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The mushroom cloud resulting from the Operation Hurricane detonation
The Montebello Islands, also known as the Monte Bello Islands, are an archipelago of around 174 small islands (about 92 of which are named) lying 20 kilometres (12 mi) north of Barrow Island and 130 kilometres (81 mi) off the Pilbara coast of north-western Australia. Montebello is Italian for "beautiful mountain". The islands form a conservation park administered by the Western AustralianDepartment of Environment and Conservation, and it is likely that the shallow waters around them will become a marine conservation reserve. The islands were the site of three nuclear weapons tests by the British military in the 1950s.
The islands of the archipelago have a collective land area of about 22 km2. The largest islands, Hermite (or Hermit) and Trimouille have areas of 1022 ha and 522 ha respectively. They consist of limestone rock and sand. The rocky parts are dominated by Triodia hummock grassland with scattered shrubs, while the sandy areas support grasses, sedges and shrubs, mainly Acacia. Patches of mangroves grow in sheltered bays and channels of the archipelago, especially at Hermite Island. The climate is hot and arid with an annual average rainfall of about 320 mm.
The first Europeans known to have seen the islands were the crews of a French Navy exploration expedition, led by Nicolas Baudin, in 1801. Baudin named Hermite Island after Admiral Jean-Marthe-Adrien L'Hermite and Trimouille Island after a French aristocratic family. There are inconsistencies in the naming of the islands in the accounts of the early explorers, and it has been suggested[by whom?] that later explorers mixed up the names of Lowendal and Hermite Islands.
An early reference to the islands is in 1622, when the English ship Tryall was wrecked just west of them. For years afterwards their approximate position was recorded on charts as the Tryal Rocks.
The islands were economically significant for pearl fishing from the end of the 19th century until the outbreak of the Second World War.
British nuclear weapons tests
The Montebello islands were the site of three nuclear weapons tests by the British military: one in 1952, and two in 1956.
While most subsequent British tests were conducted at sites on mainland Australia, in 1956 there were two further tests, on Alpha and Trimouille Islands respectively. The second of these, codenamed "G2", included the largest nuclear explosion in Australia, with a yield of 98 kilotons.
Fallout from the Montebello tests is reported to have contaminated areas of mainland Australia as far away as the Queensland towns of Mount Isa, Julia Creek, Longreach and Rockhampton.
Fornasiero, Jean; Monteath, Peter; and West-Sooby, John (2004). Encountering Terra Australis: the Australian voyages of Nicholas Baudin and Matthew Flinders. Wakefield Press: Kent Town, South Australia. ISBN1-86254-625-8
Horner, Frank (1987). The French Reconnaissance: Baudin in Australia 1801-1803. Melbourne University Press: Melbourne. ISBN0-522-84339-5.
Tuckfield, Trevor (1 August 1951). "The Monte Bello Islands". Walkabout, Vol. 17, No. 8. pp. 33-34.