia in the 1950s and ‘60s. It revisits the events and locations through the artworks of Indigenous and non-Indigenous contemporary artists across the mediums of painting, print-making, sculpture, photography, video and new media.
The works in the exhibition collectively span a period of seven decades, from the first atomic test in Hiroshima and the post-WW II era, through the times of anti-nuclear protest in the late 1970s and early 1980s to the present day.
This exhibition will also be showing at:
National Museum of Australia
25 August to 18 November
Burrinja Dandenong Ranges Cultural Centre
1 December to 10 February 2019