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Growing up with Baryulgil's asbestos genocide

  • 14 September 2016


On 8 September the ABC's 7:30 revealed yet another heartbreaking story of just another person who has contracted an asbestos-related disease.

The disease is referred to as Mesotheliom, which is caused by exposure to white asbestos (chrysotile asbestos). It's generally contracted by people that have worked at, or lived near, James Hardie white asbestos mining sites across Australia.

The victim in the report was Ffloyd Laurie: a Bunjalung man from the Aboriginal community of Baryulgil, located just outside Grafton, New South Wales. Baryulgil is my home town.

Like the rest of the Baryulgil community, including my mother, uncles, nan and pop, Ffloyd worked and lived with no idea of the consequences and health risks caused by that asbestos. Those consequences have proven to be fatal already for my pop and many others from Baryulgil and elsewhere across Australia. Now Ffloyd has been diagnosed with the terminal illness.

While James Hardie operated a mine in Baryulgil, asbestos was a way of life in the town. My pop's (Ken Gordon) family were so poor when he was growing up that he was forced to leave school at the age of eight to work in the mine with his father so that he could bring extra income to support his family.

He recalled that he 'worked in the worst area, the bagging room, where emplyees shovelled pure asbestos dust/fibres into Hessian bags on a daily basis' and stated that 'dust levels were so extreme it was impossible to see the man next to you holding the bag open'.

My mother and her family went to school but the asbestos was never far away. Baryulgil Primary School was located across the road from a mine site and the school itself was not only built with the toxic substance, but was also used as a dumping ground for it.

The report showed a picture of the children diving into what looks like a pile of snow, but what is in fact asbestos. One of those children is my mother, Michelle Larkin. Other pictures show Ffloyde and the other Aboriginal children that attended Baryulgil Primary School playing in and around the asbestos — sometimes as small children, they would even eat it, having no idea how dangerous it was.


"My childhood consisted of frequently bunching into my nan and pop's car and travelling to strange locations for Dust Disease Board meetings attended by other affected elderly people, and a heap of strange lawyers."


My generation was luckier. By the time I