Australia’s Least Likely Tourist Spot: a Test Site for Atom Bombs
MARALINGA, Australia — Maralinga, a barren stretch of land in South Australia’s remote western desert, is the country’s only former nuclear test site open to tourists. And Robin Matthews is Australia’s only nuclear tour guide.
Visitors to Maralinga, a deserted military installation the size of Manhattan, who expect to find their tour guide dressed in a yellow jumpsuit and ventilator mask are bound to be disappointed.
Instead, Mr. Matthews, 65, can be found wearing a baseball cap pulled low over his eyes and a cigarette hanging from chapped lips. His skin, deeply tanned, is covered with a narrative of faded tattoos inked long before they were fashionable.
“Yes, there is still radiation here,” Mr. Matthews said as he drove a minibus to the sites where the Australian and British governments dropped seven bombs between 1956 and 1963, which dotted the earth with huge craters and poisoned scores of indigenous people and their descendants.
Back then, the government placed hundreds of human guinea pigs — wearing only shorts and long socks — in the front areas of the test zones. The effects of large doses of radiation were devastating.
Nowadays, after a multimillion-dollar cleanup, radiation poses little danger to visitors, Mr. Matthews said, unless they choose to “eat mouthfuls of dust.”