Peace Boat participants gather with Janice Wingfield and Sonia Gaston to discuss the anti-nuclear movement in Australia.

From the Ship

The Inter-generational, Cross Cultural and Unified Fight for a Nuclear-Free World

Feb 15, 2018

Last week, Peace Boat sailed to Fremantle, Australia, where anti-nuclear activist groups and members of aboriginal communities greeted Peace Boat participants with a welcome ceremony. Karina Lester, a guest educator, introduced herself and explained her involvement with the anti-nuclear movement. Karina is carrying the legacy of her father, the late Yami Lester, an aboriginal man who was 10 years old when the British government conducted nuclear tests in Emu Field in 1953. The aftermath of the nuclear tests was devastating - people were dying as Emu Field and its surrounding area became a radioactive wasteland. Due to radiation exposure, Yami lost his eyesight in 1957. Despite his personal hardships, Yami became an advocate for his people and provided testimony to the McClelland Royal Commission, an investigation of the British nuclear testing spearheaded by the Australian government. During this time, Karina, aged only 10, became involved with the anti-nuclear movement as a translator for her family. Since then, she has been raising awareness of the effects of nuclear testing and fighting against uranium mining in Australia, all whilst inspiring her children to do the same.

From Fremantle Peace Boat sailed to Adelaide, where Peace Boat participants met individuals from aboriginal communities who are actively fighting against uranium mining and nuclear waste storage in Australia. Peace Boat participants listened as Janice Wingfield, an aboriginal woman, vividly recalled her mother's activism. Janice's mother placed blockades on the road to prevent uranium mining companies from infringing on her people's land and participated in protests against the government, which supported the uranium mining companies. Having witnessed her mother's activism at an early age, Janice continued in her mother's footsteps and has also inspired her niece, Sonia Gaston, to be part of the anti-nuclear movement. Additionally, participants learned about how aboriginal people have been fighting to hold onto land that is rightfully theirs and how aboriginal culture is tied to the land. Keith Smart, upon reflecting on how the British government unilaterally decided to conduct nuclear tests on aboriginal land, expressed, "We have a culture, land. Let us not let [them] take our culture away from us. We want our culture to live for the next 100 years so that our children can learn from us."

Furthering the conversation, Vivian McKenzie, another aboriginal woman, discussed how the Australian government has taken a "divide and conquer" approach to convince members of her community to agree to uranium mining. The government has bolstered support for uranium mining by offering financial incentives and promising new jobs. This has led several community members to see uranium mining in a favorable light, which has torn apart families and the community where the majority are in opposition. Uranium mining has also led to catastrophic effects globally - Australia exports one-third of the uranium used worldwide and it is this uranium that powered the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, where the disaster took place in March 2011.

In addition to hearing the testimonies of members from various aboriginal communities, Peace Boat participants connected with them on a deeper level during a breakout session, where they gathered around in smaller circles to learn more about each other's lived experiences and ask questions. Hasegawa Kenichi, a dairy farmer from Iitate village in Japan, an area that was evacuated due to radioactive contamination after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, discussed how his life had drastically changed since 2011. With her group, Regina McKenzie, sister to Vivian McKenzie, shared the flag of the Adnyamathanha nation in the Flinders Ranges, Australia and explained the cultural significance of the stars of the Seven Sisters. Unfortunately, the land deemed to be sacred by the Seven Sisters has been shortlisted by the Australian government to become a nuclear waste site.

Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors), evacuees from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and members of various aboriginal communities have faced similar struggles due to the nuclear industry and, as a result, are committed to ensuring a nuclear-free world. To demonstrate their solidarity, they each signed their names on a banner that read "We Say No to Nuclear." As these people continue sharing their testimonies and raising awareness of the destruction caused by nuclear activities, it is our hope that the Japanese and Australian governments will listen and demonstrate their solidarity by signing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. In doing so, these two governments could effect change on a massive scale - an end to uranium mining in Australia could dismantle the global chain of nuclear activities and bring us one step closer to a nuclear-free world.