Anti-nuclear ‘dream team’ reunite

Wednesday was an emotional day for those involved in organising the Vaka ki Mururoa campaign against French Nuclear Testing back in 1995.

The day marked 20 years since passionate locals rallied together to promote an anti-nuclear Pacific, and five of those individuals came together to reminisce.

Brian Mason, Travis Moore, Peter Heays, Jolene Bosanquet and Cook Islands Voyaging Society captain Tua Pittman recounted the days they made history in our small nation.

“We did our best. We dared to care. We were part of the most amazing Pacific wide campaign,” said Bosanquet.

Nuclear weapons testing in Pacific waters occurred between 1966 and 1996 at Mururoa and Fangataufa in French Polynesia.

The number of tests performed has been variously reported as 175 and 181.

French president Jacques Chirac's decision to run a nuclear test series at Mururoa on September 5 and October 2, 1995 caused worldwide protest, including an embargo of French wine.

Riots took place across Polynesia, and the South Pacific Forum threatened to suspend France.

The Cook Islands Prime Minister of the time, Sir Geoffrey Henry agreed to send vaka Te Au O Tonga to Mururoa as a peaceful Polynesian protest, with some persuasion from Brian Mason.

Pitman and his crew heard the call and set sail again after only just returning from an epic voyage to Hawaii.

Travis Moore printed signs on every lamp post in protest to the President of French Polynesia, Gaston Flosse, on his visit to Rarotonga.

The signs, which read “Gaston Flosse, leave us as you found us – Nuclear Free”, were distributed by Bosanquet and her daughter Luana, who was six years old at the time.

Tim Arnold, a notable lawyer in the Cook Islands, climbed the bluff and put up a huge sign reading ‘Nuclear Free Rarotonga’.

Businesswoman and former Miss Cook Islands, June Baudinet, and a group of women flew to Papeete to participate in a protest march organised by Oscar Temaru.

When remembering the whole ordeal, Bosanquet says she can recall the very emotional departure of Vaka Te Au O Tonga from Avatiu.

She also recalled hearing French planes with their scare tactics, dive bombing the vaka crew at Mururoa over the radio at Peacesat.

“Thinking back to the whole thing is just very emotional,” she said.

“On September 6, the French detonated a nuclear bomb at Mururoa. The world heard the news in disbelief. How could one nation be so arrogantly dismissal of the concerns of the planet?  We wept.

Altogether six nuclear tests were conducted. The British didn’t complain as they had an agreement to receive the “results” of the tests, which would mean they wouldn’t have to test themselves.

“New Zealand has remained a nuclear-free country and the Cook Islands part of a nuclear-free Pacific.

There were no winners.   One country in the world, France,  lost respect .  How ever others , like the Cook Islands and New Zealand gained mana from their campaigns.  

The five history makers were animated as they sat over coffee and cake, sharing their memories of the historic campaign.