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PacificEdge | March 28, 2017

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The white aircraft

Russ Grayson

A CHILD’s LIFE IN BRISBANE towards the end of the 1950s was prescribed by the particular urban geography its family inhabited. That was usually limited to the route taken to and from primary school and by the social relationships the parents had. Friends in those days were local because there simply wasn’t the mobility that children today enjoy. Life was lived in a territory defined by the immediate neighbourhood and the route taken to school, with occasion forays into the city.

That’s how I remember it, anyway, but I have to admit that it’s a generalised memory probably composed of bits of experience remembered for some reason or for no particular reason at all. Given this geographic insularity it’s understandable that a family excursion to an air base would be something memorable to a young child although that child had visited that base on a number of occasions. But there’s one thing I do remember quite clearly on on of those visits, and it’s an aircraft… a strange white aircraft parked off the airstrip at the Air Force base. Why I remember it was because, as my father and I stood close to it, he spoke to me about it in a tone that was quite guarded and that gave the impression of a certain caution… a certain uncertainly.

Nose in the air

My uncle was a Squadron Leader in the Air Force and every so often the family would go to the air base at Amberly where he was based. The base was near Ipswich, then a town separate from Brisbane. There I would ask about the aircraft we could see.

One day—I think it must have an open day at the base—we stood in front of what seemed to me a huge, four-engined aircraft painted bright white. The aircraft rested on its tailwheel so its nose stuck high into the air. I looked up to the cockpit where I could see the perspex canopy. My father told me told it was something called a Lincoln.

But why, I wondered, was there a barrier all around it? And why did my father tell me we couldn’t go any closer? This I asked him as we stood there just a few meters from this fenced-off white aircraft.

“Oh”, he replied. “There is this place called Maralinga and the Lincoln has been down there… and when it was there it flew through the mushroom cloud of a nuclear weapon test”.

This white aircraft was hot, in a plutonium sort of way.