Collection highlights / New To The Collection / Public Programs / The Dust Never Settles

Presenting Maralinga: How are artists addressing our nuclear history?

Mumu Mike Williams
Tjilpi munu pampangku Tjukurpa kunpu kanyintjaku (It’s the senior men and senior women who keep the law strong) 2016
ink and tea on paper
100.0 x 150.0 cm
Collection of The University of Queensland, purchased 2016.
© Mumu Mike Williams/Licensed by Viscopy, 2017.

Despite raising expectations for progressive change, 50 years after the 1967 Referendum that amended the Constitution to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the census, Indigenous Australians remain marginalised.

In the coming months, UQ Art Museum will present Looking back & moving forward?, a series of discussions and pop-up events to re-visit and ignite debate around unresolved issues surrounding historical repression, land rights, living conditions, police brutality, and racial persecution.

The first in this series is Presenting Maralinga: How are artists addressing our nuclear history? The panel discussion featuring visual artists Jessie Boylan and Judy Watson, Director of the UQ Anthropology Museum Dr Diana Young and visual artist and filmmaker Torika Bolatagici will take Mumu Mike Williams’s protest paintings as a starting point for a discussion about why visual artists, playwrights, filmmakers and choreographers keep returning to this history and its lasting impact on Aboriginal people and the land.

Mumu Mike Williams

Between 1952 and 1963, British nuclear tests were conducted in Australia with the support of the Australian government. Tests began on the Monte Bello Islands in Western Australia in 1952, with the first tests conducted in South Australia at Emu Field in 1953 and at Maralinga in 1955. Maralinga became the primary site for the British nuclear tests, with major tests including Operation Buffalo in 1956 (four tests) and Operation Antler in 1957 (three tests); so-called ‘minor trials’ also resulted in extensive contamination.

Pitjantjatjara artist Mumu Mike Williams, from Mimili in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands (APY Lands) in the far north-west of South Australia, takes an unflinching look at the destruction to traditional lands wrought by these nuclear tests.

Aboriginal people were forcibly removed from the so-called Prohibited zone prior to the tests, though a number continued to walk through this vast area. Test sites were contaminated, wind carried radiation further afield, and Aboriginal people who walked through or camped on contaminated land, or experienced the ‘puyu’ or black mist (after the Totem 1 test at Emu Field test in 1953) suffered radiation sickness. Health problems and deaths followed, including miscarriages and still births.

The artist made these works in 2016 when the Federal Government was looking for locations to dump low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste, with three short-listed sites proposed for South Australia at Cortlinye, Pinkawillinie, and Barndioota. In 2015, Mumu Mike Williams prepared a written submission to the South Australian government’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission declaring that ‘Aṉangu tjuta don’t want that poison (uranium). At Maralinga Tjarutja, they already ruined the land.’

This program is associated with the UQ Art Museum’s exhibition The Dust Never Settles, which runs from 13 April to 30 July 2017.

Listen to the panel discussion Presenting Maralinga: How are artists addressing our nuclear history? here


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