There have been well over 2,000 nuclear explosions worldwide since 1945, and that’s been brought home by Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto in a chilling animation, that went viral a few years ago:
Australia hosted nuclear tests on its soil in the 1950s and early 60s, with the effects of the “black mist” still being felt.
However by the mid-1990s, Australia thought nuclear tests were something that happened in very distant lands – until Jacques Chirac was elected French President in 1995.
Chirac resumed nuclear atoll explosions in the South Pacific, and Australians were among those getting angry – in a way that’s quite different to the social media protests of today.
It was a brave person who left their new Citroen, Peugeot or Renault parked outside on a city street in 1995 – I recall reports of damage to French cars. As well, some restaurants with French names changed them, to keep customers and stop vandalism.
And, as detailed in the book “A Brief Madness: Australia and the Resumption of French Nuclear Testing” by Kim Richard Nossal and Carolynn Vivian, even businesses that offered “french polishing” found themselves receiving angry phone calls.
There was also a campaign called “Fax the French on Fridays”, designed to tie up the fax lines of the French government and its diplomatic missions.
TV star Andrew Denton, who hosted a late night show on the Seven Network at the time, had two tonnes of manure dumped on the driveway of the French embassy in Canberra. Newspapers included headlines like the Sydney Morning Herald’s “Merci, for our radioactive blanket”.
Sales of Renaults fell 30 per cent off an already low base, and the brand left Australia in 1996 (for 4 years) amid a dispute with its distributor. The nuclear tests ended in the same year.
I was reminded of this Aussie anger, when I saw a silver automatic 1992 Renault 19 for sale on eBay in 2013. It had a starting bid of $300, and I ended up being the only bidder.It had been bought new by a Melbourne woman (for $28,000 in 1992!), and her son was selling it on the Gold Coast after her death. It had just over 100,000 kilometres on the clock, and had clearly escaped any anti-French vandalism. However, it had rust bubbles starting at the rear.
The Renault was being sold unregistered (although it still had Victorian rego on it) because a broken indicator and stone-chipped headlight needed replacement. It came with a new blinker, but the son didn’t want to change it over. So, after some post-eBay negotiations, the sedan (called a Chamade by Renault) was delivered to my door for a hundred or so more, where the plates were removed.
I’d never taken much notice of the Renault 19, but our family had experience with the brand: In the mid-2000s we bought a secondhand 2003 Scenic (at a great price from a dealer, because few people knew about them) which we’d found to be very cleverly designed and great to drive.
The 1992 Renault 19 was, however, very conventional in design (except for putting the electric window switches on the dashboard centre), and hardly a brisk drive, despite its 1.7 litre engine.
But sitting in it, everyone was struck by how soft, yet supportive and ultimately armchair-like the seats were.
Replacing the blinker housing was simple, involving just the release of a plastic hook by the back of the headlights. It took minutes. A wrecker supplied me with a replacement headlight, which went in easily too. I also sprayed some sealant inside the boot, to slow the rust bubbles.
I drove the Renault locally for a few months, and put it up for sale. Seeing as I hadn’t paid much for it, the asking price was good for an air-conditioned low-kilometre automatic. Soon, a fellow who was buying on price instead of brand rang about it, then had his mates drop him off by the highway near my place. I met him there, and we took it for a drive on the highway. Then he paid up and dropped me home.
I reckon the Renault 19 is now an old bomb, if it’s even still on the roads. Meanwhile, it’s estimated that the plutonium 239 at Mururoa Atoll will be toxic for 240,000 years.