State Library of South Australia

The Whistleblower

Date: 11 March 2015

Avon Hudson was only 23 years old when he arrived in Maralinga as a RAAF leading aircraftsman in 1960. He was part of a group that set up experiments and started building heavy steel firing platforms just 200 metres from ground zero.

Atomic bomb test in South Australia 1953
Atomic bomb test in South Australia 1953

Image caption: Press photograph of the first nuclear test on the Australian mainland, Totem 1, which was carried out at Emu Field in the Great Victoria Desert, north-western South Australia on 15 October 1953. (B 72429-State Library of South Australia)

These 'minor trials' scattered beryllium, uranium and plutonium across the desert. Avon saw scientists wearing protective clothing, but the closest he ever came to being warned about the potential dangers was to be told "You shouldn't spend any more time than you needed to" at the site. As time went on, Avon became increasingly concerned about the number of friends who were dying from various complaints, mainly radiation-induced cancer and leukaemia, while still in their twenties.

Avon has since done more than anyone to give a voice to the long-ignored veterans of the British atomic bomb tests conducted in Australia during the 1950s and 1960s. In the 1970s he began alerting the Australian public to the failed attempts to clean up the Maralinga nuclear bomb test site. In the 1980s Avon helped form the National Nuclear Veterans Association with the aim of lifting the veil of secrecy surrounding the tests and gain recognition for the men who had worked there. He and Roger Cross wrote the book 'Beyond Belief', a provocative historical work showing how successive British and Australian governments have denied their understanding of the dangers of ionizing radiation in the 1950s. His actions helped establish the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia which highlighted the disregard of Australian authorities to the welfare of both Indigenous people and Australian servicemen.

Richard Moriarty and I had the honour of meeting Avon Hudson in his home in Balaklava. An articulate and intelligent man, Avon invited us into his living room which was piled high with a treasure trove of significant and rare archival material from decades of campaigning. We provided advice on how to best organize and describe the records for inclusion into the Archival Collection at the State Library. We also met Avon's daughter Kate Hudson, who has since interviewed her father for the Library's Oral History collection.

We had been invited to Balaklava by Ellise Barkley, Production Manager of 10 Minutes to Midnight, a multi-arts event hosted by Balaklava Town Hall, the Courthouse Gallery and held in outdoor public spaces as part of the 2015 Adelaide Fringe. Avon was previously a long serving member of the Wakefield Council so the venue's location is perfect. The creative team includes award-winning artists Teresa Creas, John Romeril, Luke Harrald, Nic Mollison, Jessie Boylan and Linda Dement. Playwright Romeril is well known to Australian audiences for his productions "The Floating World" and "One Night the Moon". It is presented as part of the three-year international arts and cultural program, Nuclear Futures, exposing the legacies of the atomic age through the creative arts. The project is jointly funded by the Australia Council for the Arts South Australia.

While 10 Minutes to Midnight explores the horrors of the atomic age, it also embodies messages of hope and celebrates the resilience of communities and individuals. The State Library is pleased to be involved.

Story by: Sue Ward

Back to e-xtra 2015 - Autumn stories

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