Investigative journalist Frank Walker’s Maralinga is a must-read true story of the abuse of our servicemen, scientists treating the Australian population as lab rats and politicians sacrificing their own people in the pursuit of power. During the Menzies era, with the blessing of the Prime Minister, the British government exploded twelve atomic bombs on Australian soil. RAAF pilots were ordered to fly into nuclear mushroom clouds, soldiers told to walk into radioactive ground zero, sailors retrieved highly contaminated debris – none of them aware of the dangers they faced. But the betrayal didn’t end with these servicemen. Secret monitoring stations were set up around the country to measure radiation levels and a clandestine decades-long project stole bones from dead babies to see how much fallout had contaminated their bodies – their grieving parents were never told. This chilling expose’ drawn from extensive research and interviews with surviving veterans reveals the betrayal of our troops and our country.
I find Frank Walker’s book especially harrowing, especially as I know of one case of a senior Australian scientist who was ‘silenced’ by the Menzies government as a security risk because he complained about the intentional exposure of people to nuclear radiation from the nuclear testing. The following is taken from an interview I conducted in 2002.
Brian Dunlop, a forgotten victim of British Nuclear testing in Australia in the 1950s.
The following was taken from several interviews with his son, Geoff Dunlop, Mrs Dunlop’s recollections given to Geoff, recorded in February 2002 and bits filled in from a history of British nuclear testing in Australia1.
Don Maisch, Feb 2002
Brian Dunlop graduated from University (possibly Melbourne) in 1953 with an Honours Degree in physics. He then took up a position with the Commonwealth X-ray and Radium Laboratories (later known as the Australian Radiation Laboratory), based in the grounds of the University of Melbourne. A Dr. Albert Eddy ran the laboratory and became Brian’s mentor in radiation physics. In December 1955 Dr. Eddy gave Brian the task of setting up a branch of the laboratory in Perth.
Immediately after the Monte Bello ‘Mosaic’ nuclear testing, the second test being on June 19, 1956, Dr. Eddy was on the first ship to go to the site but died on the way back to Fremantle. According to Mrs Dunlop Brian felt that Eddy had died in very mysterious circumstances, a view shared by Eddy’s widow who apparently was never given a satisfactory reason why her husband died. Brian was sent up to replace Eddy at Monte Bello and when he returned to Perth, according to his son’s recollection, he was “very quiet and obviously very worried on his return”.
Note that the second Mosaic test yield was far greater than expected with airborne radiation from the 2nd Monte Bello test being detected as far away as Townsville and Rockhampton.
The test yield from that test was far in excess of that allowed by the agreement between Australia and Britain. This was hidden from the Australian public until the 1980s.
The Perth laboratory was closed down at the end of 1956 and Brian was recalled to the Melbourne laboratory, then under the head of a Dr. Stevens. After returning to Melbourne in 1956 Brian wrote one or two letters or reports to his superiors apparently stating that it was wrong to intentionally expose aboriginals and servicemen to radiation from the testing when it was known that it was hazardous. He was also possibly also referring to the Maralinga tests, not just Monte Bello.
Soon after the report(s) were given to his department Brian said that he was being followed to and from work and harassed (not sure how) but only wanted to be left alone. One day in 1958 Brian failed to come home after work and his frantic wife contacted his work only to be told her husband had gone insane and had to be committed to a mental hospital. There was no sign of mental instability according to the family but nevertheless for a number of months (possibly 6) Brian was isolated in the hospital and given electric shock treatments and drugs during which time his family was not allowed any visits. After this time he was allowed out for weekend visits but had to be signed back in the hospital by
Sunday night. On one occasion Geoff remembers that his father stayed home Sunday night resulting in a police raid at 2 am. dragging Brian back to the hospital in handcuffs. Geoff said that he still has the occasional nightmare about this.
In 1960 the psychiatrist in charge of Brian told his wife that Brian’s mental condition was incurable and it was best if they got on with their lives, moved away and no longer saw Brian. According to Geoff Dunlop, “despite both me and Brian wanting to see each other we were never allowed to”. Brian died alone in Melbourne in 1964, reported as a suicide.
Journalist Stewart Fist vaguely remembered questions being raised at the time about this but could not provide any details.
If the above is an accurate accounting of the events, Brian Dunlop’s 1956 writings to his superiors notifying them of the hazards of radiation and the intentional exposure of servicemen and aboriginals should be of interest to the recent court cases of servicemen and radiation exposure at Monte Bello and Maralinga. It can be assumed that Brian’s unease about nuclear testing at Monte Bello and possibly Maralinga resulted in his being seen as a security risk. After all, this was the McCarthy era in the U.S. and matching paranoia in Australia over communist infiltration. Also quite relevant was at the time the Menzies government harboured ambitions of having its own nuclear arsenal. Brian Dunlop’s senior
position in the radiation field meant that he was a significant ‘insider’ security risk that had to be dealt with in order to cover up the facts.
Quoting from A toxic legacy : British nuclear weapons testing in Australia:
Each of these explosions generated considerable radioactivity, by means of the initial nuclear reaction and the through dispersion of radioactive particulate colloquially known as ‘fallout’. In addition to British scientific and military personnel, thousands of Australians were exposed to radiation produced by the tests. These included not only those involved in supporting the British testing program, but also Aboriginal people living downwind of the test sites, and other Australians more distant who came into contact with airborne radioactivity.
Ref: 1 The Australian Institute of Criminology, Chapter 16: A toxic legacy : British nuclear weapons testing in