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The Secret of Emu Field

Britain’s forgotten atomic tests in Australia

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Emu Field is overshadowed by Maralinga, the larger and much more prominent British atomic test site about 193 kilometres to the south. But Emu Field has its own secrets, and the fact that it was largely forgotten makes it more intriguing. Only at Emu Field in October 1953 did a terrifying black mist speed across the land after an atomic bomb detonation, bringing death and sickness to Aboriginal populations in its path. Emu Field was difficult and inaccessible. So why did the British go there at all, when they knew that they wouldn’t stay? What happened to the air force crew who flew through the atomic clouds? And why is Emu Field considered the ‘Marie Celeste’ of atomic test sites, abandoned quickly after the expense and effort of setting it up?

Elizabeth Tynan, the award-winning author of Atomic Thunder: The Maralinga Story, reveals the story of a cataclysmic collision between an ancient Aboriginal land and the post-war Britain of Winston Churchill and his gung-ho scientific advisor Frederick Lindemann. The presence of local Aṉangu people did not interfere with Churchill’s geopolitical aims and they are still paying the price. The British undertook Operation Totem at Emu Field under cover of extreme remoteness and secrecy, a shroud of mystery that continues to this day.

Given the heightened tension between nuclear powers today, a story of what atomic weaponry did to ordinary people in the last Cold War could not be more timely or important.'

Jeff Sparrow, The Saturday Paper

This multi-volume work must rate as one of the most significant projects currently being undertaken in the study of Australian history.'

The Australian

Tynan does an excellent job recounting a story that has been triple-veiled through time, the red dust of central Australia and Cold War secrecy ... A vital addition to the national record.'

Kurt Johnson, Sydney Morning Herald / The Age

Fastidiously researched and brimming with detail'


Tynan’s deft study ensures another lesser-known aspect of Australia’s role in the global history of nuclear testing remains accounted for.'

Kyle Harvey, History Australia