In the 1950s, while still a young boy, he was blinded by a "black mist" from the south.
After the mist passed, his family's camp experienced sudden deaths, outbreaks of skin rashes, vomiting, diarrhoea and temporary and permanent blindness. Yami has said that some of the people were so weak they could not get down to the nearby waterhole and skim the black scum off the water which came from the black cloud, and actually died of thirst. It is generally accepted that this black mist was fallout from British nuclear tests at Maralinga and Emu Junction which were taking place at that time.
As a young man, he joined the Aboriginal Advancement League in Adelaide, however, he wanted to take more direct action, in the manner of Charles Perkins, probably the most prominent Indigenous activist at that time.
He began work for the United Mission, in Alice Springs, as a welfare worker and interpreter for the courts. He later became involved in the Institute of Aboriginal Development which was concerned with Aboriginal education and language. Yami took a great interest in cross-cultural issues and programs.
After a position administering business affairs for the Mimili community, Yami worked with the Pitjantjatjara Land Council on Aboriginal lands rights issues with the South Australian Government. He worked as an organiser and interpreter assisting the handover of freehold title to the Anangu people in 1981, which came about as a result of the Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Act, (SA).
His most significant contribution to the rights of Aboriginal people was helping gain recognition for the atomic tests at Maralinga and an acklowledgement for the Aboriginal people who had been affected.
His actions helped lead to the McClelland Royal Commission in 1985, which found significant radiation hazards still existed at the Maralinga test sites. Recommendations included group compensation for the Maralinga Tjarutja people and an extensive, long-term cleanup operation to restore the land.
- South Australian Government 
- Silence and speech: remembering South Australia’s nuclear history 
- Lester, Yami, Yami: The Autobiography of Yami Lester, (Alice Springs, Jukurrpa Books, 2000, ISBN 1-86465-025-7
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