2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge Review – Maralinga: The Anangu Story

Black silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat on a green background (with some faint writing in the top and bottom thirds), with the words in white: 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge

Maralinga: The Anangu Story by Yalata and Oak Valley Communities
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blurb from Goodreads

Maralinga: The Anangu Story is our story. We have told it for our children, our grandchildren and their children. We have told it for you.

In words and pictures Yalata and Oak Valley community members, with author Christobel Mattingley, describe what happened in the Maralinga Tjarutja lands of South Australia before the bombs and after.

My review

This book sets out in considerable detail what was lost by the Anangu people – and, as a consequence, what we have all lost – as a result, first, of the Europeans’ overuse of water and timber at the Ooldea Soak (which caused devastation of the local environment) and, secondly, the testing of nuclear weapons by the British at Maralinga.

It is often astonishing to me how much survives, despite the atrocities performed. Maralinga contains anecdotes and memories from members of the communities at Yalata and Oak Valley, such as stories about Wanampi (water snake) and how people found water and food, as well as traditional stories, such as the story of Aru and Makuru. Some community members have also provided accounts of being separated from their families.

The book then moves on to describe how the nuclear tests were managed – or, in many respects, mismanaged, particularly in relation to the Anangu community. The mission was closed suddenly and people were dispersed. Many were moved to Yalata, close to the coast. And the weapons were tested when there were still Anangu people living on their traditional lands – within the “Prohibited Zone”, an area enormously affected by the tests. Of course, the effect of the tests extended beyond the Prohibited Zone, and many people became sick. Later, many more became sick when employed to assist with the clean-up.

Despite all of that, the book ends with hope. The Oak Valley community was established on traditional lands in 1985. Oak Valley has grown and prospered. The people there retain their strong links with those who have remained at Yalata. The final substantive page includes quotes from several children stating what they hope to be doing in ten years’ time.

This is a book which all Australians should read. What happened at Maralinga is among the worst wrongs the government and White Australia committed against the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and it is a story too easily overlooked. It also serves as a reminder of the other wrongs committed. And the hope voiced at the end of the book is hope for us all.

This is a review for the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge. You can see my full list of books here. You can find a full list of my reviews, and other posts relevant to the challenge, here.


Categories: arts & entertainment, gender & feminism

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