A HIGHLY radioactive Land Rover, perhaps even the one pictured at right, is buried at East Fremantle’s Leeuwin Barracks say three former Navy servicemen.
If true, the revelation could derail the defence department’s plans to sell the 14.3 hectare riverfront site.
John Shotton, who mostly goes by the name Jack, watched British scientists explode their country’s first nuclear bomb at the Montebello archipelago in WA’s north-west on October 3, 1952.
Having just finished a shift in the engine room of the aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney, Mr Shotton joined about 300 crew on the flight deck to see the explosion and giant mushroom cloud rise above Trimouille Island.
After the tests, he returned to Fremantle and was assigned to the HMAS Fremantle. Best mate Bob Smith was land-based at Leeuwin Barracks.
“After the bomb went off in 1952 certain stuff was bought back from the Montebellos on one of the ships and a Land Rover was one of them, and it was dropped into Leeuwin,” Mr Shotton last week told the Herald.
“One of Bob’s jobs was to strip it down, clean it and then reassemble it to be used again.
“But no matter how much he cleaned it, it was still contaminated.
“So they went behind the barracks, dug a big hole and buried it there.”
Mr Shotton concedes he never saw the vehicle, but Mr Smith had related the story at the time matter-of-factly and never changed it during their long friendship.
His mate died three years ago from stomach cancer.
“Bob was a fairly healthy guy, a non-smoker and a non-drinker,” Mr Shotton says.
“Even back then he didn’t smoke and only ever had a beer or two every now and then.”
Don Graham did see the Land Rover, and claims to have driven it around the sports oval at Leeuwin to see how long it would take to become safe.
The former electrician, who has since contracted asbestosis and suffers from lung cancer, says he didn’t witness the actual burial but it was common knowledge around the base.
Jeff Wake believes he had an encounter with the radiation coming off the Land Rover in 1964 while undergoing nuclear and chemical defence training at Leeuwin.
“The instructor … would arrange us in pairs and he had roped off a piece of lawn that he would ask us to walk over and if the geiger counter went off, we had to stand still,” Mr Wake told the Herald.
“The geiger counter went off the scale.
“We asked him what we should do; he said ‘get the hell out of there before you glow in the dark’.
“Somewhere in Leeuwin is a radioactive vehicle which was used at the British Montebello Island atomic testing and transported to Leeuwin and buried somewhere.”
Defence told the Herald it would look into the claims, but said it might take some time given the alleged events occurred more than 50 years ago.
• Correction: In a caption from last week’s report on Leeuwin’s sale Steve Grady was referred to as a former junior navy recruit. In fact, he was with the RAAF and is now involved in Fremantle Legacy.
by STEVE GRANT