A town of three residents, a bad reputation and a fear of contamination is what you will find if you research the Pilbara Town of Wittenoom.
Wittenoom was a town of about 20,000 people back in its hay day of the 1960’s and was the largest town in the Pilbara area. It is a town that is no longer mentioned on maps, and seems to be a place that the Perth State Government, and the Australian Government are trying to remove from the history of Australian Mining.
You see, Wittenoom is a town where Asbestos was mined, it was where all Blue Asbestos came from in Australia, and the streets were paved in the tailings from the mine. Families moved here for work, there were shops, a camp ground, a guest house and even a gem store.
The town was shut down in 1966 due to the growing health concerns of Asbestos, and literally abandoned overnight by the mine and majority of its residents.
There are three residents currently living in the town, and they have lived there for many years. Not one of them if showing signs of Asbestos illness, and all are quit happy to see their days out there. They do so without the supply of power, water or telephone lines, thanks to the government removing all services in 2007. The same year the town was degazzeted and removed from our maps – however it was on our big map on the wall!
So, after much research, watching a few television shows on the location, reading all the warnings and research, talking to locals, we made the decision to take a trip out there. We found out that all the streets had been repaved with bitumen, covering the original blue asbestos roadway.
On the way we discussed the history of the town, we talked about the dangers still present, such as the piles of tailings and we informed the kids that they were not to dig any holes, play with the tailings or lick any rocks and all would be fine.
On the way, we saw a Dingo, drove through the Hemersley Gorge and traversed some very nice red, dusty corrugated road ways. We marvelled at the rock formations, and saw plenty of wild flowers and the bird life was abundant.
We arrived at Wittenoom to find several houses still standing, the Guesthouse and the sign to Caravan Park/Camp Ground are all still there. The amenities blocks for the camp grounds were still standing. Sure, all the buildings are made from asbestos materials – just like many houses around Australia built during that time.
The Gem Store sign is still standing, but the store itself is long gone. Doc Halliday’s Café is still there, and looking a little sad and lonely. The grass is tall; the flowers and trees were flowering and there was lots of natural colour. We could not imagine this town, with a population of 20,000; actually existed in this spot.
We are glad we made the drive out there, and while we didn’t meet any of the remaining three locals, we know that they were about. According to locals, some still go out there to camp, but I am not sure if that would be my ideal place to stay for a night.
This town has left a sad legacy to this country, with over 1,000 former residents, young and old, having succumbed to illnesses related to asbestos and their time living in this town. We would like to pay our respects to those who have passed away, are currently fighting the illnesses and to the families who have suffered due to the asbestos fibres they were exposed to during their time here.