Portrait of a Whistleblower

Jessie Boylan

2011 - 2015

This series chronicles Avon Hudson’s life, from early years growing up in regional South Australia, to service in the Royal Australian Air Force as a Leading Aircraftman, through the experience of British atomic bomb tests, to his “whistle blower” act of revealing Maralinga’s deadly legacy.

What Avon knew, and was prepared to tell publically about Maralinga, contributed to the establishment of the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia (1984-85). His motivation was to put a halt to government plans to return Maralinga to its traditional owners, pending a full clean-up of land still contaminated by radioactive debris.

The story of nuclear testing is unknown to most Australians. Between 1952 and 1963, after a decision made by Prime Minister Menzies alone, nine atomic bombs were exploded and hundreds of ‘minor’ experiments were conducted at the British-run testing ranges at Emu and Maralinga in South Australia. Three bombs were also exploded at Monte Bello Islands in Western Australia.

The impacts of these experiments continue to play out in the ill health and changed lives of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, who were exposed to or involved in the tests, over multiple generations. The tests have also left a deep-future legacy of environmental contamination.

It is a portrait of someone with a photographic memory, capable of grasping and articulating every detail of the atomic age as he experienced it.

It depicts a committed citizen and serviceman, husband and father, always an advocate and an activist, who in civilian life became a Wakefield councillor for over 20 years. It shows a practical man – mechanic, wood-turner and furniture maker; and portrays a nature-enthusiast and an educator on environmental and social issues.

It is also a portrait of someone who has invariably lived by his convictions – as that’s what whistleblowers do. Since the 1970s, Avon has campaigned for recognition of nuclear veterans and civilian personnel. As his co-authored book “Beyond Belief” records, “His life has been deeply affected by a sense of injustice and by the callousness of successive Australian and British governments ignoring the plight of those caught up in ‘the grand game’.”

This series is a recognition and celebration of the significant role Avon has played South Australia's unfolding atomic history. His life as an activist seems to belong to the present, as the future of nuclear science and technology is considered anew.

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  • Avon’s scrapbook cover 1984-1985
    Reproduced from original document

  • Blue Steel, a piece of rocket engine powering the Blue Steel missile as part of weapons testing program at Woomera, South Australia. Avon was a driver at the Woomera rocket range for two years between 1962-64, 2015

  • Avon Hudson holds a photograph of himself from 1954 at home in his archives room.

  • The Australian Nuclear Veterans Association comprehensively documented servicemen’s posts and their illnesses associated with their work, since no one else was doing it. These documents are currently kept in Avon Hudson's archives in his home. Many of Avon's archives will be moved to the State Library of South Australia when Avon is ready to part with them.

  • Back row (left to right): Eric Hudson, Bob Hudson, and Allan Hart (friend), Avon centre front, Avon’s father Harry Hudson is walking up in background.
    Photographer unknown

    Avon J. Hudson was born in 1937 at the Balaklava Hospital in regional South Australia. He grew up with six brothers and four sisters the ‘old Hudson’s workers blocks’, a 54-acre property in Whitwarta, just outside of Balaklava. His father worked as a contractor on the roads, as well as at the salt works in nearby Lochiel, and later got into farming.

    Avon’s earliest memories are of the immense freedom he and his siblings had on the property, running amok and getting into mischief, “those were the good days, when we were out of the eyes of anybody and close to nature,” he says. During the war when life was tough for everyone and food was rationed, the Hudson family grew plenty of fruit and vegetables, and combined with a diet of chickens, rabbits and pigeons; they had most of what they needed to get by.

  • All servicemen were forced to sign the official secrets act before being posted to Maralinga. Avon risked seven years imprisonment when he blew the whistle in 1976.

  • Performance information plates, Emufield, South Australia 1960. Salvaged from the pilot’s cockpit of a P51 aircraft, abandoned and left on site after the Emu bomb tests. The tags inform the pilot of the operation specifications of the aircraft. Avon chiseled them off to keep an important piece of history.

  • Each year Avon takes part in the Radioactive Exposure Tour run by Friends of the Earth. It takes 30-40 people from all over Australia and the world into the South Australian outback to learn about the nuclear industry in Australia from the first mine at Radium Hill to the British Atomic Tests to the current uranium mine at Roxby Downs.

  • Avon’s RAAF Sausage bag, standard Air Force issue for all one’s worldly possessions, 1956

  • In 1961, after driving an electronic technician down to do some finishing touches on a device related to one of the Vixen B experiments prior to explosion, the technician asked Avon to hold his tools and silk gloves. They returned 7km to the roadside station and waited for the device to be fired. The miniature tools - a collection of pliers, wire cutters, automatic centre punch, and screw driver - were made in Sheffield, England, by the famous toolmakers at William Marples under the Shamrock brand. Avon never returned the tools, and the technician never asked for them back.

  • Mechanical spring wound alarm clock. Originally a family item, the clock toured with Avon to many locations. In Darwin 1956, in the old corrugated dormitory of the Number 5 Squadron, it wasn’t just Avon who would awake to this American built alarm, 2015

  • The tree marks the 60 mile mark to Emu from Maralinga, which was the approximate halfway point. In the photo Avon is third from the left. On a spare day the men would go ‘swanning’; Avon would take out British military and science personnel and show them around the bush- they’d dig out scorpions in the sand hills, track snakes, and attract emus.

  • Avon was enlisted to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in 1956 at age 18, and has always had a love of planes, knowing exactly which type of plane is flying overhead just by hearing the sound of its engine. He spent time at the Darwin Air Force Base in the Northern Territory, as well as Laverton in Victoria. Avon served in the RAAF between 1956-62. Photographer unknown.

  • The Taranaki site was used twice, once for the large bomb in 1957 and from 1960 onwards for the Vixen B Minor trials. Avon was one of the servicemen setting up this second round of experiments, and was never informed that the site they were working on was only 200m away from ground zero of the earlier bomb.

  • Since 1972 Avon has collected newspaper and magazine clippings related to Maralinga and the British Atomic Testing Program in South and Western Australia.