Yami Lester

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Early one morning in 1953, 1o-year-old Yami Lester was playing with a homemade toy when he heard a loud BOOM. The ground shook. Another four or five blasts followed, like gunfire. Then, an oily, shiny black mist moved slowly toward him from the south.

It was radioactive fallout caused by the detonation of Totem 1 at Maralinga, an atomic bomb set off by the British and Australian governments in the South Australian desert without the knowledge or consent of the Aboriginal people living there.

The fallout had a devastating impact. Yami and his community were overwhelmed by nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. Their skin broke out in angry lesions. They tore at their eyes, complaining of pain that left some temporarily or permanently blind. Yami lost sight in his left eye straight away. Before the decade ended, he was blind in the right eye as well.

Many who didn’t die from radiation-related sickness were eventually taken by dehydration, owing to their tainted water supply. But instead of rushing to the aid of the sick and injured, State and Federal government officials argued over who was responsible.

On this International @DayfortheTotalEliminationofNuclearWeapons , we remember Yami Lester who survived nuclear testing to become a courageous advocate for his people and an activist for a nuclear-free world.

Yami fought for public awareness of the unofficial, unacknowledged nuclear war against Aboriginal people.

He fought for both acknowledgement and compensation for the Aboriginals that were affected.

He fought to ensure that his ancestral lands be tested for radiation hazards, leading in 1985 to an extensive land cleanup operation.

He fought for the handing back of all lands to their traditional owners, most famously, Uluru -- as of this year, tourists are banned from climbing this ancient and most sacred monument.

Though robbed of vision, Yami Lester had greater sight than most people. A true #HistoryHero, was a force for good, whose resilience and tireless activism left an enduring legacy for future generations.

Yami died in 2017. He was 75. His life was marked by tremendous hardship, but WOW did he achieve a lot!

Every Aboriginal knows there is a great secret in the connection between humans and the land. It is a source of strength and a window into a different way of seeing.
— Anonymous

Who's Your #HistoryHero?

Do you have a personal hero we should write about?

Tell us in the comments or over on Instagram: @historyheroblast. We want to know who inspires you, your kids, your students!