Fibro Asbestos Homes; A ticking time bomb.


Fibro asbestos homes; a time bomb waiting to explode.

It was to be the fulfillment of Australia’s promise to migrants; ‘You will end up owning your own home’.  In Australia dreams and aspirations are made of working towards ‘own home’. It worked for my parents but they were also, unwittingly, working towards a strong possibility of owning their own coffin in the bargain. It sounds a bit grim, therefore let me explain.

Before coming to Australia, as far as we were concerned, we owned a home. True, there was a lull in the event during WW2 when living in own home was often precarious with reckless sorties of planes flying overhead dropping incendiary devices that were decidedly anti home. But, by and large, people lived in own homes.

Actually, and speaking strictly, we did not ‘own’ home in as much as it was possible to own a shirt or underpants but we did own a home in the sense of having a secure roof over our heads that was indisputably ours. No one ever even thought of a possible owning of a pile of bricks and timber like you did when you bought a shirt or underpants. Most people lived and died in a home whose bricks and walls were owned by the government of the country or the city that one lived in.  It was never thought of otherwise and it never occurred that we were at risk of not being able to live there as long as we wanted. Titles of ownership were mostly unheard of.

After my parents arrival in Australia ‘owing a home’ was almost right from the start the main conversation between many new arrivals. First you bought own block of land and this would then be followed with building own house. This is what drove almost every migrant and was soon seen as the raison d’être for having migrated in the first place. First my father was perplexed by this new type of living whereby one had to buy a roof over one’s head. Why was it so different from Holland whereby a roof was considered something that you rented for life and never worried about having to buy it?

It was all a bit of a puzzle but soon ‘toute la famille’ were taken in by the fervor and own home rush, busy with working getting at least a ‘deposit’ together. The term ‘deposit’ was also something totally unheard of, as were people called ‘Real Estate agents.’ Dutch migrants that we met in this frenzied atmosphere of ‘own homes’ got together with my parents at week-ends and talked almost exclusively about deposits and estate agents, rates of interest on loans and The Dutch Building society that would give loans.

The memory of Schubert’s Lieder and my soft Margo now seemed so far away, unobtainable forever and ever and separated by oceans of dried salted tears.

How’s your deposit going was so much more of the essence now.

In a very quick time, and all Oostermans capable of working with lots of overtime being paid double or at week-ends ‘triple,’ a deposit was salted away and exploratory  train trips were made to many different suburbs of outer laying Sydney to investigate ‘own block’ of land.  Those trips were also sometimes made with a ‘Real- Estate’ agent. My dad thought it such a strange term. “Are there ‘Un-real Estate agents as well”, he would flippantly ask the agent?

At the late fifties, Shire-Councils closed an eye to migrants living on blocks of land with a garage on it. It was euphemistically called ‘a temporary dwelling.’ My mum spotted an advertisement of such a temporary dwelling in Revesby. Revesby then was on the edge of Sydney’s civilization, still unsewered but did have a pub in the making and most importantly was on a rail-line with a real station, schools and a church, even a fish and chips shop! I have never forgotten the salty potato scallops wrapped in “the Sun’ newspaper.

My dad put down the oft migrant’s feverishly debated ‘deposit’, and after a while the land and its asbestos sheeted garage was ours. Now, this is where the possibility of ‘own home’ with the possibility of ‘own coffin’ creeps in this rather philosophical discourse. Even as early as the late forties and fifties cases of a mysterious and deadly serious disease started coming in, especially from workers who worked in the Wittenoom asbestos mines of Western Australia.,_Western_Australia

However, the action on the link between asbestos and the 1948 diagnosed asbestosis was delayed and deliberately ignored. In fact, during the period that already had scores of victims of asbestosis Australia was building hundreds of thousands of houses sheeted externally and sometimes internally as well, with fibro cement asbestos sheeting. It was thought by bonding the dangerous asbestos with cement it would be a safe and cheap building product. We first lived in the 8 by 4 metres of unpainted and unlined asbestos sheeted ‘temporary dwelling and then for another 18 years in a small house made from the same asbestos fibro sheeted home. None of us succumbed to the dreadful asbestos induced cancer Mesothelioma. We were lucky. Not so were those having died so far or the untold who will continue to die in the future. Some price for ‘own home’!

In 1948, Dr Eric Saint, a Government Medical Officer, wrote to the head of the Health Department of Western Australia. He warned of the dust levels in the mine and mill, the lack of extractors and the dangers of asbestos and risk of asbestosis, and advised that the mine would produce the greatest crop of asbestosis the world has ever seen.

You can see, why I now feel that the dream of ‘own home’ could well have been a very nasty and expensive coffin for my parents and their children, which it has become and will continue for the tens of thousands still living in the asbestos containing cladded homes.

How come Australia doesn’t provide alternative accommodation to all who still live in asbestos containing fibro cement sheeted homes and give compensation to all the sufferers? After all, the Telstra fibro cement sheeted asbestos containing telephone pits are now the subject of huge turmoil and consternation. But, what about real people living in real danger?

How come it is so quiet on our western ‘own home’ front?

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

15 Responses to “Fibro Asbestos Homes; A ticking time bomb.”

  1. Lottie Nevin Says:

    I’ve long been aware of the perils of asbestos – it’s one of the few things that really freaks me out. You are quite right to question why the Australian government is not doing anything to remove people from these ‘time bomb’ homes.

    The legacy of asbestos sheeting used as cheap roofing and house material is a global problem. In Bali for example, broken asbestos sheets are found all along the lanes, small pieces ground down into dust are one of the perils of taking a walk down the street and yet nothing is done to clear it away. It’s all over Jakarta too.

    It makes me mad that it’s always the poor that have to suffer – as if their lives aren’t hard enough then to have suffer the indignity of a slow and painful death at the end of it is unforgivable – especially if it’s all down to a governments negligence.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      At the moment all is concentrated on the below ground pits where our largest listed telecommunication company Telstra is rolling out their national broadband network (NBN) into every home.
      It found out that many of those pits have been lined with fibro cement sheeting containing asbestos.
      There is now a huge blow up of concern that those working in the pits are exposed to asbestos. Australia loved this product even after it was found to be a lethal product that should have been banned when the dire health problems came to the fore.
      Yes, tens of thousands are living in homes built out of those sheets and there seems to be no concern. Very odd!


  2. Andrew Says:

    I am honestly amazed that this situation exists. It is gross negligence not to remove and replace the life-threatening material. I can just about understand why it still prevails in developing countries but not in Australia. Shocking.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, it is odd. But Australia has always been slack in banning unsafe products. It is a case of ‘free enterprise’ reigning above concern for people.
      It is called ‘capitalism’ at work.
      The fibro cement sheeting that lines the telecommunication pits are deemed to pose a significant health risk to the extent that billions were wiped off Telstra’s share price. Yet, people in homes built with the same material are soothed into believing that once a coat of paint covers the asbestos laced sheets that everything is OK.
      I think the Government is running scared of being sued.


  3. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    What a fascinating story Gerard! One city-owned gallery where I worked for a time had asbestos on the ceiling, which flaked off every time a nail was pounded in the side walls to hang a painting. It was even used by some home-builders her under the name of “popcorn” ceilings. You always share so much. Thanks.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      The asbestos was used for insulation and many other applications. The Navies around the world used it for lagging around hot water pipes. I believe, all around the world all asbestos has been removed from all naval vessels.
      In Galleries it was also used as an acoustic absorber sprayed on ceilings to give a whisper quiet ambiance, the greater to enjoy the beauty of the displayed art objects.
      Here one in 3 homes have been built using fibro cement sheeting that contains asbestos.


  4. cgfacevedo Says:

    Reblogged this on finediningandmore and commented:
    Beware of these houses. They’re not really homes. They death chambers in the making.


  5. Herman Says:

    I worked in multi storey buildings and the internal of air conditioning plant rooms on top level were usually sprayed with asbestos for whatever reason (sound deadening??). The NRMA building in Clarence St comes to mind as one. I am still here at 67 YO.
    I do believe that if painted & not disturbed the danger is minimal.
    Having said that, the ABC’s Dr Swan, was keen to move from Balmain when I advised him of his house having asbestos roofing !!


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      One wonders when those below ground telecommunication cable fibro pits are deemed so dangerous why that same concern is not applied to the 1 in 3 fibro asbestos homes that people live in.
      Of course those sheets are disturbed, each time a nail is driven in or re-painted.
      There was a segment on ABC TV yesterday whereby people donning complete space suits and full face masks were removing a fibro panel and scraping a ceiling. Don’t tell me that the average fibro home owner has access to space suits and oxygen hoses, full face masks etc.


  6. auntyuta Says:

    “With deep respect I dedicate this website to the memory of all those unfortunate victims of asbestos-caused diseases, and their families.

    Quoting a Kenyan proverb …
    “We do not inherit the earth from our parents, rather we borrow it from our children.”

    The principal aim of this website is to provide information on asbestos, its risk and to initiate programs to reduce the fourth wave of asbestos diseases which has already begun, and inevitably will become more insidious if exposure to asbestos in public and private buildings, schools and the environment is not abated.

    President of the Asbestos Diseases Society,
    Robert Vojakovic AM JP BCom
    Spokesperson for and on behalf of
    the Asbestos Diseases Society”

    Thanks, Gerard, for providing this link to Wittenoom. It lead me to the website of the above society.


  7. gerard oosterman Says:

    Thank you Auntyuta for your link to this one:


  8. Patti Kuche Says:

    Nothing Australians like more than their own “home” with a decent terracotta tile roof – from what I remember!

    Oh my God Gerard, Wittenoom, where children played amongst the huge piles, is such a tragedy. I hear there are different grades of danger associated with it, in that with asbestos roofing and walls, there is less danger than in the manufacture and the disposal. I don’t know but Australia is full of suburbs built out of the stuff. We know about asbestos now, what do we take for granted now that will be the scurge of the future? I only have to walk into a Walmart before I have to walk out again because of the overwhelming PCB’s floating in the air.


  9. hilarycustancegreen Says:

    Two notes: A couple of years ago I listened to a lecture on the use of asbestos in India – where it is not banned. In some areas, e.g. the slums in Kolkata, it is a much used building material, where is saves lives. The dangers from fire, and the low life-expectancy are such that succumbing to asbestosis becomes the lesser evil.

    In England my daughters bought a flat in London and discovered three different sorts of asbestos within the building. This had to be safely removed at great expense. Other flats in the same building still have this asbestos, and the landlords do not plan to do anything about it. They claim that as it is used to lag boxed-in pipes and other areas under the surface it is safe unless disturbed. I think this is criminal, but I believe they are legally untouchable.


  10. Those first two years of hard Yakka. | Oosterman Treats Blog Says:

    […] […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: