8 July 2020 // Eileen
Kampakuta Brown &
Eileen Wani Wingfield
Eileen Kampakuta Brown (d. 2012) and Eileen Wani Wingfield (d. 2014) led the campaign to block construction of a nuclear waste dump in Australia 50 years after nuclear bomb tests caused birth defects, cancer, and the poisoning of the environment and wildlife.
As a young woman Eileen Wani Wingfield mustered cattle and sheep with her father and sister. During this time she had to hide from the authorities, who were removing biracial children from their families and sending them to institutions to be trained for a life of servitude. She married and had her own children, but they were found and taken by the authorities. Brown too had to hide from government officials to evade removal. In 2000 she and Eileen Wani Wingfield published Down the Hole, a children's book based on their experiences of hiding from the authorities.
Having survived half a century of government sanctioned nuclear contamination in the South Australian desert from weapons tests and exploitation of one of the world’s largest uranium mines. When the Australian government announced plans to bury nuclear waste from Sydney in Australia’s wild desert lands, these Elders sprang into action.
In 1995, Brown, Wingfield, and other elder women formed the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta Cooper Pedy Women’s Council (Kungka Tjuta) to stop the nuclear waste dump and protect their land and culture.
In 2003, Australia’s government proposed a new national radioactive waste dump in the central desert of South Australia near Woomera. The proposed dump would store radioactive waste from a nuclear reactor near Sydney in a shallow hole in the ground the size of a soccer field. The facility, located just three kilometers from a weapons testing range, would store the waste for up to 300 years.
Additionally, it was widely believed that once the dump was built, the area could be tagged for even more dangerous, high-level nuclear waste from around the world. The waste dump campaign was closely watched by the Pangea Group, a US-based consortium that was looking for an Australian site to dump high-level nuclear waste from power plants and nuclear weapons programs around the world.
Brown and Wingfield were most concerned about the risk of nuclear contamination seeping into the groundwater that maintains life in South Australia, the driest state in the country. To the Kungka Tjuta, their homeland is not a remote wasteland suitable for the dumping of highly dangerous nuclear waste. “Never mind our country is the desert,” state the Kungka Tjuta. “That’s where we belong.”
Many of the region’s water sources are unmapped and unknown by non-Aboriginal Australians, but have sustained Aboriginal people and desert wildlife for thousands of years. The Federal Bureau of Science’s own inquiry admits that the proposed design would not prevent leakage into groundwater in all possible climatic conditions.
Eileen Wani Wingfield was honored along with Eileen Kampakuta Brown for her efforts in April, 2003 with the Goldman Encvironmental Prize. They were also nominated for the 2005, 1000 Women Nobel Peace Prize.