BACK TO ?THE SQUARE
SPECIAL REPORTS By JULIA ILES
DECADES onwards and the people affected by the Baryulgil asbestos mine still grieve for their dead.
And now the next generation who played as innocents in the sand pits of white dust are suffering cancer and other dust-related afflictions.
On Saturday around 50 met in the front yard of a house at Baryulgil, 85km from Grafton, under the gum trees to reunite and share what for some is still a 'fight for life'. Others, due to ill health, were unable to attend.
No-one apart from the health practitioners and lawyer who attended had escaped losing family.
The Baryulgil asbestos mine ran from 1944-76 and although it was owned briefly by Wunderlich and Woodsreef, its primary owner was Asbestos Mines Pty Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of James Hardie Industries.
Baryulgil workers and residents battled to be compensated due to the mine's ownership structure but on December 4, 2005 a landmark $4.5 billion agreement between the NSW Government and James Hardie recognised their claim.
It was difficult for the Baryulgil community to find a lawyer but present at the meeting was Stephen Smart, from Sydney, who had taken the case on a pro bono basis.
He addressed the group and said it would still be awhile before compensation would be available but at the moment they had 22 cases, which would be taken to the Dust Diseases Tribunal.
"It is still a long road to go and we have to get people to see specialists and get reports done so we can make claims for them," he said.
Many commented that the money would do little to absolve the pain of watching family members die.
Former champion boxer Tony Mundine lamented that the asbestos mine, only one kilometre north-west from Baryulgil Square, had decimated his side of the family.
"I've lost my father, the five uncles, all of my three sisters and two of my four brothers," he said.
"It's something you never really get over, and to walk through the graveyard knowing so many of the people who are buried there is just too hard to see. Money doesn't mean much when you look what the mine has done to the community, the ones who will receive it won't have long to live anyway."
He worked in the mine from 1975-79 and was diagnosed with spots on his lungs.
His brother Teddy Mundine, a tireless campaigner for the victims of asbestos, died only a month ago from leukaemia.
Teddy's widow, Kerry Mundine, said her husband's doctor had asked him if he had lived in third-world conditions.
She said she knew his cancer was caused by the asbestos, whether it could be proved or not.
Tony's son, champion boxer Anthony Mundine, arrived shortly after the meeting. He had lived at Baryulgil until he was four.
"The injustice of it all has been going on for too long. I haven't been affected, as I mostly lived in the city but watched so many people in my father's family die; I grew up with everyone talking about it," he said.
"Others who are still alive have asbestos-related diseases and have lost eyes; it's just a horrible situation and we are still fighting for justice here."
Brett Freeburn, 40, who flew from Sydney to be at the meeting, grew up at Baryulgil and has suffered many serious health problems.
"I have nasal pharyngeal cancer, my energy levels are really low after the radiation and I've had two collapsed lungs," he said.
He also has to wear a hearing aid and has problems with his legs.
"My Dad worked in the mine and would come home almost white from the dust, while my mother would wash his clothes. I remember visiting Dad at the mine and playing in the sand pits of tailings," he said.
Pauline Gordon brought up her children at Baryulgil.
"We told the children to play in the white dust as we thought it was cleaner than the red dust," she said.
"People from the mine used to deliver piles of tailings to each house for the kids and the street used to be completely white from the dust."