Australia 'Got to die of something': YouTubers dicing with death at Wittenoom

05:30  12 july  2018
05:30  12 july  2018 Source:

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Asbestos naturally occurs around Wittenoom, near Tom Price and Karijini National Park, which was why it was mined there decades ago.© Supplied. Asbestos naturally occurs around Wittenoom, near Tom Price and Karijini National Park, which was why it was mined there decades ago. Former Wittenoom residents have been left horrified by the emergence of pictures and video of tourists, families and mine workers treating the asbestos-riddled Pilbara site as a playground.

Wittenoom Gorge, the site of the old Colonial and Wittenoom mines, and the old Wittenoom townsite are all supposedly closed to the public.

They are classified as a contaminated site and declared by the Health Department as "not suitable for any form of human occupation or use".

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Road signs warn tourists about the danger and the Department of Lands website does not mince words: "STAY SAFE. DO NOT TRAVEL TO WITTENOOM," it says.

Shire of Ashburton staff are not allowed to enter the area without permission from the shire chief executive, must wear protective clothing if they enter the taped-off “hot zones” and undergo decontamination procedures when entering or leaving.

But the mine shafts are easily penetrated.

Lyniece Bolitho’s two grandfathers, three uncles and her father all worked in the blue asbestos mines in Wittenoom. All died of mesothelioma. Her father was 41 when he died.

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Ms Bolitho, now living in Albany, has been organising a public memorial in Perth’s Solidarity Park to remember those who lost their lives.

She began a Facebook group called Lost Wittenoom to collect photographic memories from the community, but was alarmed by the photos and videos emerging.

She saw parents, many from Tom Price and Newman, regularly take children swimming at Wittenoom Gorge.

“Relaxing drive and day out at Wittenoom!” one parent captioned a photo of their infant sitting in the water.

An old shaft in Wittenoom.© Supplied. An old shaft in Wittenoom. Mineworkers and 4WD enthusiasts post online videos of themselves in old mine shafts, emerging covered in blue dust.

Images and videos suggest people from neighbouring towns are charging tourists for walking and photography “tours” in the almost-ghost town, where only a handful of people still live.

Those starring in the amateur travel videos appear well aware of the dangers, even including warnings and pictures of the warning signs, but do not seem to take them seriously.

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“Be careful guys, bit of asbestos lying around,” says one in a video as he holds some of the deadly material up to the camera.

“Just found the core sample room,” another says inside one of the mines, just before a shot of airborne dust coiling in the torchlight.

Another camping blog describes walking through mine tailings and rocks containing asbestos.

“Fibres are easily teased from these specimens," they wrote. "I must confess that one of our number looked decidedly uncomfortable being in here (harden the hell up Scotty. You’ve got to die of something man!)”

Commenters question these decisions, but the lone response from a videomaker was that he had “done his own research” and decided to enter the mines regardless.

Wittenoom YouTube video showing dust in the torchbeam.© Supplied. Wittenoom YouTube video showing dust in the torchbeam. Ms Bolitho said she understood how the beautiful gorges and their pools were tempting for young families from hot dry towns but she found the risk-taking frightening.

She was also concerned by the promotion of Dales Gorge at Karijini National Park, which borders the hazard zone, as a tourist destination, despite the presence of asbestos-containing rocks.

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“Half these tourists are Japanese,” she said. “There are no signs in other languages.

“These young men ... think this asbestos thing won’t happen to them. The mine closed in 1966. They think that’s it, end of story.

“But my friends are still passing away. I was at a funeral two weeks ago.

"It’s slipped right down into the Fortescue river system so I don’t think it’s possible to clean it totally. But you can make it a lot safer and doing nothing is crazy.

"The Facebook page and the memorial are to shine a spotlight on a town where the government let us down. They’re still letting us down."

The Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage is responsible for the clean-up project, which a recent Auditor General report found had been stalled for years.

A department spokesperson said community safety was a priority and no one should travel to the former townsite of Wittenoom.

Wittenoom Gorge: a beautiful but dangerous choice for a day out.© Supplied. Wittenoom Gorge: a beautiful but dangerous choice for a day out. He said preventing public access was difficult given the scale and isolation of the 46,840-hectare area, including the former townsite, Wittenoom Gorge and Joffre Floodplain.

"The department has recently been made aware of informal travel groups travelling to the area, and is currently working with the Shire of Ashburton to respond to this," he said.

"Signage warning of the risks in the Wittenoom Asbestos Management Area is located on the public roads into the area, within the former townsite and in Wittenoom Gorge.

"Information for travellers warning of the risks in travelling to the former townsite has been provided to visitor centres and roadhouses near the area. Additional information on the Wittenoom Asbestos Management Area is available on the department’s website."

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