Radiant Sands is a collection of short stories based on my experiences in the Australian desert in the 1970s and 1980s. The stories are entirely fictional, although imbued with the truth of time and place. One story from the collection, Dust Storm, is now on Amazon Kindle as a “teaser” to the book. The collection is due for publication in May 2018.
Many tourists spend time in Central Australia visiting well-known places such as Uluru. Some seek a deeper encounter through art, bush foods and cultural experiences. Today most are aware of the problematic past of Central Australia. Through the work of artists and photographers there is a growing appreciation of the stunning beauty of the land in its many moods, and the achievements of the Aboriginal people.
The stories in Radiant Sands are set at a time when communications were limited, roads were unmade, visitors were scarce and the interface between indigenous and non-indigenous life was minimal. Today, it seems almost unimaginable. When I lived in the desert with my husband and two children we were over two hundred miles from the nearest store at Oodnadatta. The road was impassable after rain, there was no telephone service, mail and supplies came once every two weeks, and we relied on bore water carted in tanks in the back of the Land Rover. We lived in a caravan, which burnt down, and then in a tent and an aboriginal shelter, or wiltja. We cooked over an open fire and ate damper, jam and tea along with tinned foods and some hunted meat. The nearest non-indigenous neighbours lived on a cattle station homestead forty kilometers away. There was a mission settlement further to the north.
The short story Dust Storm gives a taste of that long-ago desert life. Other stories in the Radiant Sands collection are written from different points of view: the isolated lady anthropologist, the cattle-station wife, the transient writer, the cultural studies academic.
Last Patrol is the final story in the collection. Novelette length (around 13,000 words) it is set in and around Maralinga in the 1950s-1960s, when this remote part of the Australian became the main site of British atomic testing, following the wartime destruction of Hiroshima/Nagasaki by the US. Maralinga remains an iconic event in Australia’s history.
The Australian public was kept largely ignorant of the tests, their dangers, and the effects on the Aboriginal people on whose lands the tests took place.
In the early 1980s a public inquiry was announced. The Royal Commission into British Nuclear Testing in Australia took place in 1983-4 presided over by Chief Justice “Diamond Jim” McLelland. The author was an advisor to the Royal Commissioner and gave evidence on the effects of the nuclear testing program on the Yankuntjatjara and other indigenous inhabitants.
The Report of the Royal Commission is available in pdf form online in two volumes.