Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Handback of the Former Maralinga Nuclear Test Site to the Maralinga Tjarutja

Location: Maralinga, South Australia

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Above all, I want to acknowledge and pay my deepest respects to the strong Anangu, the traditional owners of these lands, the Maralinga Tjarutja people.

I pay tribute to those of them here today – among them Mabel Queama, Ada Hart, Margaret May, AIice Cox and Pansy Woods.

To all of those who campaigned to right the wrongs of the past.

To win justice, the return of their land and the survival of their culture and their people.

Mr Barka Bryant and Mr Hughie Windlass who were part of a delegation of elders who made the long journey to England with Dr Barton and their lawyer Andrew Collett.

To put the case for the Spinifex people, to the British Government.

Mr Stanley Minning, who can remember the mission days at Ooldea and for 55 years has worked in Anangu schools where he has taught, mentored, inspired generations of children.

And I respectfully acknowledge those tjilpis who are no longer with us – whose knowledge, celebration and care of their land enriched the Anangu with song, stories and tradition.

I would also like to acknowledge the presence here today of the people of Oak Valley and Yalata and beyond

Today we are here for the final hand back of the Maralinga lands to the Maralinga Tjarutja.

It is a day to reflect on history and past decisions which disturbed, and then all but destroyed the traditional ways of life; that left the Anangu dispossessed and lost. We acknowledge this loss and the grief and sadness it brought.

But we also reflect on the determination of the Maralinga Tjarutja people to reclaim their land, and their strong links to country.

Their determination to move from the north, the south and the west back to their home lands – to establish the community of Oak Valley and live again in the red desert country.

At the start, I’m told, it wasn’t easy. Water was scarce and had to be carted in; school lessons were taught under a tree before moving under a tarp and then into two old caravans.

These are some of the stories told in the words and paintings crafted in a book by the Anangu themselves and author Christobel Mattingley – who I understand is here today.

The Anangu working together, determined to make sure the stories and songs of the Spinifex People will continue to be told and heard by all Australians.

Over time there have been great changes for the Maralinga Tjarutja. Some changes have undermined and damaged the old ways of life.

Today the Maralinga Tjarutja people face many challenges as they build a strong, independent future – but now they can build their own future on the land that has been rightfully returned to them.

A future where children living in this remote part of Australia are given every chance to benefit from change – to be healthy, to be safe and to learn.

Where children grow up understanding and holding close their connection to their land; the songs and stories of their elders; their culture and their traditions.

Where knowing who they are, is cause for great pride, comfort and strength through life.

Reconciling two cultures can be daunting.

It’s something young people here encounter when they move to the city to finish school – often staying at Wilitja Hostel in Adelaide where the motto is – Don’t be Afraid; Choose for the Future; Keep on Learning in a Big Way.

I know from Christobel’s book that this is exactly what Sophia Gibson and Chari-Lee Peel did – completing Year 12 – and working in their communities in the Yalata clinic and the Koonibba child care centre.

For young people like Sophia and Chari-Lee – and for all of us – culture and tradition, our knowledge and pride in who we are, the certainty of identity – strengthen us for the ups and downs of life.

This is why what we are doing here today is so important.

Acknowledging the past, celebrating the story of the Maralinga Tjarutja people and looking forward to a future where you and your culture can thrive and prosper.

To a future where, in the wise, wise words of Mr Stanley Minning, we: ‘Don’t look back or take wrong ways. Look forward. Teach the children. Teach the young fellas. Look and listen and learn. Be happy.’

Thank you.