It was with great sorrow that Friends of the Earth learnt of the passing of Yami Lester in July. Yankunytjatjara Elder, atomic test survivor, Aboriginal rights activist, father, grandfather and great-grandfather, Yami’s voice and support will be sorely missed.
Many Friends of the Earth anti-nuclear campaigners got to meet Yami over the decades. On occasions we would stay with him at Wallatina ? in the far north of SA ? as part of our Radioactive Exposure Tours or on our way to Australian Nuclear Free Alliance meetings in Alice Springs. The last time some of us got to visit Yami at Wallatina was in September 2016 ? we were working with Aboriginal communities to stop the SA government’s plan to dump the world’s high-level nuclear waste on Aboriginal land to improve the state’s economy.
Yami lost his sight as a result of one of the British atomic bomb tests in SA in 1953. Speaking on ABC radio in 2011, he said: “I was a kid. I got up early in the morning, about 7:00am, playing with a homemade toy. We heard the big bomb went off that morning, a loud noise and the ground shook. I don’t know how long after we seen this quiet black smoke ? oily and shiny ? coming across from the south. Next time we had sore eyes, skin rash, diarrhea and vomiting everybody, old people too.”
Along with Maralinga veteran Avon Hudson, Yami was responsible for the formation of a Royal Commission in the 1980s that shone a light on the atomic crimes of the British government, the spinelessness and culpability of state and federal governments, and the ugly racism that pervaded everything to do with the atomic bomb tests.
As a young man, Yami joined the Aboriginal Advancement League in Adelaide. He was also central to the work of the Pitjantjatjara Council that led to the grant of freehold title to traditional owners in SA.…