Lord of the flies

Britain’s infamous atomic tests
by
May 2022, no. 442
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The Secret of Emu Field: Britain’s forgotten atomic tests in Australia by Elizabeth Tynan

NewSouth, $34.99 pb, 360 pp

Lord of the flies

Britain’s infamous atomic tests
by
May 2022, no. 442

In 1953, the British government conducted the Totem nuclear weaponry tests at Emu Field in South Australia. It was an inhospitable environment for non-Indigenous visitors. One London-based administrator called for the Australian military to remove all flies from the site. These tests earned part of a chapter in Elizabeth Tynan’s award-winning Atomic Thunder: The Maralinga story (reviewed by Danielle Clode in the March 2017 issue of ABR). Now Tynan has expanded the Totem story into a book that purports to uncover the secrets of what happened there and why.

Michael Winkler reviews 'The Secret of Emu Field: Britain’s forgotten atomic tests in Australia' by Elizabeth Tynan

The Secret of Emu Field: Britain’s forgotten atomic tests in Australia

by Elizabeth Tynan

NewSouth, $34.99 pb, 360 pp

Buy this book

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Comment (1)

  • Michael Winkler has written a sharp and insightful review of my latest book, The Secret of Emu Field: Britain’s forgotten atomic tests in Australia (ABR, May 2022). I am really glad to see his thorough and sensitive understanding of its story about the Operation Totem tests at the South Australian test site in 1953. He quite rightly wonders why I did not use the infamous quote about the Totem I ‘black mist’ from the British scientist Ernest Titterton, who was quoted in the media in 1980 following the first public disclosures of the phenomenon:

    ‘No such thing can possibly occur, I don’t know of any black mists ... The radioactive cloud is in fact at 30,000 feet, not at ground level. And it’s not black ... if you investigate black mist, sure you’re going to get into an area where mystique is the central feature and you’ll never be able to establish or not.’

    I had used part of this quote in my earlier book, Atomic Thunder: The Maralinga story, in the short section devoted to the Emu Field tests, so I made the decision not to reuse it in the new book. But I agree that it is a resonant quote, and one that points to Titterton’s dismissive attitude to any safety concerns around the conduct of British atomic tests in Australia.
    Posted by Elizabeth Tynan
    02 May 2022

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