Elizabeth Tynan Meet the Author

23 May 2022

6 -7 PM Monday May 23. Cinema . Kambri cultural centre ANU

Award-winning author Elizabeth Tynan, will be in conversation with Frank Bongiorno on Elizabeth’s new book The Secret of Emu Field, the story of a cataclysmic collision between an ancient Aboriginal land and the post-war Britain of Winston Churchill and his gung-ho scientific advisor Frederick Lindemann.

Emu Field, was the first mainland location where the British tested atomic weapons in October 1953. The Secret of Emu Field documents the mad scramble to set up the site at the Emu claypan in the South Australian desert, the cost-cutting measures of Churchill’s austerity Britain, the multiple atomic detonations, and the brutal aftermath. The presence of local Aṉangu people did not interfere with Churchill’s geopolitical aims and they are still paying the price with the atomic bomb detonation bringing death and sickness to Aboriginal populations.

The British undertook Operation Totem at Emu Field under cover of extreme remoteness and secrecy, a shroud of mystery that continues to this day. Emu Field was difficult and inaccessible. So why did the British go there at all, when they knew that they wouldn’t stay? And why is Emu Field considered the ‘Marie Celeste’ of atomic test sites, abandoned quickly after the expense and effort of setting it up? Emu was abandoned almost as hastily as it was established and there was a mass withdrawal of related British files from the National Archives in 2018.Tynan uncovers many previously unknown details, despite the fact that “the British government still keeps its Emu secrets suspiciously close”.

‘A must-read to understand a cold war history, an arrogant officialdom and an unfathomable desecration of Aboriginal land.’ — Larissa Behrendt

‘This important book brings back from the far edges of living memory the extraordinary story of Britain’s atomic bomb tests in Australia.’ — Henry Reynolds

ANU alumna, Elizabeth Tynan, is Associate Professor in the Graduate Research School of James Cook University. Her previous book Atomic Thunder: The Maralinga Story, won both the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Australian History and the CHASS Australia Book Prize in 2017. Associate Professor Tynan is a former journalism academic with a background in both print and electronic media, specialising in science writing and editing. She worked for the ABC as a reporter and subeditor and was later Sydney correspondent for New Scientist. She is co-author of the Oxford University Press textbook Media and Journalism: New Approaches to Theory and Practice, now in its third edition.

 Professor Frank Bongiorno AM, FR HistS, FASSA, FAHA is Professor of History at the ANU. Frank is the author or co-author of four books and many scholarly articles and book chapters on Australian history. The Sex Lives of Australians: A History (2012), won the ACT Book of the Year and was shortlisted in the Australian History category of the Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Award and the New South Wales Premier’s History Award. The Eighties: The Decade That Transformed Australia (2015) also won ACT Book of the Year and was shortlisted for the Ernest Scott Prize, the New South Wales Premier’s History Award and (CHASS) Book Prize. His new book Dreamers and Schemers will be published in November.

The vote of thanks will be given by Professor Joan Leach, Director, Australian National Centre for Public Awareness of Science. Her recent books include An Ethics of Science Communication (with Fabien Medvecky) and the co-edited volume Science Communication:  A Global Perspective.

This event is in association with Harry Hartog Bookshop. Books will be available for purchase on the evening in the Cultural Centre foyer. Pre-event book signings will be available from 5.30pm, and available again after the event.


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  • podcast will be made available after the event.

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