Banjima elders are demanding the removal of three million tonnes of asbestos tailings left in Wittenoom Gorge in Western Australia. The Banjima people now have one of the highest mesothelioma mortality rates worldwide thanks to asbestos contamination in their own country.

Banjima Elders Demand Removal of Asbestos Tailings from Wittenoom Gorge

According to Banjima elder Maitland Parker, the asbestos tailings are still disturbingly accessible. “You can drive right up to where the tailings are — to within three metres of it,” he says.

This poses a hazard not just to tourists but to the traditional owners themselves. For one, tailings remain piled up a few hundred meters away from a waterhole where Aboriginal families often go fishing and swimming.

Also, most other parts of Banjima country have been leased or turned over to Karijini National Park. Wittenoom Gorge is one of the few patches of land left to the Banjima people. However, traditional owners expose themselves to crocidolite tailings whenever they visit the gorge, infamous for being a major asbestos mine.

A government report from 1994 called the Wittenoom Gorge contamination “disgraceful, even by the standards of the day.” Another report in 2006 maintained the extreme exposure risks that the site posed to both visitors and traditional owners.

Despite these reports, the government has yet to take steps for asbestos remediation in Wittenoom Gorge. “We did make recommendations but the government didn’t really listen,” says Maitland Parker. “It just fell on deaf ears.” Because of this, the board of the Banjima Native Title Aboriginal Corporation is now considering filing a case against the state government.

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