H is for Hydrogen Bomb

The 1950s was a worrying time as the Cold War intensified and the Hydrogen Bomb was tested in various parts of the world, including Australia.

Testing at Maralinga

British Nuclear tests at Maralinga occurred between 1956 and 1963 in an isolated area 800 kilometres north-west of Adelaide. A total of seven nuclear tests were performed as well as many minor trials which littered the area with plutonium.  While they were not, strictly speaking, H-Bombs, they were highly radioactive Atom Bombs.

Sites of British Nuclear Testing

The site was contaminated with radioactive materials and debate continued for many years over the safety of the site and the long-term health and social effects on the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land. The scientific and military personnel involved in the tests did not know at the time how the radiation they were exposed to as they watched the explosions would affect them. At the time all we knew was that Australia was “doing its bit” to help Britain in the fight against the Cold War.

Poster - On the Beach (1959)_11My father took me to see the movie “On the Beach”.  It was based on the book of the same name by Nevil Shute. It is a post-apocalyptic novel and film showing how a mixed group of people deal with the threat of impending death.  The story begins one year after  a nuclear war in the Northern Hemisphere which caused deadly radiation to spread relentlessly towards Australia.  Surely the stuff of nightmares for an eight year old!

My father’s experience at an elite private school had taught him that there is a great social divide between rich and poor.  Not wanting Australia to emulate the social class structure of Britain he saw Communism as a possible solution .  He was also sure we would be invaded by the Russians and bought me a book on the Russian language to increase my chance of survival after the invasion.  In hindsight it may have been better if he had read George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” where “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”.

Sir Robert Menzies, Australian Prime Minister 1939-41 and 1949 -1966

He didn’t go so far as to join the Communist Party but was an avid Labor supporter and spoke disparagingly of the Prime Minister Robert Menzies as“Pig Iron Bob”. This referred to an incident in 1938 when Port Kembla wharfies refused to load pig iron onto ships bound for Japan. They had been told, rather prophetically, that it would return to them in the form of bullets.  When the Prime Minister came to Wollongong to try and defuse the situation he was heckled by an onlooker and referred to as “Pig Iron Bob”.  The name stuck and was commonly used by his detractors.

In spite of or maybe because of his upbringing my father preferred to be his own master and initiated a number of largely unsuccessful business enterprises.

3 thoughts on “H is for Hydrogen Bomb

  1. Neville Shute was such an important Australian writer for a time but seems to have become largely forgotten. The fear of Communism was intense in the 50s especially among Catholics. You father was probably wise not to join the party…I have had friends whose families suffered greatly when their father joined the CP.

    Liked by 1 person

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