On this day in 1915, Allied forces under British command invaded Turkey. The objective was to seize control of the important shipping channels through the Dardanelles. However, the campaign was badly planned.
As troops landed on the beaches at Gallipoli they were fired upon from the cliffs that towered above them. There was no shelter. They were badly exposed. In the first day about 650 Australians were killed, with about 2,000 casualties.
Ultimately, 8,700 Australians and 2,700 New Zealanders were killed in the campaign.
We commemorate this day because of the courage and determination displayed by the ANZACs against insuperable odds
It is this same courage and determination that underlies so many of our achievements and advances in Australian history and pre-history. I will not provide examples because my point today is that we should direct these national strengths to advancing our own interests rather than in the service of other nations.
In World War II we had a similar situation arise in the defence of Greece. The defence which was poorly planned by Churchill comprised mainly ANZAC troops shipped in from Africa. Prime Minister Menzies acceded to the plan.
Our troops were immediately overwhelmed by the German advance. Hundreds of Australians lost their lives in battle and in the retreat. Thousands were taken prisoner.
For too long Australia has been subservient to Allied powers.
Perhaps the most tragic (and less known) episode of subservience was the atomic bomb testing that occurred in Australia in the 1950s and 1960s.
Again, Menzies acceded to the British testing of atomic bombs on Australian soil without hesitation and without any Australian oversight.
Between 1952 and 1957 the British detonated 12 atomic bombs (with mushroom clouds) on Australian soil – 3 on the Monte Bello Islands off the coast of Western Australia and 9 in South Australia. The most powerful bomb was 60 kilotons the next most powerful was 26.6 kilotons. The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was measured at 15 kilotons and Nagasaki 21 kilotons.
In addition there were around 600 nuclear tests that did not involve the detonation of a bomb.
Australian troops were on site during the detonations. They were ordered to turn their backs to the initial flash and cover their eyes with their hands. Many saw the bones in their hands before being buffeted by the pressure wave from the blast.
The British were keen to learn about the effects of radiation on humans and equipment. They parked tanks and jeeps within a 100 metres of the blast zone and then ordered Australian servicemen to inspect and report on the damage. Equipment that could be salvaged was repaired in the hot zones and then driven home.
Australian airmen were ordered to fly through the mushroom clouds and collect samples of radioactive dust in tins attached to their plane. No protective gear was issued to Australian personnel.
Others washed down contaminated planes and equipment without any idea of the risks they were exposed to.
Australian soldiers were required to visit the blast site within an hour of the explosion to collect samples. Many were dazzled by the large glass pebbles. The blast had turned the sand into glass.
In The Monte Bello Islands, Australians were not warned against swimming in the lagoons or against eating the fish caught in those waters.
The fallout from these blasts spread across the continent. On the day of the blasts and the week following, Geiger counters in far North Queensland, Tasmania, the Northern Territory, and Western Australia were sent off the scale. Adelaide was the worst affected city.
Those that were not killed by radiation poisoning suffered many maladies. Those that weren’t rendered sterile, fathered children with a range of abnormalities and deformities. Their grandchildren contracted rare cancers and died prematurely.
But there was no official recognition of their plight.
The British ceased their testing in 1963. On leaving, the British “clean up” comprised of burying 36,000 kilograms of contaminated material under a foot of soil. Also buried were drums containing radioactive plutonium.
And today we are concerned about radiation emitted by the sun.
Perhaps the greatest treachery on the Australian population was the subsequent (top secret) scientific experiments that were conducted on Australians without their knowledge.
For a period of 21 years from the mid 1950s, pathologists collected bones from deceased Australians aged zero to middle age without informing the deceased’s families. The bones were burned down and the ashes were sent to the UK for testing of Strontium 90 levels. In the 1960s the testing was relocated to Melbourne.
Even though similar experiments were conducted in the US and Britain, the experimentation in Australia was the longest and most extensive. It is estimated 22,000 bones were collected without families knowing anything about what was happening with their loved ones.
The experiment collected bones from 688 stillborns, 244 a few hours old, 1,147 a few days old, 530 a few weeks old, 2,162 a few months old and 11,246 measured in years. 5,803 bodies had no age recorded.
The secret experiments were uncovered overseas. One woman in England was shocked to find her deceased husband’s legs were replaced with broomsticks. In Australia, an enquiry was launched in 2001. It revealed that 1000s of remains were still stored in laboratories around the country.
Enough is enough.
We all know that Australia has many advantages. Its primary advantage is its people. We still believe in a fair go for all. We detest elitism. We are compassionate and generous. We work hard. We work together when the need arises.
….and we display enormous courage and determination under fire.
We live in a land blessed with clean air and water and an abundance of space and resources.
We are the envy of many.
It is time we stood up for ourselves. The vaccine roll out should have taught us that we cannot rely on other nations. It is time we identified our national interests and planned to advance and protect them, without assistance from anyone else. It is time we reached across the ditch and worked with our Kiwi friends for the betterment of the lands down under.
This, of course, requires strong and disciplined leadership. I believe that in a democracy, we get the leaders we deserve. Poor and weak leadership needs to be called out. Leaders need to be accountable in real terms. Leadership is a service not a power-grab. No more press conferences, let’s see action, policies and decisions. What do our leaders stand for, besides winning elections?
We owe this much to those who gave their lives for our benefit.
Lest we forget.
Reference “Maralinga” by Frank Walker 2014 Hachette Australia
Photo courtesy of ABC Melbourne.