Tag:

atomic bomb

November 14, 2006 /
Tim Sherratt, ‘Civilisation versus the giant, winged lizards – Changing climates, changing minds’, Altitude, no. 7, 2006.

 

‘Modern man is a forest butcher’, warned the pioneering science journalist Hugh McKay in 1923. ‘He is also an oil-spendthrift and a coal waster’, McKay continued, ‘recklessly spending his capital of fuel… with never a thought of the tomorrow when he will stand shivering and motionless in the middle of a coal-less, oil-less, treeless, steel-less planet’.1 Read MoreCivilisation versus the giant, winged lizards

  1. McKay, Hugh Cleland. ‘Mankind’s Last Stand’. Smith’s Weekly 15 September 1923: 29. []
March 1, 2005 /
Tim Sherratt, ‘Frontiers of the future: science and progress in 20th-century Australia’, in Deborah Bird Rose and Richard Davis (editors), Dislocating the frontier: essaying the mystique of the outback, ANU E-Press, Canberra, 2006, pp. 121-142.

 

The glow of his campfire framed a simple tableau of pioneer life. Across this ‘untenanted land’, Edwin Brady mused, ‘little companies’, such as his own, sat by their ‘solitary fires’. ‘They smoked pipes and talked, or watched the coals reflectively’. Around them, the ‘shadowy outlines’ of the bush merged into the dark northern night, and ‘the whispers’ of this ‘unknown’ land gathered about. It seemed to Brady that this camp, this night, represented the ‘actual life’ of the Northern Territory as he had known it. But the future weighed heavily upon that quiet, nostalgic scene. The moment would soon fade, Brady reflected, as the ‘cinematograph of Time’ rolled on. It was 1912, and something new was coming.1 Read MoreFrontiers of the future

  1. Edwin James Brady, Australia Unlimited, p. 570. []
July 31, 2003 /

The development and use of the atomic bomb was a turning point in history. It seems so obvious—the world was changed, a new age dawned. But this was not the first turning point, nor the last. History is littered with critical moments, crossroads, watersheds and points of decision. Each brings a new sense of urgency, each draws renewed attention to the fate of humankind, but the moment soon passes and the urgency fades…until next time. Read MoreAtomic wonderland

November 29, 2002 /

In the 1950s, CSIRO biochemist, Hedley Marston, became embroiled in what Roger Cross describes as ‘the single most important crisis’ of his professional life. Research into fallout from the British atomic tests in Australia brought Marston into bitter conflict with the government appointed Safety Committee. It was a dispute that involved many of the major players in the Australian scientific community, and one that culminated in ‘perhaps the most unseemly episode in twentieth-century Australian science’. This is a fascinating story of ‘jealousy, hate and power’ that takes us behind the facade of scientific detachment and adds to our knowledge of the politics and personalities involved in Australia’s atomic adventures. Read MoreHedley Marston

December 1, 2001 /

It’s rare for a book relating to the history of Australian science to draw the attention of the national media. But Australia’s Bid for the Atomic Bomb made the front page with its claims that the origins of major institutions such as the Snowy Scheme and the ANU could be found in the government’s frustrated longing for nuclear weaponry. Wayne Reynolds’ ‘controversial’ book, it was reported, made use of ‘recently declassified documents’ to ‘debunk’ conventional assessments of Australian government policy in areas such as defence, foreign policy, education and science. Exciting stuff… I just wish I liked the book more. Read MoreAustralia’s bid for the bomb

July 3, 2001 /
forecast: 1 January 1901

The day had been hot, the air hung ‘heavy and dead’; but as evening approached, ‘ominous-looking clouds’ swept over the city, and a thundery change seemed imminent. On this, the last day of the nineteenth century, as Australia prepared to celebrate its birth as a nation, the people of Sydney looked to the weather. ‘The keenest dread is that Proclamation Day will be wet’, the Age reported, ‘“Will it rain?” is the question in everybody’s mouth’.1

The storm broke shortly after 7 o’clock. Fierce winds and heavy rains battered the city’s festive finery, toppling some flags and hoardings, and making ‘rather a sorry sight’ of the buntings. As drizzle continued on into the night, the Government Astronomer, H.C. Russell, offered calm reassurance: ‘Prospects are strongly in favor of fine weather for our natal day’.2

Despite Russell’s confident prediction, 1 January 1901 dawned uncertain. ‘Overhanging clouds and portending thunder’ threatened to mar the procession that was assembling in the Domain. But just before the parade marched off on its triumphant journey towards the inauguration ceremony, the cloud cover began to break. Suddenly, the sun ‘burst forth’, flooding the scene with new colour and life: ‘His beams were never before half so welcome’, remarked the Age. Soon, an ‘invigorating southerly breeze’ arose, rustling the banners and the flags, freshening the air. The weather, it seemed, had succumbed to the sense of occasion. ‘The new nation was awakening’, the Age continued, ‘and with it inanimate nature was springing into renewed beauty and life’.3 Read MoreA climate for a nation

  1. Age, 1 January 1901, p5; Daily Telegraph, 1 January 1901, p. 5. []
  2. Daily Telegraph, 1 January 1901, p. 5; Age, 1 January 1901, p. 6. See also Helen Irving, To constitute a nation: a cultural history of Australia’s constitution, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999, pp. 16-17 []
  3. Age, 2 January 1901, p. 5 []
November 15, 1998 /

ATOMIC TESTING was undertaken in Australia between 1952 and 1963 as Britain sought to develop its own nuclear weapons. The Australian government readily supplied test sites and logistical support, mistakenly believing that greater access to nuclear technology would result. Read MoreAtomic tests

July 1, 1996 /

The clouds of radioactive fallout are descending and humanity is doomed to extinction. In Nevil Shute’s book, On the Beach, the inhabitants of Melbourne await their end – the final victims of a 37 day nuclear war that has destroyed the northern hemisphere. John Osborne, played by Fred Astaire in the film version, decides to die in the embrace of the one he loves. So donning his crash helmet and goggles, he pops his suicide pills while sitting behind the wheel of the Ferrari that has recently won him the Australian Grand Prix: ‘The car had won him the race that was the climax of his life. Why trouble to go further?’ For John, as for all, it was the end of the road.

With the onset of the Atomic Age, Australia set out optimistically along the yellow-brick road to peace and prosperity, but 50 years later, the Emerald City seems as far away as ever. Australia’s involvement with nuclear energy has been largely limited to the provision of raw materials – uranium to power other countries’ reactors, and test sites for Britain’s bomb program. To understand Australia’s nuclear history you need to focus not on the journey’s end, but on the journey itself. How was the road mapped? Where were the markers? And who was doing the driving? Read MoreOn the beach: Australia’s nuclear history

November 15, 1993 /
Tim Sherratt, ‘“A physicist would be best out of it”: George Briggs at the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission’, Voices, Autumn 1993.

 

A physicist would be best out of it
A physicist would be best out of it

A tall, thin man in his early sixties was led into the recently remodelled Darlinghurst courtroom. Interest in the current proceedings was so great that extra seating had been provided to accommodate 200 members of the public, as well as 100 officials and 60 journalists. However, this session was to be heard in private, so the witness entered and was sworn before a strangely quiet and empty court.

‘What is your full name Doctor?’ asked W.J.V. Windeyer, the senior counsel, noted especially for his thorough but tedious manner.

George Henry Briggs‘ replied the witness.

‘And what is your doctorate?’

‘Physics.’ Read MoreA physicist would be best out of it

December 1, 1985 /
Tim Sherratt, ‘“A political inconvenience”:Australian scientists as the British atomic weapons tests, 1952-3’, Historical Records of Australian Science, vol. 6, no. 2, December 1985, pp. 137-152

 

Then there was a great flash that reached the far horizon. Even Dr Penney, who had witnessed the first historic cataclysm in the desert at Almagordo and later seen a bomb burst over Japan, described the scene as ‘terrifying’ as he turned around to find the frigate Plym had vanished and to see a great greyish-black cloud shooting up thousands of feet into the air and ever-growing in size.1

In the Monte Bello Islands off the coast of Western Australia on 3 October 1952, Dr William Penney watched as an atomic device for which he was largely responsible vaporised a test ship and sent thousands of tonnes of water erupting into the air. His programme had been successful; Britain was now a fully-fledged nuclear power. Read MoreA political inconvenience

  1. Leonard Bertin, Atom Harvest (London, 1955), 154. []