Lizard’s revenge at Roxby Downs

‘Political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.’ – George Orwell, Politics and the English Language.

In 1977 the Fraser government issued Australia’s uranium decision supporting further mining and export of uranium. This decision gave rise to the longest sustained period of defiance against a government and civil disobedience in Australian history in Queensland. The government banned street marches and suspended democratic rights to organise. The Queensland government authorised over 3,ooo arrests from 4 Sept 1977 till July 1979.

1984 saw the Labor government give approval for Australia’s third uranium mine at Roxby Downs in South Australia. Olympic Dam (as it is now called) was to become the largest uranium mine in the world exporting huge quantities of uranium and copper to Japan, Germany and the United States.

In August 1984 a blockade of 400 people attempted to stop the mine from opening. There were already two mines operating, one in the Northern Territory at Ranger and the other at Nabarlek.

Anti-nuclear activists protested at Roxby Downs, 700 kilometres north of Adelaide. Police arrested hundreds at and around the mine site during demonstrations in 1983 and 1984.  Protesters were provoked by police and were unfairly represented as violent in the media.

Brisbane public broadcaster 4zzz covered the blockade protests in August 1984. Here is the cover of the Radio Times magazine from that time.

1984 4ZZZ Radio Times Magazine

The Canberra Times gave this coverage of the protest:

Almost 260 people have been arrested at Roxby Downs since the protest began – 140 of them during two shift changes at the Wehan Shaft on Friday … The 68 protesters arrested during the shift change at the mine on Friday afternoon appeared at a special court sitting in Andamooka on Friday night. Most were charged with failure to cease loitering after police used bolt cutters to arrest two protesters who had chained themselves to a bus carrying mine workers.

In February 2012, Arabana elder Kevin Buzzacott legally challenged the Commonwealth Environment Minister Tony Burke’s environmental approval of the Olympic Dam mine expansion. ‘Uncle Kevin’ was represented by the Environmental Defenders’ Office and appeared in the Federal Court in Adelaide on 3 and 4 April 2012. His case was dismissed on April 20, 2012. An appeal of the judge’s decision in 2013 was also unsuccessful.

Anti-uranium activists blocking uranium shipments at Hamilton No4 Wharf in Brisbane in August 1977.

In July 2012, more than 400 people joined the Lizard’s Revenge protest at the Olympic Dam site. The anti-nuclear activists, including Elder Kevin Buzzacott, protested against the mine expansion and the uranium industry. The company and the government put questionable economic gain ahead of environmental and health concerns. Organiser Nectaria Calan said police harassed protesters, demanding identification and controlling access to and from their campsite.

Successive Australian governments have given open slather to uranium mining in Australia, going back on promises, finessing policies slowing mining only when economic forces dictate.

In August and September 1977 the Anti-Uranium Mobilising Committee, the Campaign Against Nuclear Power and Friends of the Earth delayed shipment of yellowcake from the port of Brisbane.

Not long after community radio 4ZZZ placed a ban on the CLCC media committee when it embarrassed Queensland Liberal Senator Neville Bonner by asking him why he supported Australia’s Uranium decision when it was against his people’s interests. The program was taken off the air with station co-ordinator, Denis Reinhart, claiming on behalf of the 4ZZZ board that it would reduce the station’s chances for a high power broadcasting licence which it received in the following year.

Currently there is a ban on uranium mining in Queensland however exploration is still permitted. Since Mary Kathleen closed in 1982 the tailings repository and site has been subject to seepage of radioactive waters from both the toe of the dam and the surface at high rates.  The radioactive waste has seeped into former evaporation ponds as well as local drainage systems, causing widespread death of native vegetation. To this day neither government nor mining company has unresolved the problem.

Anti-uranium ink stamp

Anti-uranium demonstration 30 October 1978 King George Square

Ian Curr
Jan 2019


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