Maralinga Lament | Ruthless Jabiru

Originally posted at Australian Stage:

The idea of an all-Australian chamber orchestra in the UK shouldn’t be strange. After all, there are thousands of Australians living and working in the UK and it seems fitting that a concert entitled Maralinga Lament should be conducted and performed by those who call Australia home.

Kelly Lovelady, an Australian conductor in London is the founding director of all-Australian chamber orchestra Ruthless Jabiru. She is both a cultural ambassador for Australia and a campaigner for recognition for Australian artists abroad.

The recent concert given at the Union Chapel was a programme that resonated with the Australian landscape, the trauma and tragedies suffered by the land and peoples in the…

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Ruthless Jabiru at Union Chapel – an “evocative” programme

Originally posted at Chris Garrard:

When we reflect upon damaged landscapes, areas of environmental disaster, our focus often tends towards the political and the social. For example, the visceral nature of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been gradually displaced by arguments about compensation, accountability and pension funds in the media. The aesthetic dimension of the Gulf of Mexico spill or the Maralinga stretch of Australian desert, an area long contaminated by nuclear testing, is what shapes our initial emotional response and subsequently, how we reflect upon our relationship to the environment.

Ruthless Jabiru – London’s all-Australian chamber orchestra – are next week performing a concert at Union Chapel as a form of tribute to the latter landscape, Maralinga land in remote South Australia. The ensemble’s conductor, Kelly Lovelady, explains that she has ‘chosen a programme to evoke the loss and the chemical strangeness which has become a part of that landscape.’ Three new works are bookended by Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings and Arvo Pärt’s Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten. We could attach…

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High culture; a thriving market

Originally posted at Slingshot Sponsorship:

Sponsorship of the arts and ‘high culture’ is a topic that has been vehemently discussed within the industry for years.  Indeed, the industry is one that has been criticised for its choice of partners; see BP’s sponsorship of the National Portrait Gallery and Shell’s long standing partnership with the Southbank Centre.  Yet, controversy aside, high culture such as the opera, ballet and classical music has a deep rooted association with large corporates.

It seems, however, that the industry is changing.  Over the past few years there has been an influx of new musicians that have begun to open younger generation’s eyes to high culture arts.  Take for example, musicians such as Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm, both of whom are classically trained, yet they appear time and time again on some of the UK’s…

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Maralinga: an untold story

Only 8 years after the world recoiled in horror at the devastation of the atomic bombs dropped in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the British government commenced 12 years of atomic testing in the beautiful desert country of outback South Australia.

For over 12 years 1953-1965 – twice as long as World War Two – 12 large atomic bombs and over 600 so called “minor tests” contaminated the South Australian lands of the Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara and Spinifex people.

The Australian Prime Minister granted permission for the tests without even consulting cabinet. Tapping in to the deep set fear and disregard for the vast interior of Australia and allowing an ‘out of sight out of mind’ mentality to justify the toxic bombing of Australian citizens, most of Australia didn’t even know it was going on and still don’t.

The stories from Emu Field and Maralinga border on the absurd – leaflets written in English dropped from planes to warn nomadic indigenous people the tests were coming, Australian service men topless in shorts playing cricket on the testing fields while the Brits and American wore protective clothing, a pregnant indigenous woman found camped in a crater who lost her baby…..

What is perhaps most confronting of all is that this history is still largely unknown in Australia. Maralinga has been immortalised by our folk hero musician Paul Kelly, there was a royal commission into the tests in 1984/5, servicemen are still campaigning for compensation and huge tracts of the desert will be uninhabitable for ever more – and yet somehow it is still a hidden part of Australia’s history.

In the early 2000s I became aware of an inspiring campaign led by the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta – the Senior Women of Coober Pedy – against a proposed nuclear waste dump in South Australia. These women remembered the bombs from the 1950s and they didn’t want that poison on their country – they initiated the inspiring and victorious Irati Wanti – The Poison, Leave It campaign and prevented that waste dump.

Hearing their stories from Emu Field and Maralinga I was inspired to learn more about the story, and together with Scott Rankin and Trevor Jamieson established the Big hART Ngapartji Ngapartji project.

Ngapartji Ngapartji was based on Arrernte country in Mparntwe (Alice Springs) from early 2005 to mid 2010. Ngapartji Ngapartji had many layers involving language learning, teaching and maintenance, community development, crime prevention, cross cultural collaboration, and creating new literacy training models as well as film, art, policy and theatre making.

The stage production explored Trevor’s family’s experience with the atomic tests – many of them were moved west off their country in cattle trucks before the tests took place. This dislocation – becoming refugees in their own country – and its impact across subsequent generations was told beautifully in this award winning play.

As well as the touring theatre productions the project produced a documentary film for ABC TV in 2010, Nothing Rhymes with Ngapartji, which followed Trevor and the team taking the play back to country in Ernabella community, South Australia. For many people this was the first time they had talked publicly about the bombs – as Anangu culture reveres the deceased with silence – and many of the stories had not been passed down to younger generations. Nothing Rhymes with Ngapartji can be watched in full online.

It remains clear that the stories of Maralinga still need to be shared and acknowledged, and plays, music and storytelling play a critical role in drawing attention to Australia’s atomic history and shameful indifference to the desert and its people.

Ruthless Jabiru and Lara St. John perform Maralinga Lament at the Union Chapel, London at 19:30 on Monday 14 October. Tickets are £16 advance from the Union Chapel online store or £18 at the door.

Kelly Lovelady on Ruthless Jabiru, neo-funk and other grinds

Originally posted at The Sampler:

I haven’t made a mixtape since the 90s but putting this one together for Sound and Music has been the highlight of my weekend.

My chamber orchestra Ruthless Jabiru is performing next Monday 14 October at the Union Chapel. The group is made up entirely of the Australians who play with the major UK orchestras and chamber ensembles. We play mostly music by living composers, including some Australians but not exclusively so, and are planning a robust commissioning stream for the years ahead.

As a conductor, it’s been a great exercise to go back and get some composer context at this point in the project. I’ve come up with a playlist which sets up some of the newer…

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Visualising Maralinga’s legacy

It is the nature of bombs to be indiscriminate. Howard Zinn

We arrived at Maralinga late afternoon on the 9th of November 2011. It was nearly a full moon. The caretaker came and let us in through the gates. We followed his truck along the old Maralinga road, turned left at the junction and into the remnants of the Maralinga village, once host to over 10,000 servicemen over eleven years.

Travelling to Maralinga for the first time after hearing so much about the effects the British nuclear blasts had on Indigenous people and Australian and British personnel, I didn’t really know what to expect. I think I imagined I would find some sort of overwhelming obvious physical evidence of the blasts, but what finally appeared for me was a space full of so much remnant history and memory.

Between 1952 and 1963, the British government tested twelve atomic bombs and hundreds of smaller ‘minor trials’ at Emu Field and Maralinga in South Australia and on Monte Bello Island, off the Coast of Western Australia. The reason for this is that after the end of WWII, Britain, Australia’s ‘mother country’, was losing power and was eager to become part of the global nuclear arms race. Australia of course complied readily, with the then Prime Minister Robert Menzies pushing it through without even consulting the cabinet.

I first started working on mixed media projects around uranium mining and the legacy of the nuclear era in Australia in 2005 as an eager, newly enraged 19 year old. I travelled aboard a bus destined for uranium mines and indigenous lands that had been dispossessed through the process of nuclear developments in the South Australian outback. The group, Friends of the Earth Melbourne, had been organising ‘Radioactive Exposure Tours’ since the 1980s to take people from the cities and towns to see the true impact of the nuclear industry on indigenous communities lives’ and the land in Australia.

We heard from a number of Aboriginal elders who had been fighting long and hard against the ongoing uranium developments and damage that had been done to their land and their communities, and we were given permission to camp out in prohibited zones the semi-arid landscapes where these fights had been going on. Coming back into the city after a trip like this was a wake up call to the physical and mental distance that we had from what was going on ‘out there’ and this revelation took me on a journey to create a few different bodies of photographic, audio and video work over seven years focusing on the impact of this industry on people and the land.

The first project I undertook was called Inhabited; life size portraits and audio stories of indigenous and non-indigenous people resisting the nuclear industry in Australia, as well as survivors and veterans of the Maralinga and Emu Field atomic tests. This project, completed in 2006 has been touring around Australia as an educational tool and exhibition since then.

The next body of work was Operation Buffalo, photographs of Maralinga village and atomic testing sites that was exhibited in Federation Square, Melbourne in 2012. I also made a short film with editor Anthony Kelly called Maralinga Pieces which contains in situ footage from the Maralinga atomic test sites as well as stories of Aboriginal elders who experienced the fallout, alongside those of Australian atomic veterans who helped set up and execute those fateful and deadly tests.

Working on projects around the legacy of these atomic tests in Australia has gotten under my skin; there is still no way that we can truly understand the emotional, physical and psychological scars that have been embedded on indigenous people, the land and nuclear veterans who were never told the truth, who have lost many of their sacred sites and homelands, and who have to fight continuously to protect their land and culture. These projects can only offer glimpses into these stories and histories, and hope to promote greater understanding, awareness and interest in these issues.

Ruthless Jabiru and Lara St. John perform Maralinga Lament at the Union Chapel, London at 19:30 on Monday 14 October. Tickets are £16 advance from the Union Chapel online store or £18 at the door.

“Fear in a handful of dust”: the legacy of Maralinga

I will show you fear in a handful of dust. T S Eliot

The dusty plains of the Maralinga lands in outback South Australia held a secret for a long time before most Australians found out. Australian land had been contaminated by one of the most toxic materials known – a particular form of plutonium that takes tens of thousands of years to die away. Even now, few people know the story of Maralinga. The absence of media coverage and public debate created a gap in most people’s understanding of what happened there, making it a uniquely tangled national issue.

Democracy depends upon journalists who are capable of finding out the truth behind the governmental smokescreen, and whistle-blowers to reveal the secrets. In Australia, we had no contemporary investigative journalist or whistle-blower to tell the population about the aftermath of the tests in the South Australian desert, and the government of the day, unwatched, got away with it. Over time, the story finally emerged and a clean-up was carried out, but in doing so, raising many issues about democracy, Australian sovereignty, nuclear colonialism and the role of media in keeping governments accountable.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the nuclear arms race began. The US turned away from its erstwhile ally and refused to co-operate with Britain on nuclear weapons development. The British had to devise their own bomb development program, and they settled on Australia as a testing site. The Australian Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, was only too happy to agree.

The British nuclear test program was spread over 11 years, from 1952 to 1963, and took place at three locations: the Monte Bello Islands off the coast of Western Australia, and Emu Field and Maralinga in the South Australian desert. A total of 12 “mushroom cloud” bombs were exploded: three at Monte Bello, two at Emu Field and seven at Maralinga. The tests that had more far reaching significance than the major trials, however, were the radiological experiments known as Vixen B that were only held at Maralinga. Vixen B involved blowing up a long lasting form of plutonium using conventional explosives and leaving most of the residue on the open range.

In total, Vixen B scattered 22.2 kg of plutonium-239 around the test site. The extreme persistence of radiation and the threat of cancer by inhaling dust at the site made it especially dangerous. The Vixen B tests took place amid total secrecy in 1960, 1961 and 1963 and received no media coverage at all until the late-1970s. They were only fully uncovered in a landmark piece of scientific investigative journalism in 1993.

Australia was not a nuclear power. The country was in a highly ambiguous position – the staging ground for nuclear weapons testing carried out with great secrecy and control by another nation, the “mother country” herself. This made Australia, at least initially, curiously powerless and inept in dealing with the tests, particularly Vixen B. The mysteries of Maralinga continue to haunt Australia as the dust of Maralinga continues to swirl.

Ruthless Jabiru and Lara St. John perform Maralinga Lament at the Union Chapel, London at 19:30 on Monday 14 October. Tickets are £16 advance from the Union Chapel online store or £18 at the door.