Since my book Maralinga was published many people have asked me whether it is possible for them to visit the atom bomb test site, and what there is to see there.
The answer is yes, you can visit Maralinga. But it takes a bit of planning and organisation.
In 2015 after the book Maralinga came out a tour group started organizing tours to Maralinga – You can find them at: www.maralingatours.com.au
Most visitors are expected to drive themselves to the atomic testing ground but Maralinga Tours are planning to run buses out of Adelaide in the future. Check their website for the latest news.
Facilities at the Maralinga village have been improved for campervans and dongas, but visitors still must go through the process of obtaining a permit from the traditional Aboriginal owners, Maralinga Tjarutja Council, and contact the caretaker to sort out a convenient time. It is impossible to enter the site without the caretaker opening the locked gate and escorting all visitors around the site.
Then post the filled in form to PO Box 435, Ceduna, South Australia 5690.
In early 2014 the fee was $25 per vehicle.
Secondly you must contact the caretaker at Maralinga to see if the time you want to visit is convenient. You can’t enter the test site or be admitted to Maralinga Village without being escorted by the caretaker. You can stay in the dongas and huts left by the clean-up crews in the village, or stay in your camper can. There are plans in the future to open up part of the village for on-site caravan stays.
Robin Matthews, the caretaker, is a real Outback character and he gives a great commentary on the tour of the test sites which are 37 kilometres from Maralinga Village. Around 100 square kilometres of the test site are still radioactive and closed to the public. The sites Robin takes visitors have been cleaned up, but people are warned not to linger long, and not to pick up anything. He’ll show some of the spots where radioactive debris is buried including tanks, planes and trucks.
You can see the Maralinga airport where planes landed bringing nuclear bombs and returned to Britain with radioactive samples. Roadside, the small settlement closest to the bomb sites, has been completely razed with only concrete bases left.
Robin can provide a BBQ under the stars that is great fun, but bring in your own food supplies as there are no shops. You don’t have to use a four wheel drive to get there – unless it has been raining - and for a long way the road has been sealed for sand mining trucks.
Maralinga is a 194 kilometre drive north off the Eyre Highway. Best fill up with fuel at Nundroo, a small hotel (best avoided) on the highway 160 km west of Ceduna. In early 2014 the turnoff to Maralinga was unsignposted. It is a sealed road heading north, about 25 km west of Nundroo. If you are heading west watch for a red shed on the right and the turnoff is one kilometre further on. Follow the good sealed road until you reach a sign saying Ambrosia Sandmine then turn left on to a dirt road.
Take this all the way to Ooldea which used to be an Aboriginal water hole and Daisy Bates’s homestead. The Indian Pacific railroad goes through Ooldea and there used to be a station there, but it’s all torn down now. There is also a big communication tower, so best to call Robin Matthews at Maralinga from there and let him know you are on your way.
Cross the railway and the dirt road eventually comes to a T junction with a road which is (sort of) sealed. To the left is the Aboriginal settlement Oak Valley. Turn right and keep going until you reach the gate to Maralinga. On the side is an old guard post which some wit dubbed the Tardis. It has an ancient wind up phone inside to connect you to the caretaker in the village. Robin will come and open the gate to let you in – but don’t forget to clear the visit with him first. He’s the only one there (with his wife) and he sometimes has other duties with scientists and can’t look after tourists.
You’ll probably need to stay overnight as it is too much to get done in one day. The dongas are a bit rough but functional. Robin’s tour of the test site takes a few hours so you do it either in the morning or afternoon.