Irati Wanti- The Poison, Leave It

Kunga Tjuta Aboriginal woman holding one hand up to the sky and holding the Aboriginal flag

On July 14th, 2004, after a six-year battle, the Federal Government abandoned their plans to impose a national nuclear waste dump in central SA. The campaign was led by senior Aboriginal women − the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta − many of them victims of the British atomic bomb tests half a century ago.

For six years the Kungka Tjuta travelled the country, ‘talking straight out’. They called their campaign Irati Wanti – the poison, leave it. They explained, they demanded, they marched and sang. They told of extraordinary personal histories. They wrote passionate letters to politicians. They won. 

The Kungka Tjuta wrote this statement soon after hearing about the waste dump proposal for the Billa Kalina region.  It circulated around Australia and the world. 

We are the Aboriginal Women. Yankunytjatjara, Antikarinya and Kokatha. We know the country. The poison the Government is talking about will poison the land. We say, “No radioactive dump in our ngura – in our country.” It’s strictly poison, we don’t want it.

We were born on the earth, not in the hospital. We were born in the sand. Mother never put us in the water and washed us when we were born straight out. They dried us with the sand. Then they put us, newborn baby, fireside, no blankets, they put us in the warm sand. And after that, when the cord comes off, they put us through the smoke. We really know the land. From a baby we grow up on the land.

Never mind our country is the desert, that’s where we belong. And we love where we belong, the whole land. We know the stories for the land. The Seven Sisters travelled right across, in the beginning. They formed the land. It’s very important Tjukur–Law, the Dreaming, that must not be disturbed. The Seven Sisters are everywhere. We can give the evidence for what we say, we can show you the dance of the Seven Sisters.

Listen to us! The desert lands are not as dry as you think! Can’t the Government plainly see there is water here? Nothing can live without water. There’s a big underground river underneath. We know the poison from the radioactive dump will go down under the ground and leak into the water. We drink from this water. Only the Government and people like that have tanks. The animals drink from this water: malu–kangaroo, kalaya–emu, porcupine, ngintaka–perentie lizard, goanna and all the others. We eat these animals, that’s our meat. We’re worried that any of these animals will become poisoned and we’ll become poisoned in our turn.

The poison the Government is talking about is from Sydney. We say send it back to Sydney. We don’t want it! Are they trying to kill us? We’re a human being. We’re not an animal. We’re not a dog. In the old days the white man used to put poison in the meat, throw them to feed the dogs and they got poisoned, straight out and then they died. Now they want to put the poison in the ground. We want our life.

All of us were living when the Government used the country for the bomb. Some were living at Twelve Mile, just out of Coober Pedy. The smoke was funny and everything looked hazy. Everybody got sick. Other people were at Mabel Creek and many people got sick. Some people were living at Walatina. Other people got moved away. Whitefellas and all got sick. When we were young, no woman got breast cancer or any other kind of cancer. Cancer was unheard of with men either. And no asthma. We were people without sickness.

The Government thought they knew what they were doing then. Now, again they are coming along and telling us poor blackfellas, “Oh, there’s nothing that’s going to happen, nothing is going to kill you.” And that will still happen like that bomb over there. And we’re worrying for our kids. We’ve got a lot of kids growing up on the country and still coming more, grandchildren and great grandchildren. They have to have their life.

It’s from our grandmothers and our grandfathers that we’ve learned about the land. This learning isn’t written on paper as whitefellas’ knowledge is. We carry it instead in our heads and we’re talking from our hearts, for the land. You fellas, whitefellas, put us in the back all the time, like we’ve got no language for the land. But we’ve got the story for the land.

Listen to us!

Ivy Makinti Stewart, Eileen Kampakuta Brown, Eileen Unkari Crombie, Eileen Wani Wingfield, Lucy Kampakuta Wilton, Pingkai Upitja, Emily Munyungka Austin, Angelina Wonga, Peggy Tjingila Cullinan, Dianne Edwards.

Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta