by Kara Douglas
This is a novel, but closely based on historical fact. It was written in response to the author’s own father dying from mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos fibres while working in the asbestos mines in Wittenoon, a town in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.
It is told through the eyes of a young Italian man Abele, Maria, and later, their daughter Luciana who along with hundreds of others, were recruited to work in the mine.
They were promised wages sufficient to set them up for life, had their fares paid to Australia, and provided with a company house in a town built for the mine by the government. They overcame the outback heat, working doubled over in mine shafts one metre high, constantly covered in dust and fibres and built a life for their families. The town grew to 20,000 people, with schools, medical centre and pub.
What they were not told was that the company knew of the dangers of asbestos, and were deliberately ignoring the safely regulations and the advice of safety and health inspectors in order to make the most profit possible.
The story tells of the experiences of the family while living in Wittenoon and their later life in Perth, culminating in the precedent-setting civil law case, brought by Abele against the owners of the mine.
Two thousand of the former inhabitants of Wittenoon have died from asbestos disease, making this town one of Australia’s worst environmental sites. It reminded me very much of the Erin Brockovich story.
The author’s strategy of telling each chapter in the person of one of the characters makes the book a fast-moving and easy read, a sad tale of deceit and unnecessary death.
It is well worth the price.
Author: Kara Douglas
Publisher: Redust Publishing