68 – Atomic Australia

In the 1950s Australia hosted a number of British nuclear weapons tests.  The very first one took place on the Montebello Islands, off Australia’s north west coast.  This episode we will explore ‘Operation Hurricane’ on the Montebellos.

(75 mins)

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Montebello Islands (NASA World Wind satellite image – Wiki)
ARPANSA atomic weapons testing map
Atomic cloud 30 minutes after the detonation (Wiki)
ARPANSA atomic weapons testing graph
“Here the English ship Trial was wrecked in June 1622” (Wiki)
The Site of the Hurricane and Mosaic Tests (McClelland Vol 1)
HMS Plym, in which the nuclear device was detonated (Semophore)
Positions of Ships at the Time of the Hurricane (McClelland Vol 1)


Hawkesbury Reports extract P33 Oct 3rd
Signs warning radiation risks (ABC)

(Travller artil)

Montebello Islands Marine Park (Parks WA)
Mala reintroduced to Montebellos (Wiki)
(Parks WA)


GRACE, PAUL., 2023. Operations hurricane: the story of Britain’s first atomic test in Australia and the legacy that remains. Sydney: Hachette Australia. ISBN 978-0-7336-5054-3.

DJOKOVIC, PETER, 2016. Operations HURRICANE and MOSAIC. Semaphore. Online. 2016. No. 2. Available from: https://www.navy.gov.au/media-room/publications/semaphore-02-16

MCLELLAND (VOL 1), [1985]. Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia – Volume 1 (A Pp 1985 no 482) [1985] AURoyalC 17 (5 December 1985). Online. Available from: https://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/other/cth/AURoyalC/1985/17.html [Accessed December 2023]. ISBN 0644044357

MCLELLAND (VOL 3), [1985]. Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia – Volume 3 (A Pp 1985 no 484) [1985] AURoyalC 19 (5 December 1985). Online. Available from: https://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/other/cth/AURoyalC/1985/19.html [Accessed December 2023].

AUSTRALIAN RADIATION PROTECTION AND NUCLEAR SAFETY AGENCY (ARPANSA). British nuclear weapons testing in Australia | ARPANSA. . Online. Available from: https://www.arpansa.gov.au/understanding-radiation/sources-radiation/more-radiation-sources/british-nuclear-weapons-testing [Accessed August 2023].

AUSMAP, 2011. Australian Nuclear and Uranium Sites: Monte Bello Islands. Australian Nuclear and Uranium Sites. Online. 23 July 2011. Available from: https://nuclear.australianmap.net/monte-bello-islands/ [Accessed August 2023].

NIGEL B. COOK, 2012. British nuclear test Operation Hurricane – secret reports to Winston Churchill and civil defense data obtained. Online. Available from: http://archive.org/details/BritishNuclearTestOperationHurricaneDeclassifiedReportsToWinston [Accessed December 2023].

VETH, PETER, 1993. The Aboriginal occupation of the Montebello Islands, northwest Australia. Australian Aboriginal Studies. Online. 1993. No. 2, p. 39–50. Available from: https://search.informit.org/doi/abs/10.3316/INFORMIT.159258561358711 [Accessed November 2023].

WALLIS, Lynley, et.al.  2007. The Archaeology of Montebello Islands, North-West Australia: Late Quaternary foragers on an arid coastline. ISBN 978-1-4073-0103-7. ResearchGate DOI: 10.30861/9781407301037

TYNAN, ELIZABETH, 2016. Atomic Thunder: the Maralinga story. Sydney, N.S.W.: NewSouth Publishing. ISBN 978-1-74223-428-1.

TYNAN, ELIZABETH, 2022. The Secret of Emu Field. Sydney, N.S.W.: NewSouth Publishing. ISBN 978-1-74223-695-7.

TYNAN, L., 2022. “This black smoke rolling through the mulga”: almost 70 years on, it’s time to remember the atomic tests at Emu Field. The Conversation. Online. 3 May 2022. Available from: http://theconversation.com/this-black-smoke-rolling-through-the-mulga-almost-70-years-on-its-time-to-remember-the-atomic-tests-at-emu-field-181061 [Accessed August 2023].

DREWE, ROBERT, 2013. Montebello: A Memoir. ABC Audio. ISBN 978-1-74315-211-9.

ROBERT MENZIES INSTITUTE: UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE, [no date]. Montebello Atomic Tests. Robert Menzies Institute. Online. Available from: https://www.robertmenziesinstitute.org.au/on-this-day/montebello-atomic-tests [Accessed August 2023].

HMAS HAWKESBURY. AWM78 137/3 – May 1952 – July 1955 Report of Proceedings HMAS Hawkesbury. . Online. Available from: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1421884 [Accessed December 2023].

Green, Jeremy N. (1977). “Australia’s oldest wreck: The Loss of the Trial, 1622” (PDF). British Archaeological Reports, Supplementary Series. Oxford. 27. British Archaeological Reports, Supplementary Series. Oxford. Online. 1977. Vol. 27. Available from: http://museum.wa.gov.au/maritime-archaeology-db/sites/default/files/no._278_trial_bar_1977_0.pdf

GUN, RICHARD. ET AL. Australian participants in British nuclear tests in Australia Vol 2: Mortality and cancer incidence. Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Australia. ISBN 1-920720-39-1.

IDA LEE (MRS. MARRIOTT), 1934. The First Sighting of Australia by the English. The Geographical Journal. Online. April 1934. Available from: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0609031h.html [Accessed December 2023]. The Royal Geographical Society, London

EDITH COWAN UNIVERSITY. Study finds radiation risk at historic WA nuclear test site 70 years on. Online. Available from: https://www.ecu.edu.au/newsroom/articles/research/study-finds-radiation-risk-at-historic-wa-nuclear-test-site-70-years-on [Accessed August 2023].

PARKS AND WILDLIFE SERVICE WESTERN AUSTRALIA. 2020. Visiting the Montebello Islands in Western Australia. Online. 17 November 2020. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6KeYGJ6IfI [Accessed August 2023].

WARD, EMILY, NAPIER, JUDYMAE, and WA PARKS & WILDLIFE SERVICE. Park Feature – Montebello Islands Conservation Estate | Explore Parks WA. . Online. Available from: https://exploreparks.dbca.wa.gov.au/get-inspired/park-feature-montebello-islands-conservation-estate [Accessed August 2023]

ABC NEWS, 2018. Boaters, campers ignore “Ground Zero” risks on nuclear-test islands. ABC News. Online. 15 June 2018. Available from: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-06-16/safety-concerns-on-the-montebello-islands/9855482 [Accessed December 2023].

CARTER, M ET.AL. and DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS’ AFFAIRS, 2006. Australian participants in British nuclear tests in Australia:  Vol 1 Dosimetry.  Online. May 2006. Available from: https://www.dva.gov.au/sites/default/files/dosimetry_complete_study_0.doc [Accessed December 2023].

JOHANSEN, Mathew P. et.al. 2020. Radionuclides in sea turtles at the Montebello Islands former nuclear test sites: Current and historical dose rates for adults and embryos. Marine Pollution Bulletin. Online. 1 September 2020. Vol. 158, p. 111390. DOI 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2020.111390. [Accessed August 2023].

MONUMENT AUSTRALIA. 50th Anniversary of First British Atomic Test | Monument Australia. . Online. Available from: https://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/government/foreign/display/101807-50th-anniversary-of-first-british-atomic-test [Accessed August 2023].

NATIONAL ARCHIVES UK. Public Information Films | 1951 to 1964 | Film index | Operation Hurricane. Online. Available from: https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/films/1951to1964/filmpage_oper_hurr.htm [Accessed August 2023].

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AUSTRALIA. Maralinga.  Online. Available from: https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/maralinga [Accessed August 2023].

SLWA ON ABC RADIO. Montebello Islands Nuclear Testing | State Library of Western Australia. Online. Available from: https://slwa.wa.gov.au/stories/slwa-abc-radio/montebello-islands-nuclear-testing [Accessed August 2023].

THE WEST AUSTRALIAN. ECU study finds radiation risk at WA’s Montebello Islands nuclear test site 70 years on | Online. Available from: https://thewest.com.au/news/pilbara/ecu-study-finds-radiation-risk-at-was-montebello-islands-nuclear-test-site-70-years-on-c-8438925 [Accessed August 2023].

VEEVERS, JOHN J. and BRITANNICA. Montebello Islands | Wildlife, Marine Life & Seabirds. Online. Available from: https://www.britannica.com/place/Montebello-Islands [Accessed August 2023].

WIKIPEDIA: MCCLELLAND ROYAL COMMISSION, 2023. McClelland Royal Commission. Wikipedia. Online. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=McClelland_Royal_Commission&oldid=1177311354 [Accessed September 2023].

WIKIPEDIA: OPERATION HURRICANE, 2023.  Wikipedia. Online. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Operation_Hurricane&oldid=1187741642 [Accessed December 2023].

WIKIPEDIA: TRYALL, 2021. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Tryall&oldid=1036847235 [Accessed December 2023].

WIKIPEDIA: WOOMERA RANGE COMPLEX, 2023.  Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAAF_Woomera_Range_Complex [Accessed December 2023].


  • Intro/Exit music modified from: ‘Grand Canyon’ by David Löhstana [CCFM Music]
  • Sound snippets: Imagine Dragons: Radioactive & Crickets: 393389__funkapache-FreeSound

Other links:

SYMONDS, J L, 1985. A history of British atomic tests in Australia / prepared by J.L. Symonds ; consultant: Nijelo Pty Ltd. Dept of Resources and Energy: Australian Government

AUSTRALIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION, 2012. Four Corners: 1950s nuclear tests on Monte Bello Islands. Online. 2012. Available from: https://www.abc.net.au/education/four-corners-1950s-nuclear-tests-on-monte-bello-islands/14014394 [Accessed August 2023].

ANVIL FILMS FOR THE BRITISH MINISTRY OF SUPPLY AND DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE II. First British atomic bomb test on Montebello Islands – documentary | naa.gov.au. Online. Available from: https://www.naa.gov.au/students-and-teachers/learning-resources/learning-resource-themes/war/defence-equipment-and-weapons/first-british-atomic-bomb-test-montebello-islands-documentary [Accessed August 2023].


AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL. Map: BRITISH ATOMIC BOMB TESTS ON MONTE BELLO ISLANDS, WA, OCTOBER 1952. . Online. Available from: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C40242 [Accessed August 2023].