Between 1955 and 1963 the British Government carried out a series of nuclear and atomic tests at Maralinga in the remote western region of South Australia. The vast region in which the tests were conducted was declared a prohibited area with a village built within the prohibited zone at Maralinga, near Watson, to house the many military and scientific personnel along with a large number of support staff and workmen. Although the area was under the control of the Australian Commonwealth Government a request was made to the Commissioner of Police on the 10th June, 1955, “that a Police Constable be made available at the Construction Camp north of Watson on the 1st July for a minimum period of eighteen months”.
It was anticipated that the peak population would be one thousand construction workers. The request was approved by the Commissioner and on the 10th August, 1955, Constable Ian Grant transferred from Barracks to take up the position of Officer in Charge, Maralinga police station. He was issued with an Australian Military four-wheel drive Land Rover and was at first billeted in the Senior Mess near Watson at the Kwinana Construction Company Camp. On the 3rd December, 1955, Constable Grant transferred the police station from the Watson Camp to the Maralinga village. There the station comprised of an office, sleeping quarters and two heavy barred police cells. No charge was made for board and lodgings and all meals were provided free of charge at the Maralinga Officers’ Mess.
On the 18th January, 1956, Constable Frank Warner replaced Grant who returned to Adelaide. In September, 1956 the Maralinga police station was connected by hand operated trunk telephone. On the 7th January, 1957 the Deputy Commissioner of Police, John McKinna, reported that the Maralinga Range Commander no longer required the services of a police officer. The police station was subsequently closed on the 1st February, 1957.
In May, 1957 the Commonwealth Government again requested that a police constable be stationed at Maralinga and the police station re-opened. Consequently, on the 15th May, 1957, Constable Robin Craig was transferred from Peterborough to take up the position of officer-in-charge of the police station. He resided in the station premises previously occupied by Constables Grant and Warner. Again, board and lodgings, with all his meals were provided free of charge at the Senior NCO Mess.
On this occasion however, the Maralinga Range Commander, Colonel Durance declined to provide police with a vehicle. As a consequence the Police Department issued Constable Craig with a police B.S.A. Star Twin motorcycle with Dusting sidecar, commonly known as a ‘police outfit’. On the unsealed outback roads, it was said to be “Dusting by brand name and ‘dusting’ by nature”. In his memoires Robin Craig recalled, “I rode it around for a couple of weeks but it couldn’t handle the off bitumen work and the mudguard kept breaking. When Durance was told I was issued with a motorcycle and sidecar he nearly had a seizure. He told me its presence had already put the whole Atomic programme back 24 hours and we agreed that if I left it locked up he would supply me with a Land Rover”, which he promptly did. He further went on to recall, “There was very little actual police work to do at Maralinga, the main activity was going through the weekly Police Gazettes and finding names and faces of men who had mainly maintenance warrants out for their arrest. The number of civilian labour in the various campsites some miles outside of the main Maralinga village numbered well over a thousand”.
Although the police focus was on Maralinga and surrounding area, at times Constable Craig was required to travel to Cook, some 120 kilometres away to attend to calls for police assistance, as Woomera police were over 500 kilometres away in the other direction from Maralinga. During his time at Maralinga, Constable Craig was present when three atomic bombs were exploded in October and November of 1957.
By the 30th November, 1957, police presence was again no longer required and the Maralinga police station was formally closed on the 2nd December, 1957. Again Craig recalled, “I received instructions to crate everything up that belonged to the Police Department…left the Range once more on the B.S.A. for its train ride home, then caught the West/East express for Adelaide and a months leave”, thus ending a permanent police presence at Maralinga. Policing of the area subsequently became the responsibility of Tarcoola police.
Extract from the book “More Than Just Bricks & Mortar”, a reference book on the history of South Australia Police Stations 1838 to 2018 and Northern Territory 1870 to 1911 police stations by John White APM.