Manuwangku, Under the Nuclear Cloud

(900 mm x 600 mm) pigment ink print on archival paper x 6

In 2007, the Northern Land Council contentiously nominated Muckaty, referred to as Manuwangku by Warlmanpa and Warumungu Traditional Owners, 120km north of Tennant Creek, as a site to be assessed for the national nuclear waste facility. The compensation to be received if this site was selected was likely to be tied to essential services and infrastructure such as education, housing and roads. With the change of the government, the initially earmarked Department of Defence sites were taken off the list leaving Muckaty as the only site under assessment. This place was far from ‘middle of nowhere’ for the Traditional Owners who maintained deep spiritual and cultural connections to the area. Supported by people across the Northern Territory and from other parts of Australia, the community engaged in protests and launched a legal action in the Australian Federal Court to defend their right to live in a clean and safe environment, free of hazardous waste.

I met the community’s spoke woman Diane Stokes in 2010 in Sydney when she was on a speaking tour. She invited me to her community and requested me to help her set up a touring photo exhibition. Thus began ‘Manuwangku, Under the nuclear could’. This exhibition became a part of the community-run campaign.

The Traditional Owners-led campaign ran for more than seven years until the Northern Land Council and the Australian Federal Government agreed to settle with the Applicants by committing not to act on the proposal or nomination in June 2014.

Most of Australia’s long-lived intermediate radioactive waste (the highest level produced in Australia) is stored at the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor complex near Sydney. If the proposed storage plan went ahead, the nuclear waste stored at the Lucas Heights complex would have been trucked to the site nominated in Muckaty using road networks of 3500 km.

Made possible by the Amnesty International’s Human Rights Innovation Fund Grant 2010 | In collaboration with the Manuwangku Community and the Arid Lands Environment Centre’s Beyond Nuclear Initiative | Part of HeadOn Photo Festival 2012