Australia in the 1950s

Nuclear power

In 1952, Britain exploded an atom bomb in the uninhabited Monte Bello Islands off the north-west coast of Australia. Not long after, the Australian Atomic Energy Commission was established with the power to research and undertake uranium exploration and operate generating plants.

In June 1953, the British and Australian governments jointly announced that the British government was developing atomic weapons and would be testing them in Australia. The tests that lasted ten years began in October at the test site at Woomera in South Australia.

In September 1954, Menzies opened the first uranium treatment plant, and regular uranium shipments to Britain and the USA began. A year later, the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor and research centre was constructed near Sydney. It became operational in April 1958.

In September 1956, the first testing of nuclear weapons began at Maralinga, part of the Woomera Prohibited Area in South Australia. The traditional owners of the land, the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara peoples, were not consulted about the testing and most were forcibly removed to a newly established mission, which became known as Yalata.

A snapshot of 1958

  • January
    • The first Opera House lottery is held in NSW to raise money for its construction.

  • February
    • The Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginals (FCAA) is established and later included Torres Strait Islanders.
    • Among its leaders are Faith Bandler and Chicka Dixon, and the poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker).

  • August
    • Herb Elliott sets a world record in the mile distance race (3:54.5) at Morton Stadium in Dublin, Ireland.

  • September
    • The ANZAC Day Act 1958 receives Royal Assent, making Anzac Day (25 April) a national public holiday in Australia.

  • October
    • Sir Douglas Mawson, Antarctic explorer and geologist, dies at the age of 76.

  • November
    • The first television episode of Bandstand, hosted by Brian Henderson, goes to air on TCN-9.


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