'Our people need it': Man blind after nuclear tests welcomes improved health care

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An Aboriginal man who lost his eyesight after a British nuclear test has applauded the Federal Government’s decision to improve medical care for people exposed to radiation.

The budget will provide veterans’ healthcare Gold Cards to Indigenous people who were near the sites in South Australia and Western Australia during the 1950s and 1960s.

Yami Lester was a child when a test was conducted in October 1953 at Emu Field in SA’s north.

He said nuclear fallout reached his family within hours, despite being about 160 kilometres from the site.

“We all got sick, vomiting and diarrhea … and sore eyes and skin rash,” Mr Lester said.

“We had no medical help and I went blind straight away in one eye.

“Four years later, I went totally blind.”

Mr Lester said people were still hurting decades after the atomic experiments.

“Our people need it. They should be covered,” he said.

Tests linked with injuries, disabilities

Britain tested the weapons at Maralinga and Emu Fields in South Australia and around Western Australia’s Monte Bello Islands.

Many Indigenous people were moved away but some remained and were subjected to extreme levels of radiation.

A royal commission in the 1980s linked the tests to significant injuries and disabilities.

Veterans’ Affairs Minister Dan Tehan told ABC News people would now receive improved health care from the Commonwealth.

“It’s very important that we make sure that we have the support there for those who were involved in the British nuclear test,” Mr Tehan said.

“Subject to the passage of the legislation — and I am confident that it will go through the Parliament — the measures will provide Gold Cards to the Indigenous people present at or near Maralinga, Emu Fields or the Monte Bello Islands at the time of the British nuclear tests in the 1950s and 60s.”

For years, Greens senator Scott Ludlam has campaigned on behalf of people affected and said the move was long-overdue.

“It’s a really important development I think — particularly for these Aboriginal people and their families,” Senator Ludlam said.

“They’ve suffered inordinately. They were effectively bombed off their land with nuclear weapons by a friendly power in the ’50s and ’60s and have been substantially neglected.”



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