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Grappling with the Bomb


History is made through collective action and many people played their part—often unrecognised—during the Grapple nuclear tests. The writing of this book was also a collective effort, though my name is on the front cover.

While living in Fiji in the late 1990s, I co-authored Kirisimasi, a short history of the Fijian soldiers and sailors who witnessed the British H-bomb tests. That book is long out of print, but with the 60th anniversary of the tests in 2017–18, the idea of reprinting the book was transformed into plans for a wider history, which would capture the diverse regional responses to the nuclear tests.

This book therefore draws on research and interviews conducted for Kirisimasi during the late 1990s, and I must thank my co-authors Losena Salabula and Josua Namoce Mudreilagi for their blessing to proceed. I also acknowledge other colleagues from the Pacific Concerns Resource Centre who collaborated in this work, especially our director Lopeti Senituli, Ema Tagicakibau, Tupou Vere, Hilda Lini, Ellen Whelan, Stanley Simpson, Siteri Kalouniviti, Feiloakitau Kaho Tevi, Marie-Pierre Hazera, Patrina Dumaru, Peter Emberson, Fipe Tuitobou, Sophie Naisau, Arieta Tirikula and many others.

For Grappling with the Bomb, new interviews and archival research were undertaken in Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the Marshall Islands and Kiribati. Given the decades since the tests, I acknowledge the insight of Karen Ishizuka in her history Serve the People, who stressed the importance of ‘our endeavour to document our history before too many of us leave this earth or forget how to tie our shoes’.

My greatest debt is to the military veterans, lawyers and journalists around the Pacific who work with nuclear survivors and maintain the struggle for recognition, clean-up and compensation. For interviews and advice, I must thank Paul Ah Poy and the members of the Fiji Nuclear Veterans Association; Roy Sefton of the New Zealand Nuclear Test Veterans Association; Roland Oldham and members of Moruroa e Tatou in Tahiti; Abacca Anjain-Maddison, Giff Johnson, Bill Graham and many others in the Marshall Islands.

Thanks to the many survivors, scientists and campaigners who shared their stories for this book, including Paul Ah Poy, Rinok Riklon, Lemeyo Abon, Amani and Avelina Tuimalabe, Tekoti Rotan, Adi Sivo Ganilau, Levani Nawaqa, Roy Sefton and Al Rowland. I’m sorry I’ve only been able to weave fragments of their vivid memories into this text. I must also thank Torika Bolatagici, Joji Nabalarua and Larry Thomas for permission to use extracts of interviews gathered as we worked on the forthcoming documentary Kirisimasi.

A tragedy of modern times is that governments refuse to properly fund archives and libraries, despite their importance for our understanding of both the past and the present. I acknowledge the generous assistance of staff from the University of the South Pacific, National Library of Australia, National Archives of Australia, State Library of Victoria, Australian War Memorial and The Australian National University. Special thanks to Kylie Moloney of the Pacific Manuscripts Bureau (PAMBU) for advice and contacts.

My search for information on Harold Steele received valuable assistance from Jennifer Milligan (Senior Library Assistant, Library of the Religious Society of Friends, London). I owe an enormous debt to Jennifer Hunt (Deputy Archivist, Royal Voluntary Service Archive and Heritage Collection, Oxford), who found a box containing Women’s Voluntary Service reports from Mary and Billie Burgess that had lain untouched for many years. Hiroshi Taka and Akira Kawasaki provided copies and translations of Japanese statements and newsletters from the 1950s. The Nuclear Claims Tribunal in Majuro and websites managed by Glenn Alcalay and Alex Wellerstein provide a treasure trove of documents and interviews on the Marshall Islands. Bruce Sowter went beyond the call of duty to search for articles about Christmas Island in ancient editions of the Fiji Times. John Waddingham designed the maps, superbly setting Christmas Island in its regional context.

This book draws on my reporting as a journalist in the Pacific, as a correspondent for Islands Business magazine in Fiji, as a former broadcaster with Radio Australia and a writer for other regional media. I owe thanks to editors Samisoni Pareti, Netani Rika and the late Laisa Taga of Islands Business, as well as Peter Browne of Inside Story.

Early versions of some chapters were presented at seminars and conferences, including a paper to the 2015 Labour History conference in Melbourne, published as ‘Grappling with the Bomb: Opposition to Pacific nuclear testing in the 1950s’, Proceedings of the 14th Biennial Labour History Conference (Melbourne: Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, 2015). Thanks to editors Phillip Deery and Julie Kimber.

The chapter on Bravo was much improved by insights gleaned from ‘The Marshall Islands nuclear legacy—charting a course towards justice’, a conference held in Majuro on 1 March 2017 (the anniversary of the Bravo test). Thank you to the Government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands and Bill Graham (former public advocate for the Nuclear Claims Tribunal) for the invitation to participate. I wish I was a poet like Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, whose performance poem ‘History Project’ says everything you need to know about US testing in the Marshall Islands.

Comparisons between US, French and UK malfeasance were road-tested with students at the University of Melbourne, the University of the South Pacific, the University of Nagasaki and the Center for Pacific Island Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, with support from Richard Tanter (Australia), Sandra Tarte and Robert Nicole (Fiji), Tatsujiro Suzuki (Japan) and Terrence Wesley-Smith and Jerry Finin (Hawai‘i).

I was guided through the intricacies of ionising radiation and reproductive health by Dr Tilman Ruff and Dr Peter Karamoskos, public representative on the Radiation Health Committee of Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) and a member of the ARPANSA Nuclear Safety Committee. All remaining errors are mine, not theirs.

It’s a daunting task for a journalist to try to write history (so many footnotes), but Pacific historian Stewart Firth encouraged me to submit the text to ANU Press and editor Emily Hazlewood took on this project with enthusiasm. The rigour and expert support of copyeditor Beth Battrick of Teaspoon Consulting made all this intelligible.

Thanks to Daryl Tarte, for extracts from his biography of Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, and to Adi Sivo Ganilau, for sharing memories and photos of her father.

Special thanks to Sandra and Nikolai Tarte, for decades of hospitality in Suva, and Tea Hirshon for a view of the ocean in Tahiti.

Sadly, too many of the people who first inspired me to report on the health and environmental legacies of nuclear testing are gone: Amelia Rokotuivuna and Ruth Lechte of Fiji, Grace Molisa of Vanuatu, Darlene Keju of the Marshall Islands, Nui Ben Teriitehau and Marie-Therese Danielsson of Te Ao Maohi (French Polynesia), Dr Bill Williams of Australia and Teresia Teaiwa, daughter of Fiji and Kiribati and scholar of masculinity, militarism and Methodism, who long ago reminded me that war is not just about boys and their toys. The death of John Taroanui Doom on Christmas Day 2016 and of Bruno Barrillot in March 2017 deprives us of two eloquent champions for nuclear survivors in the Pacific.

So many others have helped along the way, sharing their knowledge of nukes, Pacific history, Quaker and Catholic protest or the many legacies of nuclear sacrifice zones: Abacca Anjain-Maddison, Ambassador Tony de Brum, Maire and Tamara Bopp du Pont, Patrina Dumaru, Stewart Firth, Greg Fry, Bill Graham, Vanessa Griffen, Michael Hamel-Green, Dimity Hawkins, RMI President Dr Hilda C. Heine, Dale Hess, Unutea Hirshon, Giff Johnston, Senator Kenneth Kedi, Vito Maamaatua, Wes Morgan, Vijay Naidu, Wadan Narsey, Ueantabo Neemia-McKenzie, Fran Newell, Robert and Raijeli Nicole, Val Noone, Roland Oldham, Sitiveni Ratuva, Tilman Ruff, Joan Shears, Suliana Siwatibau, Clare Slatter, Sister Margaret Sullivan, Dave Sweeney, Bev Symonds, Richard Tanter, Sandra Tarte, Katerina Teaiwa, Oscar Manutahi Temaru, Gabi Tetiarahi, Sue Wareham, Ellen Whelan and Tim Wright. Apologies to all those I’ve forgotten.

Apologies as well to Aroha and passing visitors who were earbashed about thermonuclear death and British perfidy at the breakfast table. Above all, as always, this is for Nancy.

Nic Maclellan

Melbourne, Australia, 2017

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