BOOK REVIEW: ‘Atomic Thunder: British Nuclear Testing in Australia’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Atomic Thunder: British Nuclear Testing in Australia

Author: Elizabeth Tynan

Total Number of Pages: 373

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7 ½

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In the book’s Acknowledgements section, the author writes that, in her opinion ‘The Maralinga story is a vast sprawling saga. This book is an attempt to provide a concise overview that will be of interest to the general reader, as well as offering a fresh perspective based upon years of analysis of the many diverse forms of evidence available…I have…sought to…show marlinga in its historical and scientific context’. As a ‘Statement of intent’, it is admirable. She also notes (in the volume’s Prologue) that ‘The word Maralinga means ‘thunder’ in Garik…It was exactly the right name. The thunder that rolled across the plains was an ominous sound that heralded a new leading player in a nuclear-armed and infinitely dangerous world’. The volume ends with the following sentence: ‘If there is a word that speaks not only of thunder but also of government secrecy, nuclear colonialism, reckless national pride, bigotry towards indigenous peoples, nuclear scientific arrogance, human folly and the resilience of victims, surely that word is maralinga’.

Regrettably (and despite the noble intentions expressed above), what has eventually resulted is a subjective volume written to meet a pre-determined outcome. To the author, the Maralinga saga has no redeeming features.

Within the volume itself, the Contents page is followed by a four page Acknowledgments section within-which the individuals and organisations (and even animals) which contributed to this book are thanked.  It also reveals the volume’s origins, these being that a visit to an organisation in Melbourne in 2004 ‘…Planted the seed of an idea that later became my PhD thesis and still later became this book’. An Abbreviations section is next, giving interpretation to the numerous acronyms and abbreviations which appear throughout the book. A single page Measurements section follows. This gives the equivalents necessary to convert British Imperial measurements into their metric equivalents, while also noting the differences between Australia’s ‘Imperial’ currency (comprising Pounds Shillings and Pence) and the metric-based one that replaced it in 1966.Two pages of Maps follow. This section contains four maps. One is a general outline of Australia indicating the location of the nuclear test sites in relation to the rest of the continent. Its companions show the individual test sites in greater detail. Curiously (and although noted only as Map on the Contents page), the section itself carries the additional title British nuclear tests in Australia – test sites within its pages. Which one is correct is not known.  A Prologue follows.  This provides a summary of what is to follow; the 12 Chapters which comprise the main part of the volume.  These largely record the decisions and events that were associated with the various nuclear tests which comprised the ‘Maralinga’ series. However (and for unknown reasons), throughout the volume the author also uses the ‘Stream of consciousness’ narrative-form to describe events. Chapter One (Maralinga buried, uncovered) is one such example.  This writing style is more commonly associated with works of fiction. Where used within the volume, and with no supporting citations to provide verification, the result is, at best, a work of ‘Faction’ (that is ‘Facts combined with imagination to produce an end result that is a combination of both’). The appropriateness of such narrative-forms within a volume purporting to be an authoritative work is debatable. An Appendix is placed after the final chapter. Its title (British Atomic tests in Australia) is self-explanatory. A Glossary follows, and is in turn followed by a section titled References. This is somewhat analogous to a Notes section in a volume in which Footnote or Endnote citations appear. As such devices are not used within this book, its presence is unexplained.  A Bibliography placed after the References section records both the electronic and printed material used in creating this work and is followed in turn by the Index; the volume’s final section.  The book contains no photographs.

This reviewer found several areas of concern when viewing this volume. In addition to the ‘stream of consciousness’ writing style previously-noted, the lack of citations for the numerous Quotes reduces the latter’s authority (and consequent research value) to almost zero; they might just as well be imagined.  The authority of the Index is also questionable, as random checking found several omissions; New Zealand (for example) although mentioned twice on page 23, is absent from the Index.  As the absence of other entries was also noted, the true extent of such ‘omissions’ cannot be known. The lack of photographic images is also unfortunate as their presence would have provided visual reinforcement to the narrative.

As previously noted, this volume is subjective in its treatment of its subject. As such it will no doubt confirm well-held and entrenched viewpoints. That detail notwithstanding, it is likely to be of interest to Political Scientists with a specific interest in British nuclear policies and international Cold War politics. Australians seeking information about the Maralinga tests and their country’s relationships with the British are also likely to find it of interest. Academic librarians might also find it worthy of inclusion within their collections. The author’s lack of objectivity does however mean that is not the ‘Standard Work of Reference’ that it could have been; it should be treated accordingly.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7 ½.

Note: This title was originally published in Australia in 2016, with this edition, published in 2018, being the first in Great Britain. It has not been updated in the interval.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Atomic Thunder: British Nuclear Testing in Australia’

INKTOBER 2017: ‘Swift’.

Inktober is an annual international fun challenge for whomever cares to participate. The Inktober organisers post a list of numbered daily ideas for ‘inspiration’ for each day of the month of October, and respondents are then invited to post one original pen and ink piece per day, based on that ‘inspiration’ , on their favourite pen and ink site.

It’s fun and quite challenging, and I will be posting  some examples that I I have submitted for Inktober 2017

Inktober topic: ‘Swift’
#inktober#inktobwer2017

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‘Swift’ (Aka ;Down in the weeds’ ).

(Supermarine Swift FR.5 of  79 SQN RAF on low-level, high-speed reconnaissance mission).

Technical Details: Drawn with Staedtler 0.05.0.1 and 0.3 in black-in pens on white cartridge notebook paper of unknown weight.

Note: The image depicts my all-time favourite jet fighter aircraft (the Supermarine Swift) in its low-level Fighter-Reconnaissance (F.R.) tole at very low altitude while undertaking a photographic reconnaissance sortie . The title ‘Down in the weeds’ reflects the fact that these aircraft flew at very low altitudes (tree height or lower), while the enemy is way above (visible at top left) and, due to the Swift’s camouflage and speed, is unable to see what is going-on below.

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INKTOBER 2017: ‘Swift’.

Book Review: ‘Launch Pad UK: Britain And The Cuban Missile Crisis’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Launch Pad UK: Britain And The Cuban Missile Crisis

Author: Jim Wilson OBE

Total Number of Pages: 200

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 8

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‘When ignorance is bliss, ‘Tis folly to be wise’, is a well-known and oft-repeated phrase that indicates that there are times when a lack of knowledge can be advantageous. It is also an effective summation of the events described within this volume, with the subtext that ‘Those with the political power’ are not necessarily those who are in in control.

On the weekend of 27/28 October 1962, in what became known as ‘The Cuban Missile Crisis’, the United States of America, NATO and Great Britain faced off against their mutual enemy the Soviet Union. The ‘Cold War’ was at its height and this event was the closest that the protagonists ever came to direct, nuclear weapon-using. confrontation; an event which would probably have seen the extinction of mankind. Incredibly, the political leaders of one of the protagonist countries (Great Britain) knew almost nothing about what was occurring.  How this came-about is the focus of this volume. It details and describes the political events surrounding the event, revealing both the Russian and Western Allies actions which ultimately led to the confrontation.   While this in itself is of interest, the revelation that the British participation in the conflict was ultimately in the hands of a single member of the Royal Air Force is more so. Most astonishing of all is evidence that contemporary British politicians were largely unaware of the seriousness of events occurring around them, and acted accordingly.  ‘When ignorance is bliss’, indeed!  There are two stories within this volume; while usually running in parallel, they sometimes intersect. One story is of British, American and Russian political activity at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The other is of the use by the Royal Air Force (RAF) of the nuclear-equipped (and American-built) ‘Thor’ Medium Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM), a weapon loaned to Britain by the United States of America at a time when Great Britain had no viable nuclear weapons of its own.  As they were (at least nominally) the owner/operators of the missile, the RAF’s story is the larger of the two, and is enhanced by personal reminiscences which give insights into the realities of  life and thoughts at a time of international uncertainty. Details of the interaction between the RAF and the United States Air Force are also given, and make for interesting reading. The technical development of both ‘Thor’ and the long-range, nuclear-armed missile, is also covered in depth.

The largest section of this volume consists of 16 Chapters. They are preceded by an Acknowledgements section which thanks those who contributed to the finished work. Two Appendices are included. One provides technical details of the missile itself, the other a list of the RAF units which operated it. Included in this section are details of Unit Numbers, Base (Station) locations, deployment periods and Commanding Officers. A Bibliography details reference sources, while an Index completes the volume. Sixteen pages of captioned photographs appear in the centre of the work; these are from a variety of sources.

Although this book is both well written and illustrated, no mention of its photographs appears within the Contents section. The Contents sections also contains no reference to the existence of a map (Thor and Jupiter Sites in Europe and their effective range) on page 32 or of technical diagrams on pages 36 and 37. The absence of these details was a disappointment.

In this Reviewer’s opinion, this volume is likely to be of greatest use to historians specialising in the geo-political events of the ‘Cold-War’ era (of which the ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’ was the apex), although more generalist historians may also find it of use.  It could well become a valued resource.  Aside from historians (and due to the breadth of its subject), this work may well be of interest to other groups. These could include those interested in both the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force and the equipment and history of those organisations. Readers interested in military aviation, ‘rocketry’ space exploration and Twentieth Century technology may also find it informative.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it an 8. It should have been higher.

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nzcrownmines is available for book reviews: Contact nzcrownmines @gmail.com

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Book Review: ‘Launch Pad UK: Britain And The Cuban Missile Crisis’