Uranium Again

Image: Anti-uranium picket at Hamilton No 4 in Brisbane 1977

[Editor’s Note: This was broadcast on the Paradigm Shift (4ZZZ fm 102.1 12 noon on Fridays) on 26 October 2012. It is part of a series of broadcasts on the The Politics of Repression and the Politics of Protest. ‘Uranium Again’ is the first part of the Politics of Protest.]

The Trains’ by Judith Wright

Strange primitive piece of flesh, the heart laid quiet
hearing their cry pierce through its thin-walled cave
recalls the forgotten tiger,
and leaps awake in its old panic riot;
and how shall mind be sober,
since blood’s red thread still binds us fast in history?
Tiger, you walk through all our past and future,
troubling the children’s sleep’; laying
a reeking trail across our dreams of orchards.

In August 1977, a small group of people sat on railway track on Hamilton No 4 Wharf in Brisbane – we were trying to stop the uranium train. A ship was waiting to take yellow cake (an ore from which Uranium is produced) to Hamburg in Germany. The Queensland government had opened up mining and export of uranium to Germany, France, anywhere and everywhere.

In 1977, Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser called it ‘Australia’s Uranium Decision’. Fraser claimed:

The export of Australian uranium will decrease the risks 
of further proliferation of nuclear weapons and will 
support and strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation 
Treaty. It will help to make a safer world. 
                      -- Malcolm Fraser

We set out to prove Fraser, his government and the mining companies wrong.

The ‘Comic Book Marxists
After Australia’s ‘Uranium decision’, we organised a picket down at Hamilton No 4 wharf on the river to stop a uranium shipment going to West Germany.

Queensland police cleared us off the tracks and dumped us on hard ground in a heap and a special branch officer made threatening remarks to one of us (not Charlie or me) — remarks not repeated in parliament — but accusations there were aplenty … about Arab sympathisers and communists. 

The cops then arrested Charlie Scandritt, Geoff and Nancy Wills. Nancy later ran the Rialto cinema in West End in the 1980s. Geoff was a seaman who played guitar and sang Pete Seeger songs. Charlie was a printer and small book publisher (later called Merino Press). 

In those days, we were all tarred with the same brush by Joh and his supporters. Communists. At least that is what Bjelke-Petersen said when he answered a Dorothy Dix question in parliament that led to the famous edict on 4 Sept 1977:   ‘the day of the political street march is over’. 

But political street marches were not over. We made sure of that, no matter how many hundreds or thousands of police the government deployed in the ‘Valley of Death”,  we marched anyway.

Not so ‘comic book’ after all. Yet the history of the street marches has never been fully told despite some brave attempts.

After failing to stop the uranium train we used wire cutters to get onto the wharves to delay the shipment of yellow cake further. Wharfies refused to move the containers onto the ship because it was a safety hazard while police were chasing demonstrators around the wharf.

The Courier Mail made up fantastic stories about how anti-uranium activists had made a commando-style raid on the wharf by swimming across the river from Hemmant with our boots tied around our necks with shoelaces. We had simply snuck on under cover of darkness.

Later on we went down to the wharves to ask wharfies and seamen not to load yellow cake onto ships. The Waterside Workers Federation and the Seamen’s union helped us out from time to time.

Friends of the Earth (Bjelke-Petersen called them Friends of the Dirt) ran a hard campaign against Uranium Mining and Export. FOE were the ones trying to block shipments, postering and leafleting all along the railway line in East Brisbane suburbs that shipments passed along,  prior to the wharf protest. FOE members liaised with wharfies etc. FOE ran a direct action campaign where others feared to tread. They did street theatre at King George Square rallies organised by the Civil Liberties Co-ordinating Committee (CLCC) and Movement against Uranium Mining (MAUM). FOE made calls for people to go down to the wharves. They were joined in this by the Movement against Uranium Mining which met in the Ann Street Uniting Church on Tuesdays. The CLCC met in the old Trades Hall on Thursday nights. We were so much younger then. We lost.

Queensland mines kept producing uranium until commodity prices fell again. There is little doubt uranium from Queensland ended up in the nuclear fuel cycle and therefore nuclear weapons controlled by governments of the US, Britain, France, Israel and who knows where else. All this despite assurances about safeguards from successive Australian governments, Labor and Liberal, Fraser and Hawke.

The Brisbane City Council declared this a nuclear free city even though it was powerless to prevent nuclear-powered submarines from entering Moreton Bay and pulling up at Fishermen’s Island wharves. Council did not even have the power to prevent trucks carrying nuclear materials from transiting along Brisbane roads.

The nuclear-free signs were counterfeit.

So long ago for some and just yesterday for me, on 22 October 1977, just a few weeks after our stand on Hamilton No 4 dock the largest mass arrest in Australian history occurred on Brisbane streets.

We stood 5,000 strong for 2 hours in the blazing sun listening to poet Judith Wright speaking against uranium mining and export and then marched.

418 people were arrested and taken into custody for marching against Uranium mining and export that day.

And sadly we weren’t wrong. History taught us that.

The media played its part by portraying the anti-nuclear protestors as violent. This was while lives were lost in nuclear accidents around the world. Back then the mass media didn’t talk much about the violence of nuclear contamination, spills, depleted uranium in Iraq, disasters at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.

Politicians kept spinning the yarn about the violence of the opponents of Uranium mining and export.

The monopoly media peddled the line pushed by federal and state politicians: “Students pelt P.M. – Clash over Uranium” ( 27th August 1977 Courier Mail) “Uranium: Why Fraser welcomes a fight” (27-8 Aug 1977 Australian), “Waste Solution will come – PM” 29 August 1977 Courier Mail. The Australian blurted out “Nuclear Club closes its doors” (30 August 1977) suggesting that nuclear proliferation would not be a problem.

Back in the 1970s state and federal politicians tried to push uranium on the world market before the predicted slump in Uranium prices. Still the brokers were worried and prices fell.

In the 1980s the Hawke and Bjelke-Petersen governments pushed uranium when there was resurgence in the price of uranium. The Uranium lobby started flogging the toxic ore again. Of course Hawke, and Fraser before him, always pretended they cared about the risks – they threw in the spin about non-proliferation as nations rushed to join the nuclear club – South Africa, India, Pakistan, Israel .

Years went by – of course the spin meisters had to work harder in 1979 after the partial melt down at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in USA. It didn’t stop Fraser or Hawke from saying how safe nuclear is. Of course Bjelke-Petersen didn’t care about the niceties, he just wanted to move the ore for whatever price he could get.

But even Houdini would have had trouble escaping the truth after Chernobyl — a catastrophic nuclear accident that occurred on 26 April 1986 in the Ukraine.

The nuclear lobby started to look loony.

Academics claimed that Chernobyl help cause the failure of communism.

Soviet soldiers were required to throw rocks into the abyss made by the reactor explosion and fire and then cement was poured in.

Was this the hi-tech, scientific solution proffered by Fraser and Hawke?.

But the spin continued. France was now dependent on nuclear power for electricity. India and Pakistan were in a nuclear standoff over Kashmir.

Israeli politicians spoke in cabinet about the ultimate solution. The US military planned to use a strategic nuclear device in Afghanistan. The US and NATO did use depleted uranium in Iraq and Kosovo.

A nuclear cloud passed over the world.

Germany was the first capitalist country to pull back from nuclear power.

Japan is finally following suit after having had two US nuclear bombs wipe out Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Fukushima disaster in 2011 was the final straw. It had to do with the fact that radioactive Uranium-235 has a half-life of 703.8 million years.

Yet Nuclear plants in the U.S provide approximately 20% of the electricity used by the country every year. Nuclear plants in France supply that country with approximately 77% of the electricity.

Indigenous rights

In 1976 the Federal government granted land rights to aboriginal people in lands that included the Ranger and Koongarra Uranium mining areas. The Federal government then claimed that the granting of aboriginal land claims would entitle aborigines to negotiate with mining companies on the terms and conditions for mining and to allow them to obtain financial benefits under the Land Rights Act.

Do aboriginal people really benefit from Uranium mining on their land?

There have been many groups organising protests against nuclear power, but are protests effective in stopping the use of nuclear materials in our environment?

“Harvard Professor of History Richard Pipes said there were incidental causes of the Soviet Union’s dissolution like the invasion of Afghanistan, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and the vacillating personality of Mikhail Gorbachev.”

Capitalist countries hosted the disasters at Three Miles Island and Fukushima.

Is the use of unsafe nuclear materials in electricity power generation a problem systemic to both Soviet and Capitalist models of economic development?

We try to look at and analyse these issues here.

Ian Curr
26 October 2012

2 thoughts on “Uranium Again

  1. http://www.nuclearfreeplanet.org/articles/australian-film-maker-stopped-by-police-in-koodankulam.html

    Australian Film-Maker Stopped by Police in Koodankulam
    Written By: Website Administrator 10-25-2012 Categorized in: NUCLEAR POWER
    DiaNuke.org l 25 October, 2012
    Amid conflicting reports about detention of Australian Film-maker David Bradbury in Koodankulam, we are posting below the updates as we receive them. After deportation of a German tourist and 3 Japanese activists, this is yet another move of stifling democracy by the Government which must be condemned in strongest terms.
    David and his family are fine, although they are not reachable. They were stopped at Thomas Mandapam, and taken to Radhapuram Police Station and subsequently released. He was on a business visa. A policeman from Radhapuram PS said idinthakarai was off-limits because Section 144 had been declared there. Chennai too has had Section 144 since time immemorial. next time bill gates visits chennai, I’ll make sure I’ll tip the police off.

    [Section 144 is a clause under the indian penal code, of colonial vintage, that prohibits people from entering a ‘disturbed area ‘ and even assembly of more than 5 local people.]

    Australia’s best-known documentary film-maker, David Bradbury, was prevented by the Tamil Nadu Police from entering Idinthakarai. It is reported that he was stopped at Thomas Mandapam, a few kilometers before Idinthakarai, by the police and taken to Radhapuram Police Station. The detention is likely to have international ramifications given the stature of Bradbury as a film-maker “who will go to any length” to do a film about a cause he believes in.

    Bradbury’s profile can be viewed at:


    Read more about this story at DiaNuke.org

    Email from Lalita Ramdas
    (8 pm)
    Dear Friends,

    Thought I would forward this message to you folks as well.

    The last news we received was from our friends in koodankulam to say that David had indeed been detained by the police, but when media started getting interested, he was actually released. And in fact had not been allowed to go to koodankulam.

    we have no news as to where this had happened – and whether his wife and child were with him at the time.

    I have just spoken to Mr Arun Srivastava who has circulated this letter and he has no news at all till a short while ago. I also tried calling David’s wife, Treena’s phone number – but I am getting a strange set of sounds and nothing more.

    Meanwhile, Arun says this will be all over the media in Australia and elsewhere tomorrow – which is by no means a bad idea. I would still like to know if David and his family are safe.

    Both of us had met him last year – and he had filmed interviews with us as well.



    Email from Arun Shrivastava (4 pm)
    Dear Friends,


    ‘Unconfirmed reports’ say that David Bradbury, the Australian documentary maker, has been arrested in Kudankulum Nuclear Power Plant area.

    I received a phone call from a common friend where David, his wife and their two year old son Omar were staying while in Delhi. We were to go to Narora NPP, near Delhi, to talk to the villagers and doctors, a plan that did not materialise. Later I heard that David’s gone South.

    We don’t know who made the arrest and the charges. Kudankulum area has been garrisoned.However, to recap, over 55,000 opponents have been charged for various anti-national activities for opposing KNPP. Those opposing KNPP have been charged under sedition laws. If David has been arrested for anti-national activity here, we have a serious problem on hand.

    I normally give my visiting friends from abroad a local mobile phone and our common friend had also given him a local mobile phone.

    Please note that David has made many documentaries opposing the Nuclear establishment in Australia and elsewhere in the world. David also made a documentary of Wilfred Burchett for reporting from Hiroshima and subsequently on Burchett’s reporting from behind the iron curtain including Vietnam. He has nine awards to his credit.

    Please send SMS to give them encouragement.

    I am most worried about David’s little boy Omar. He is just over two. The Indian Police can be most insensitive and brutal because this Indian Government is totally addicted to nuclear power.

    I am trying to find out where he has been arrested, what are the charges and where is he lodged.

    The sms is being responded in cryptic language, so we don’t know what kind of trouble they are in.


    I shall keep you all posted as information comes in.

    Kind regards

    Arun Shrivastava
    New Delhi


  2. Council removes restriction on Palm Sunday Rally says:

    Good news – removal of City Council restrictions on rally against uranium mining.

    There is good news. City Malls Management have advised the Rally for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament that the restriction on amplification at this weekend’s Palm Sunday rally has been removed. The assembly will now proceed on the terms that rally organiser, Mrs Joan Shears OAM, had initially sought.

    A solid foundation had been laid for opposing the ban on amplification. Many people had helped to get word out about the attempted curtailment of civil liberties. Many others had expressed concern and a willingness to demonstrate support.

    The Rally for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament thanks everyone who may have helped to put pressure on the Brisbane City Council.

    The assembly can now focus on its traditional theme of stopping uranium mining in Queensland. The rally details are below.

    Palm Sunday Peace Rally
    Sunday March 24, 1pm
    Reddacliff Place

    (adjacent to the casino at the top end of the Queen St Mall)
    Speakers include:
    Scott Reichman, Electrical Trades Union;
    • Donna Mulhearn, recently returned from Fallujah;
    • Robin Taubenfeld, Qld Nuclear Free Alliance; and
    • Mr Ahmad Hamid, Ahwazi lawyer and human rights activist.

    Entertainment by the Combined Unions Choir and Dermot Dorgan.

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