By Sasha Uzunov

In 1965 a United States Congressman Mr Henry Reuss raised questions over the value of a US Army funded medical and scientific project to study Indigenous Australians (also referred as Aborigines) and their survivability in hot, arid climates such as deserts.

The man entrusted with the project was a well known New Zealand born Australian medical scientist Professor W.V. McFarlane from Adelaide University.

An Australian press story at that time reported:

“Prof Macfarlane explained that the US army wanted to know the way Aborigines conserved their bodily moisture to survive in the extreme desert heat.

“Death in the desert was due mainly to circulatory failure which came from loss of water in perspiration, he said.”


To put it crudely, the US Army had forked out £18,000 Australian pounds (Australia’s currency went decimal to dollars and cents in 1966) to study sweating, perspiring in indigenous Australians and Papuans in Papua New Guinea, then an Australian external dependency before being granted independence in 1975. In today’s value £18,000 Australian pounds would be $580,000 Australian dollars.

The knowledge gained would help US soldiers in future conflicts in hostile, dry terrain, deserts, to survive.

The year 1965 marked the start of Australia’s combat involvement in the US’s war in Vietnam. US Congressman Reuss was a critic of that war. Whether his criticism of the US Army funded medical project was connected to that conflict or over possible ethical medical questions is unknown. What is known is that he regarded it as a waste of money.

Be that as it may, the study run by Professor McFarlane went from 1963 to 1973 and produced a 24 page final report for the US Army. How useful this ended up being is open to question. And perhaps US Congressman Reuss anticipated this in 1965.

The United States of America has its own large hot dry deserts in the southwest of the country bordering Mexico. It also has indigenous Americans (Indians) who lived in these environments. It would have already had information on survivability in hostile regions. Why examine Australia?

In essence, Prof McFarlane’s study , involved observing Australian Aborigines drink large volumes of water in one large very quick gulp and not going to the toilet often, cutting down loss of body fluids.

On face value, the study appears innocent. There is no mention of any experimental drugs being tested nor mind control experiments conducted. All those occurred in the 1950s and 1960s by the US military and CIA. It is well documented and known as MKUltra.

We do not know if any unofficial experiments were conducted, off the books so to speak. Professor McFarlane was involved, either directly or indirectly, in a 1950 scandal where orphans, both Aboriginal and white Australian, were used as guinea pigs in a medical experiment in Queensland, a state in Australia.

A controversial team member of McFarlane’s study group was Norman Tindale, a controversial Australian ethnographer, sociologist who conducted extensive research into indigenous Australian tribes in central and northern Australia. He is famous for mapping out the various tribes in Australia.

Tindale during the 1930s flirted with eugenics and was a one time admirer of Nazi German leader Adolf Hitler. Moreover, Tindale during WWII was a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) intelligence officer seconded to the US Pentagon as a military analyst and Japanese linguist. He played a significant role in selecting Japanese bombing targets for the then US Army Air Force to hit.

So he was a man completely trusted by the US military and intelligence. This would include the later Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

It begs the question but was the scientific study by McFarlane and assisted by Tindale a cover to conduct reconnaissance and surveillance of indigenous Australians and remote locations for possible future US military facilities, bases?

US SURVEILLANCE IN AUSTRALIA– of Indigenous Australian (Aboriginal) activists began in the 1950s- read more – declassified Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) file reveals some interesting details.

Dr Harry Bailey, a proponent of what became known as the controversial Deep Sleep treatment in Sydney, Australia in the 1960s, had links to the US CIA and its obsession with medical experiments over mind control. Therefore, It stands to reason that if white Australians had been guinea pigs then it wouldn’t be out of the realms of possibility for the US Army to be interested in indigenous Australians as medical subjects. We will never know for certain but there is some reasonable doubt.

Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, Sydney, Australia, 8 October 1988.