In the 1950s, hundreds of Fijian soldiers and sailors were involved in Britain’s nuclear test program in the central Pacific, codenamed Operation Grapple. They witnessed nine atmospheric nuclear tests conducted between May 1957 and September 1958 at Christmas (Kiritimati) Island and Malden Island in the British Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony (today, part of the independent nation of Kiribati). Thousands of British military personnel, together with 524 New Zealand sailors and more than 260 Fijian soldiers and sailors, travelled to the central Pacific to participate in this testing program. Today, many suffer from health impacts that they attribute to exposure to hazardous levels of ionising radiation.
Working with the Fiji Nuclear Veterans Association and a team of Fijian filmmakers, Nic Maclellan (co-author of an oral history of Fiji’s nuclear veterans 'Kirisimasi', veteran journalist/researcher in the Pacific islands) and Torika Bolatagici (Fijian Australian interdisciplinary artist, PhD candidate & Lecturer in the School of Communication and Creative Arts at Deakin University) are making a one hour documentary film about the history of the nuclear tests in 1957-58, letting Fiji’s surviving nuclear veterans tell their tale and describe the challenges they face today.
To mark the 60th anniversary of the tests in 2017, the film will include:
- interviews with Fijian veterans;
- interviews with the families of Fijian veterans;
- interviews with key Fijian historians, activists and academics;
- archival footage from Fijian media sources and the Imperial War Museum;
- military archival and vernacular photographs from the 1950s.
WHY THIS FILM NEEDS TO BE MADE
There is little international awareness of the British nuclear test program in the Pacific islands – Christmas Island is less well-known than Maralinga, Moruroa or Bikini – and even less knowledge about Fiji’s role in the Grapple tests. While there has been some recent news reporting about the experience of British and New Zealand nuclear veterans, there is no current film that draws together the stories of the Fiji veterans, their ongoing campaign for compensation or the day-to-day lived experience of their ongoing health issues – personally and those of their immediate family.
For a decade from the mid-1990s, the Pacific Concerns Resource Centre (PCRC) in Suva supported the Fiji veterans, through media outreach, campaigning and lobbying. This was highlighted by the 1999 publication of the book ‘Kirisimasi’, the first oral history of the Fiji veterans, published in Fijian and English. The book is now out of print (although co-author Nic Maclellan is currently researching a new book on Grapple, which will complement the documentary). Artists like Torika Bolatagici and Mohini Chandra and Christopher Stewart have addressed the nuclear tests in the Pacific in various artworks which have reached a different audience – and been discussed at artist talks/symposia. Torika’s work about the Fijian nuclear veterans has been published in Art Monthly Australia (2010) and exhibited in the Asia Pacific Triennial (2012) at Queensland Art Gallery - Gallery of Modern Art (QAG GOMA).
From 2004-2013, the veterans were involved in a long-running but unsuccessful legal challenge in the UK. With the 2015 decision by the government of Fiji to support their cause, it is timely to once again bring the story to international attention. A documentary film will enable a new audience to engage with the story of the veterans and ensure that their legacy continues, in a way that ephemeral (radio) and existing (print) media do not. Given the age of the surviving veterans, it is also important to document their story for future generations – a film will best capture the spirit of their long-running campaign for recognition, capturing the human impact of the nuclear era.
You can read more about the filmmakers, and how funds raised will be spent, on the film's crowdfunding campaign page.
Follow 'Kirisimasi' Film on Facebook here.
Text & images from Kirisimasi Pozible campaign.
Image 2: front cover of an oral history of Fiji’s nuclear veterans, Kirisimasi - Na Sotia kei na Lewe ni Mataivalu e Wai ni Viti e na vakatovotovo iyaragi nei Peritania mai Kirisimasi (PCRC, Suva, 1999). Co-authored by Nic Maclellan with Losena Salabula and Josua Namoce.
Image 3: Co-producer Torika Bolatagici - Fijian Australian interdisciplinary artist, PhD candidate & Lecturer in the School of Communication and Creative Arts at Deakin University.