Yalata through Elder Eyes

Our Elders share experience of country, displacement, separation, and the devastating impact of the nuclear testing on Yalata People and land.

Before the bombs, our family was still in the desert and was travelling South to a place which was Ooldea Mission. In Ooldea, a missionary was looking after our families there. They were all happy. Kids were put in homes… a girls’ home and a boys’ home. People were happy. They were given new names plus their native name by the lady named Daisy Bates. They lived there for a long time.

After many years, the British Army sent men to Ooldea Mission to have a meeting about what was going to happen in a few months or weeks’ time. After that, the white missionary had a meeting with the other white people who were living there before they passed the message to the Anangu people.

Then the next day, that missionary brought everybody together, sat in a circle and told them about what is going to happen. When the message was given to all the people, they felt angry. They all got upset. Some were hitting their heads with sticks and stones. Others were putting sand all over their bodies. They were all crying sadly, saying, “Where are we going? We are going to a place we have never been to?”

The Ooldea Mission was closing up and everybody was given rations of food to take with them for their children. People were taken on trucks to Koonibba, while others walked towards south. They were putting tracks on the sand so that others could follow them. When they didn’t come, we thought, ‘maybe they have gone hunting’. They went on different tracks. Maybe the wind blew the footprints away. Some were lost. A lot of families are still wandering around out there in the desert today.

Our people were divided into four groups.  Some went south to Yalata, some went to Western Australia, others to Northern Territory, and across east South Australia. It was a very sad day for our families to leave Ooldea. They enjoyed living there. But that was gone. Our families were lost and didn’t know what place they were going to. Just like they were the people taken out to the desert by Moses, as it says in the bible.

Because of the poison from the bombs being tested at Maralinga, the country is no good. No good at all. That poison has killed so many of our people. Through that atomic bomb. And radiation on everything… sand, trees, animals, buildings and other things. Our families are upset by all this mess. It is important that these stories are told for our next generation.

Atomic blast during Operation Buffalo nuclear tests, Maralinga, South Australia

Artwork completed by Yalata artists, at the 2018 opening of ‘Black Mist Burnt Country’ Exhibition in Canberra