The Material-Media Histories of Maralinga

Burns, David Benjamin. 2020. The Material-Media Histories of Maralinga. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

Text (The Material-Media Histories of Maralinga Vol. 1)
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Text (The Material-Media Histories of Maralinga Vol. 2)
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Abstract or Description

This practice-based thesis proposes that the nuclear test site at Maralinga, South Australia is a reluctant and traumatic archive comprised of material and media. The material archive is the physical evidence of the tests and is mostly inaccessible, interred in radioactive burial trenches. The media archive is dispersed and diverse and includes photography, maps, film, documents, and objects. Combined, the two archives constitute the Material-Media Histories of Maralinga. It is an archive of the recent nuclear past and the radioactive deep future; an archive of secrecy and betrayal, of disrupted songlines and broken futures.

The thesis begins with the 2014 return of the land to the Maralinga Tjarutja people. The status of the land – highly mediated and remediated – is questioned along with the intentions of the government and the Australian Defence Force. The first chapter examines the colonial declarations of terra nullius that rendered invisible the Aboriginal people, customs, agriculture, architecture, and economies, thereby creating the juridical conditions for the future establishment of Maralinga. The second chapter focuses on the issues of visibility as they relate to Maralinga as a nuclear weapons testing site. The chapter begins with a detailed examination of Tufi, an unused nuclear test site that could be the most resilient – and misleading – legacy of Maralinga. The final chapter traces the land as a political medium from the first moments of nuclear colonisation to a history of Aboriginal acts of resistance. The chapter concludes with a conceptualisation of remediation as it pertains to the history and future of Maralinga, beyond the simple definition of land rejuvenation.

The practical component of this thesis situates a new photographic series alongside, and often in opposition to, an extensive collection of found media. Together, this material-media archive forms the basis for my conceptual insights on Maralinga. The archive is sampled throughout the thesis in Volume 1 and catalogued in full in Volume 2.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Nuclear colonialism, Australia, Maralinga, Woomera, British nuclear weapons testing, Maralinga Tjarutja

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


31 October 2020

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

08 Jun 2021 14:08

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2022 17:18


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