British nuclear tests at Maralinga – Fact sheet 129

Maralinga, prohibited area sign on the Emu/Nawa Road (A6457, P042)

Between 1952 and 1963 the British Government, with the agreement and support of the Australian Government, carried out nuclear tests at three sites in Australia – the Monte Bello Islands off the Western Australian coast, and at Emu Field and Maralinga in South Australia. An official history of the tests (JL Symonds, A History of British Atomic Tests in Australia, AGPS, Canberra) was published by the Department of Resources and Energy in 1985.

Maralinga was developed as the permanent proving ground site, following a request of the British in 1954, and, after its completion in 1956, was the location of all trials conducted in Australia. It was developed as a joint facility with a shared funding arrangement. Following the two major trials (Operation Buffalo in 1956 and Operation Antler in 1957) there were a number of minor trials, assessment tests and experimental programs (dating from 1959) held at the range until 1963. Maralinga was officially closed following a clean-up operation (Operation Brumby) in 1967.

Records relating to Maralinga

Information about Maralinga is located in records created by a number of Commonwealth agencies. This information covers matters such as personnel who served in the area, security arrangements for the site, and technical and survey information (including meteorological reports).


 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesIdentification cards of employees at the Maralinga atomic test site1955–67A6242

Photographic records, Sydney

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesAerial photographs1955–60D4632
SeriesAerial photographs1965–69D4633
SeriesMaralinga photographs1956D1826


 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesMiscellaneous records relating mainly to atomic and long range weapons testing1929–69M3881


 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesPhotographs, films, drawings & glass negatives – Maralinga area1953–61D1768
SeriesCatalogue of drawings and maps relating to the Maralinga area1954–83D2117

The Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia

In response to growing concerns about the safety standards observed during the conduct of the nuclear trials, especially with regard to measures taken to protect people from the exposure to ionising radiation, and the disposal of radioactive substances and toxic materials, the Australian Government established a Royal Commission in 1984 to inquire into these aspects of the tests. The Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia during the 1950s and 1960s (CA 3993) gave considerable attention to the tests conducted in the Maralinga area.

Many of the records of the Royal Commission are publicly available, and may be viewed in the National Archives Canberra reading room. The most significant records are listed in the following table.

Collection references

Records relating to Indigenous Australians of the Maralinga area

The National Archives’ guide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in Commonwealth records: A Guide to Records in the Australian Archives, ACT Regional Office (compiled by Ros Fraser, AGPS, Canberra, 1993) includes references to records within the series listed above which relate specifically to Indigenousl people of the Maralinga area and the effects of the testing on their lives. Check the term ‘maralinga’ in the guide index to identify individual items.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019