AUSTRALIAN NUCLEAR VETERANS ASSOCIATION - from the beginning
(from the front page welcome )
They worked exceptionally long hours, 24/7 night and day often giving up their Sunday rest periods to more work. They lived in two-man tents, sleeping on camp stretchers placed on duckboard floors. Each bed had a horsehair palliasse and two army blankets. A hurricane lamp and a galvanised wash-basin completed the equipment for each tent. Nothing could keep out the red desert dust and sand. The men ate at trestle tables set up in a large marquee. The food consisted mainly of field rations, supplemented occasionally by some fly-blow mutton. Fresh water for drinking was strictly rationed one quart per man per day. All washing and bathing had to be done in salty bore water.oilets were slit trenches surrounded by hessian screens. Four-inch diameter holes were drilled in the ground at several points around the camp and two-foot lengths of pipe stuck into each one, with a funnel built into the top. These, for use as urinals, were known among the troops as "pissaphones".
Daytime temperatures often exceeded 110° Fahrenheit, sometimes going as high as 120°. Metal objects - including tools, and body panels and door handles on cars and trucks - could inflict serious burns if touched after being left in the sun. At night, the temperature could fall below freezing point. Ice would form on the top of water left in a bucket overnight. Swarms of bush flies constantly clung to men's backs, arms, and faces, crawling into eyes, mouths and nostrils. A machine called a Tiffa regularly moved between the tent lines, spraying green clouds of Malathion, one of the chemical agents later used in Vietnam. The camp had no social amenities, no doctor, no padre - and no women. The nearest link with the outside world was Watson Siding, on the Trans-Australian Railway, 43 miles (70 km) to the south.
Only after six months' service at Camp 43 and another warning not to talk to anyone about your work was leave granted. Then it was two weeks in the capital city of your choice and back to the desert for at least another six months. And the men were under strict orders not to talk to anyone about the work in which they were engaged or where they were stationed. Ric Johnstone was discharged from the RAAF, on medical grounds, in December 1957. In the months since leaving the desert, he had been treated in a RAAF hospital for radiation sickness and in a repatriation hospital for an anxiety state.
In 1972, after his Member of Parliament had asked about his case in the House of Representatives, he was successful in a claim against the Crown Employees' Compensation Board. He began to receive a fortnightly payment from the Board, the amount being brought up to the "poverty level" by the Social Security Department.
Because of his unique case, and because of community work in which he was engaged (organising self-help groups for people suffering from anxiety, phobias and stress disorders), articles about him appeared in several newspapers and magazines. This publicity prompted some of his former Camp 43 colleagues to make contact with him. Several sought him out at his St Marys home. As time went by, and these men began to realise that many of the health problems they had suffered could probably be traced back to their service at Maralinga, they conceived the idea of forming an association of nuclear veterans.
Ric Johnstone, who was a hobby printer, designed and printed several versions of a letterhead for the Association during 1976. One of these featured the atomic symbol, which is still retained. The device which has become the badge of the Australian Nuclear Veterans' Association, representing the phoenix rising from the nuclear flames, made its first appearance as part of a new letterhead design introduced about the end of 1979.
By the late 1970s, regular meetings were taking place at Ric Johnstone's home. He, himself, having become a sufferer from PTSD agoraphobia, could not travel beyond his own street. So the other members of the Association came to him. They agreed that membership of ANVA should be open to all who had served at any of the three locations in Australia where British nuclear weapons tests took place: the Monte Bello Islands, Emu Clay pan and Maralinga.
Membership grew rapidly following a profusion of reports and discussions in the media on many unresolved questions relating to the 1950s test. This media interest reached a crescendo in the early months of 1980. Ric Johnstone took part in a Four Corners programme on the subject, broadcast on ABC-TV in March 1980. He also wrote many letters on behalf of ANVA to Commonwealth Ministers and Departments, Members of Parliament and returned services organisations, seeking a proper enquiry to establish whether those who had served at the test sites had suffered harm as a result of that service and whether they were entitled to be compensated for any such harm.
ANVA, meanwhile, consolidated and formalised its organisation. A series of meetings, held at various Sydney suburban venues (Balmain, Waverley and Blacktown) during 1980, led to agreement on a constitution, encompassing eight primary objectives, and the appointment of officers. Ric Johnstone, although not present at these meetings, was elected President of the Association.
ANVA members welcomed the spate of publicity. These men who had been forgotten for more than 25 years now began to hope that their case might at last be given proper consideration by the Australian community. Questions were asked in Parliament. In May 1980, the Fraser Government responded to the pressure by inviting those who believed they had been exposed to dangerous radiation to come forward. The Government, however, was not convinced that a health survey among Australians involved in the tests was necessary. Not very encouraging - but a light could now been seen at the end of the tunnel.
An unexpected side-effect of the publicity was a sudden rush of interest by people who sought to gain control of ANVA for their own purposes. The most serious threat came from a recently formed group in Queensland, calling itself "The Atomic Veterans Association". The group's initial objective was to obtain repatriation benefits for men who had served in Japan after the Second World War with BCOF (the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces). Some of these men had spent time in Hiroshima or Nagasaki and believed they could now be suffering from the effects of exposure to nuclear radiation. Around that time, the papers carried many reports about compensation claims being brought against the US Government by American ex-servicemen and civilians for illnesses which, they believed, were attributable to the effects of radiation resulting from US nuclear tests.
A man named Pat Creevey, an RSL member who had had no direct involvement in the nuclear test programme, gained control of the Brisbane group. Apparently impressed by the media exposure then being enjoyed by ANVA, Creevey telephoned Ric Johnstone and suggested that his organisation should become the Queensland branch of the New South Wales organisation. Johnstone told him that, if the Queensland group voted to accept the ANVA constitution, the suggested relationship between the two groups would be acceptable. The two agreed to exchange full details of membership. This information would form the basis of a national register of nuclear veterans.
Shortly after this, newspapers began to carry reports quoting Pat Creevey as "National President of the Australian Nuclear Veterans Association". Men on the New South Wales membership list complained to Johnstone that they had received mail from an office in Brisbane asking them to remit membership fees to that office. Johnstone also began to receive phone calls from journalists seeking confirmation of stories provided by the Brisbane organisation related to the British nuclear tests and their consequences. Frequently, the details were in conflict with the facts, as known to Johnstone and his colleagues.
Ric Johnstone communicated with Creevey by phone and letter, complaining of his actions and urging him to desist from interference in ANVA affairs. Creevey, however, persisted in his unauthorised use of the ANVA name and in posing as National President of ANVA. Newsletters sent out by Johnstone to members of the original organisation warned against responding to approaches from the Brisbane body, particularly by way of sending money and confidential information.
ANVA has established contact with nuclear veterans in other States, notably Avon Hudson, a former RAAF man, in South Australia, and Patrick Connelly, ex-RAF, in Western Australia. Both had served in Maralinga. With limited resources, however, the New South Wales group found the establishment of a national organisation to be a very difficult undertaking. Nevertheless, Johnstone, with the backing of his organisation, kept up the pressure through correspondence with government and co-operation with the media.
Late in 1982, the Commonwealth Department of health initiated a survey of the health of some 15,000 people who had served at the Monte Bello, Emu and Maralinga test sites. March 1983 brought a change of government. In July 1984, ANVA became instrumental in the Hawke Government announced the setting up of royal commission to enquire into questions arising out of the British nuclear tests in Australia. Before the announcement was made, a meeting of groups in other States which professed to represent nuclear veterans were asked to attend a meeting to discuss forming a federation. The hope was that this would enable the various organisations to present a unified front to the royal commission.
By this time, the Brisbane group had undergone considerable changes. Pat Creevey had died. For a short time, Creevey's right-hand man, Harold Crosbie, had taken control. But Crosbie (who, like Creevey, was not a nuclear veteran), had been unable to prevent a split in the organisations rank. A group of bona fide nuclear veterans had broken away and formed their own organisation, which they called The Maralinga and Monte Bello Ex Servicemen's Association. This group was led by Terry Toon, former secretary of the other Brisbane organisation.
The meeting to discuss federation took place at the Mosman (Sydney) Returned Servicemen's Club on 21st July 1984. In addition to representatives of the original ANVA, those attending were Con Van Munster, representing the Brisbane group which had assumed the name of the NSW organisation; Jennifer May, who claimed to have an organisation in South Australia representing civilian nuclear veterans, for which she had similarly adopted, without authority, the name of the original group; and two Camp 43 veterans representing the breakaway Queensland group. Marcus Einfeld QC, Michael Adams, barrister, and Gary Patterson, solicitor, also attended invited by ANVA. The outcome was that two groups only, the original ANVA and Toon's Maralinga and Monte Bello Association, signed a charter of federation.
The Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia held hearings between August 1984 and September 1985. Faced with applications for leave to appear from five separate organisations purporting to represent Australia nuclear veterans, four of which had the same name, the commission chose to designate the original Australian Nuclear Veterans Association as the New South Wales branch of a national organisation, and accorded equal recognition to a "Queensland branch" and a South Australian branch (which was, in fact, Jennifer May alone), and a "Western Australian branch". This latter organisation, represented by the same lawyers as those appointed by the spurious Brisbane ANVA, had been quickly set up in time for the Royal Commission by Harold Crosbie, in co-operation with Bill Roper, a Western Australian. This organisation, whose members were former BCOF men, had registered the name Australian Nuclear Veterans' Association in WA. The Royal Commission also granted the Maralinga and Monte Bello Atomic Ex-Servicemen's Association leave to appear.
Unquestionably, this splintering of representation before the Royal Commission, and the dubious credentials of some of the groups granted equal status with the genuine nuclear veterans organisations, weakened the case presented on behalf of all ex-service nuclear veterans. Whilst both Ric Johnstone and Terry Toon were among more than 200 ex-servicemen who were called to give evidence as individuals, it is self-evident that counsel appearing on behalf of a unified or federated body representing nuclear veterans throughout the nation would have been able to make a greater impact upon the commission's deliberations.
Although the findings of the McClelland Royal Commission were disappointing to the members of ANVA, and the Hawke Government refused to adopt the recommendation to compile a national register of nuclear veterans, there have been some gains. Ric Johnstone, acting on legal advice, had initiated a Common Law action for damages against the Commonwealth in 1973, claiming damage to health and economic loss resulting from his service at Maralinga. Whilst the case has not yet come to court, it has already led to the establishment of legal precedents which could be of benefit to other servicemen. These include, notably, recognition of an ex-serviceman's right to sue the government, waiving of the statute of limitations in such a case, and the granting of legal aid to enable the ex-serviceman to conduct his case.
The case, Johnstone v. The Commonwealth, is listed for hearing in the Supreme Court in New South Wales in September 1988. As a test case for nuclear veterans, this is a historically important legal action. The Commonwealth, perhaps revealing concern at the fact that a hearing date has at last been set, withdrew Johnstone's legal aid in March 1987. This withdrawal of legal aid (after seven years) means that Ric Johnstone will not now be able to afford to have his case presented in court by a barrister. His solicitor, however, has declared his willingness to proceed with the case without payment.
The original Australian Nuclear Veterans' Association lives on - though many of its members have died as the years have gone by. The original ANVA is registered in New South Wales and South Australia. The Association is now a member of the Australian Veterans and Defence Service Council and has an elected co-ordinator or committee in each mainland State. Current national committee members and State Co-ordinators are included at the rear on the last page of this publication.
Despite all the efforts of others to purloin its name and status, the original ANVA, founded by Ric Johnstone and others who served at Maralinga, continues the struggle for justice on behalf of Australia's nuclear veterans - as is evidenced by the ongoing work of Johnstone and his National Committee. ANVA still has the same structure, the same constitution and the same objectives that were evolved in 1979-80 by the founding members. Its strength comes from the camaraderie developed among men who underwent hardships together during their service at the secret nuclear test sites, and their common interest in the human consequences of that service. ANVA continues to pursue its objectives on behalf of all bona fide nuclear veterans in Australia.