Beyond ground zero - Regional News | Connecting Wellington
Tere Tahi | Issue 220

Tere Tahi

Beyond ground zero by Alessia Belsito-Riera

In 1957 and 1958, the British government carried out a series of nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific. Codenamed Operation Grapple, personnel from the New Zealand Navy were directly involved in witnessing the detonations and collecting weather data as close as 37 kilometres from ground zero.

Operation Grapple – We were there is an exhibition by photographer Denise Baynham that honours and recognises those veterans. Nearly 60 years later, Baynham photographed and interviewed the nuclear test veterans in their own homes to tell their story then and now.

Operation Grapple has sadly left a long-lasting legacy for the New Zealand nuclear test veterans involved that will affect their future generations for years to come”, Baynham says. “A leading scientific study undertaken by Massey University produced irrefutable findings that the veterans’ DNA had been fundamentally altered by their exposure to nuclear testing”.

The highly praised exhibition that now fills Parliament’s art gallery space Te Papakura until the 11th of July features 19 of the veterans, with each portrait and story building a powerful articulation of this little-known chapter in our history.

By photographing these veterans in their home environments they are no longer just names on documents”, Baynham continues. “Each veteran could be your father, grandfather, or neighbour and it humanises this story and makes it very real”.

With many of the veterans and their families having experienced serious health problems, Baynham’s intention is to share their perspective. “Stories connect us, shape us, and it is important that we do not let the past slip away.”

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« Issue 220, May 21, 2024