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Distant Voices -- Dennis O'Rourke interview

Video clip synopsis – Producer and director Dennis O'Rourke believes Bikinians did not fully understand why they left their home in the 1940s.
Year of production - 2005
Duration - 5min 57sec
Tags - Bikini Atoll, DIY Doco, energy, environment, human environment, Marshall Islands, nuclear energy, nuclear weapons, Pacific region, see all tags


Distant Voices -- Dennis O'Rourke interview

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About the Video Clip


This interview with Dennis O’Rourke was recorded for the Pacific Stories website produced in 2005.

Dennis O’Rourke is known internationally for his films which include Cunnamulla, Cannibal Tours, The Good Woman of Bangkok, Landmines – A Love Story and the soon to be released I Love a Sunburnt Country.

Pacific Stories is a co-production between Film Australia’s National Interest Program and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Presented by Vika and Linda Bull, the project explores the geography, history and culture of the South Pacific.

Curriculum Focus


Historical knowledge and understanding

Students analyse significant events and ideas shaping world history in twentieth century

Other Links to VELS
Physical, Personal and Social Learning Civics and Citizenship – role of global organizations in responding to international issues.

Interpersonal Learning – Communication – relationship between language and power through interpreting speeches.

This material is an extract. Teachers and Students should consult the Victoria Curriculum and Assessment Authority website for more information.

Background Information


Dennis O’Rourke, the producer and director of the film The Marshall Islands — Living with the Bomb, speaks about why he decided to travel to the Marshall Islands to make this film. One of O’Rourke’s motivations was the region’s isolation which meant it was largely ignored by international media with little reporting on US activities there over the years.

In the 1940s the residents of Bikini Atoll were evacuated so the United States could conduct a series of atomic tests. O’Rourke believes the Bikinians could not have understood the impact the atomic testing would have had on their livelihoods — despite consultation with US representatives ahead of the evacuation.

Today Bikini Atoll is rated one of the top diving sites in the world. Part of its appeal is that divers can explore the nuclear graveyard of famous battleships sunk during the bomb tests. But the people of Bikini remain scattered throughout the Marshall Islands and the world as they wait for the cleanup of the atoll.

In 2001, the Nuclear Claims Tribunal determined damages to be paid to Bikinians. There is not enough cash to honour the award and the money awarded is not adequate to fund a full radiological clean-up of the entire atoll. It is left to the Bikinians to petition the US for more money. A decision is expected to take some years. In December 2003, President Bush signed the new Compact of Free Association with Marshall Islands and Micronesia, worth $3.5bn over 20 years.The US keeps its military base on Kwajalein Atoll, and it is a vital part of the US missile defence shield tests.

More than five decades on, O’Rourke believes the Bikini community is still struggling to come to terms with their displacement.

Classroom Activities

  1. The video clip draws on archival footage of the interaction between the US and Bikini people. Why do you think the interaction between the US and Bikini people was filmed? What purpose would this serve and how is this linked to developments in the US at this time? Who was used in the film?
  2. Analyse the speech and language used in the video narration as well as the ways in which the US persuaded the Bikini people to leave their atoll. In what ways is the video narration biased towards the atomic testing? What was promised to the Bikini people by the US?
  3. How did the US plan to bring the Bikini atolls back to life and allow for the people to relocate there? What was their thinking and process of relocation? What is the role now of the United Nations in the Marshall Islands and in particular to the Bikini people? Will money solve this problem?

Further Resources


Go to Pacific Stories Learning for Interactive Compass Map with facts about the Pacific region.

For interview transcripts, books and references for this Digital Resource go to Pacific Stories, choose Living with the Bomb, select INDEX, and go to MORE INFORMATION.