Posts Tagged ‘Asbestos’

The throwing of a geographical Dart in Sydney.

May 16, 2015

IMG_20150503_0002This photo taken after the house was built on our own block. Mother’s sister ‘Agnes’ on a visit, then  Frank, my father, Herman with cat, my mother. Seated are sister Dora with cat and Adrian with a dog. 1960 perhaps!

 

While the distance to rail-station and shops were all important as well as owning own block with having a temporary dwelling (garage) for living in, the social aspects of a particular area were totally unknown. I don’t think this was at all considered. It was all to do with practical objectives and affordability. Comparisons with other Dutch migrants generally were about price, distance from infrastructure and size of the own block. Driving around it all looked rather the same with well kempt lawns and nodding petunias being prominent. Liking or disliking a certain area because of a ‘milieu’  or making a choice between any social and cultural  differences, if any, did not feature between migrated people that were lucky enough to have at least made it to getting a place to move into, no matter how humble or culturally isolated it might be.

Within a few weeks after moving in our own garage, a lean- to was built between our garage and next door fence which increased the liveable space with an extra 50%. A huge difference.  The corrugated asbestos sheeting  had not been pushed under the existing roof sheeting far enough. Each time it rained heavily the water would bank up and run back and into the lean to and above the bunks. Herman and I slept on the lower beds but John and Frank were not so lucky.

Rain (etching)

Rain (etching)

 

Dad who wasn’t very handy, had pinned  plastic sheeting above the bunks and underneath the corrugated roof sheeting against the wooden rafters. He was hoping the water would just run down the inside of the plastic sheeting and somehow flow outside again between the gap of the fibro wall sheets and the top timber plate. However, the slope of the roof and plastic sheeting wasn’t acute or steep enough and water would well up in  frighteningly large bubbles, inches above the peacefully sleeping bodies. In winter with the outside just four millimetres away, it wasn’t very nice when this bubble would spill and flood the unsuspected  sleepers. Of course during day-time rain, mum would relieve the water bubble by pushing it upwards and out. In time we all took  responsibility by waking in turns to relieve this water flood emergency above the two bunks. During heavy rain I could not be bothered and just sat in a chair all night, watch the water bubbles swell up and then relieve the threat giving the others a reasonable sleep. It was a good time for melancholia to thrive  and ponder reflections of past and possible futures..

Hand coloured etching.

Hand coloured etching.

If you look at the previous article photo where we are all in beds and on the floor you might have noticed a curtain. This curtain would be drawn with all the floor mattresses tucked in between the beds at the back of the garage and out of sight. This would then create a small lounge/dining / kitchen area. At night four boys slept in the lean-to which also kept the trunks with our clothing. At the other end of the garage opposite my parents bedding (and Dora and Adrian’s) there was a small electric stove with one hot-plate and underneath a minuscule oven. My mother cooked the most amazing meals on this miniature electric stove/ oven. We were hungry. Above this little stove was the electric hot water for the trickle shower. Next to the sink was the shower cubicle. My father (who wasn’t very handy) had jammed a round stick between the rickety shower walls to hold up a plastic shower sheet strung from plastic rings. It wasn’t unusual for someone to take a shower while mum was working above the stove creating a magic meal, for the shower curtain to collapse spontaneously.  This would be met with howls of laughter from all of us but not  the hapless victim standing in the nude just a metre or so away from our steaming meal.

In the evenings, the boys had to do home-work but as a reward would listen to a radio play, ‘ The adventures of Smokey Dawson’. They were the events of the week over the whole of Australia syndicated over more than a hundred radio stations.  Isn’t it amazing how we were spellbound by  voices telling a story over the radio?

Table setting. Hand coloured etching.

Table setting. Hand coloured etching.

We met the neighbours within a few weeks. Again it was our mother who made the move. She was fearless and despite speaking mainly in Dutch she would knock on the door. It has to remembered that houses in Australia are rather private. Dad wondered why the houses had windows! The whole street’s housing was uniformly barred from the inside and outside by sternly refusing anyone to get an inkling of what might be going on inside. Not a movement would ever escape to the outside. At night one could sometimes detect a sliver of faint light escaping through obstinate Venetian blinds, double backed up by layers of white lacy material and for extra security and more darkness, heavy curtains. It wasn’t easy to break through but our mum wasn’t to be deterred. She made friends. Years later after my parents moved back for good to Holland and on a trip back to Australia and their former home, the neighbours organised a surprise party for them. They remembered her efforts in bringing not only the neighbours together but also together in the sense that some would live with open  curtains and have  proper sit-downs with cups of tea.

She made a difference.

 

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Those first two years of hard Yakka.

May 15, 2015
Fibro garage. Our first 'temporary' home.

Fibro garage. Our first ‘temporary’ home.

The above photo taken after moving in own first home. Brother John (deceased) at front, mum and dad with glasses together (single bed), sister Dora on floor.  Smiling Frank on top right and Herman and Adrian on left top and bottom right. The mattress at front was ‘temporary’ vacated by me taking the picture.

The garage was 8 by 4 metres.

The move from the old house to our own block of land with garage (Temporary Dwelling) was achieved after much searching by my mother scanning the  ‘Blocks of Land” for sale in Newspapers. Enough money had been saved and even though my Mum’s English was very poor, that was no hindrance. She would just speak Dutch with a few English sounding vowels thrown in. Through week-end meetings with other migrants, the fever of achieving this first goal had bedded down. Inquiries of deposits and how getting a loan was made ‘easy’ by building societies was now well understood by our mother. Estate agents were taken on who would drive her around to the different blocks for sale and her appraisal. She would be quick to measure distance to nearest railway station and distance from the city. The closest to city and station, the more desirable and also more costly.

Sydney already then was spread out over an area almost the size of Holland and with everyone feverishly seeking own house on own block it doesn’t take a genius to understand why suburbia reigns in Australian cities like nowhere else. Ownership of a car then becomes as essential as sleeping on a mattress. Selling blocks of land and cars was a main ingredient and driving force for a future prosperous Australia. It still is.

We were totally swept into having to buy/build our house after arriving in Australia. To be able for most to achieve this, housing was made from as cheap a material as possible, hence the thin sheeting to  clad the houses both inside and outside making them not much more than windbreaks. The asbestos cement sheeting was at the forefront of  those cheap building materials. It had and still has dire consequences. In Australia there are hundreds of thousands of ageing homes clad with that material.

https://oosterman.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/fibro-asbestos-homes-a-ticking-time-bomb/

The day of moving in our first dwelling is still etched into my mind like nothing else (apart from my first juvenile experiences of ‘ female bush and breasts). All our belongings were piled on a truck with driver. They must have been hired for the day. It was much more than we thought. The four steel trunks, all our bedding and washing machine, the ice box and six children’s clothes and bits and pieces that we had acquired during the six months or so we had stayed with our friends.  All were piled on the truck including Dad who had to try and prevent our belongings from getting blown off during the trip to our new place. He was spreadeagled on top of the truck with  arms and legs flailing trying to keep all on the truck. The truck drove off and I can still see my dad thrashing about on his back.

We moved in and mum and dad must have been busy to prepare all the bedding. Us kids were so proud and would walk backwards and forwards over the own block of land like eighteenth century barons inspecting a newly inherited farm in Bavaria. There were no more rats, no three legged dogs and we were on our own. Dad had even survived the trip on the back of the truck.

Japanese Windflower.

March 20, 2015
Japanese Windflower

Japanese Windflower

The Japanese Windflower’s time has arrived and together with Salvia are now reclaiming our garden. I got up this morning brimming with confidence and after a quick coffee with toast, decided on teaching the struggling bit of our lawn a lesson. We already spoke about it yesterday while sipping a red together with Milo who uses the time to create havoc and cruel deaths amongst the lizards that are scurrying around the pine chips and chards of pottery that we allow the garden to reclaim. The lawn of just a few square metres will have to go. Lawns and us were never meant for each other and I have often written about this in a querulous, contemptuous and impertinent way. It dates back to childhood, as almost everything in our lives does. Even if it doesn’t, it comes in handy when getting therapy or  in the confessional. Use it!

Soon after our arrival in 1956, and moving into our own fibro- asbestos sheeted home on own block of land in a suburb so far flung from anything, especially from people walking  along boulevards, or  sightings of a  book, hearing music played, or wild tempestuous dancing,  that growing lawns was about the only activity left for people to get excited and stimulated by.  We all had to be so strong and resist losing the will to keep going.

Of course at week-ends, when reading, music or wild dancing could be engaged in, many a bum would be sticking up above the sacred lawn. I thought then that it might have been a form of doing praying to a God. No, not at all, we were living in the thick of a hedonistic lot, no robed Evangelical homage or Islamic obeisance to anything here. It was plucking out unwanted foreign- imported grasses. It was revered as a national monument;  “A must suffer, do the lawn at the week-end.”

photoJapanese windflowers

You can see ,  grass and I hit it off badly, right from that early start. So, I finally went out early this morning;  roosters were crowing, eggs being laid and the garbage man doing the rounds. I bought eleven large bags of chipped hardwood mulch. Helvi and I spread it  ( with glee) over that little struggling bit of lawn which despite lawn fertilizers and lime, all sorts of different grass runners, refused to do much except being a source of annoyance and bad memories revivals all those years ago. I know many love lawns but this ardour of growing grass remained unrequited.

Those few square metres of ex-lawn now look just right, it ties and unites both sides of the garden. We sat there and it has good ‘feng shui’. The colour is a muted brown grey, a bit like the forest floor at late autumn when all colour has been leached out of the fallen leaves in preparation for a winter. The cheer of the lovely dancing Japanese Winter flower became even better…

Goodbye lawn.

Fibro Asbestos Homes; A ticking time bomb.

June 10, 2013

imagesCAU96KL6

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.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wittenoom,_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?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesothelioma