Wit­tenoom plaque aid to re­flec­tion

The West Australian - - NEWS - Claire Tyrrell

Bron­wen Duke is con­fronted by the har­row­ing im­pact of as­bestosre­lated dis­ease ev­ery time she looks at a fam­ily photo.

Ms Duke, 59, has lost 13 fam­ily mem­bers from mesothe­lioma or as­besto­sis over four decades.

She was born in Wit­tenoom, where many of her rel­a­tives worked in and around the now in­fa­mous as­bestos mine.

Her grand­fa­ther Phil McKenna moved to the Pil­bara town in the 1950s to take up a job as the fore­man at the mine’s mill.

Mr McKenna’s de­ci­sion to give his fam­ily a bet­ter chance at life dev­as­tat­ingly led to a string of painful deaths many years later.

His wife Es­ther, daugh­ters Va­lerie (Bron­wen’s mother), Shirley, Vir­ginia and Bar­bara and son Frank all moved to Wit­tenoom with him.

They, and the daugh­ters’ spouses whom they all met in Wit­tenoom, have all since died from as­bestos-re­lated dis­ease.

“I have lost both my grand­par­ents, I have lost my dad, I’ve lost my brother, my mum,” Ms Duke said.

Ms Duke was five when her fam­ily moved to Perth be­cause her fa­ther got sick. Her older brother David was six — he has since died from mesothe­lioma.

She has had reg­u­lar tests to un­der­stand why she has not con­tracted the in­cur­able ill­ness, which starts as a can­cer on the lin­ing of the lungs and rapidly spreads through the body.

“It is fast — it is vir­u­lent, it is quite har­row­ing to watch peo­ple go through the process of mesothe­lioma — it ba­si­cally stran­gles them,” she said.

Ms Duke, who lives in Canberra, is in Perth to­day for the un­veil­ing of a memo­rial in West Perth’s Sol­i­dar­ity Park to the Wit­tenoom vic­tims of as­bestosre­lated dis­ease.

As­bestos Dis­eases So­ci­ety of Aus­tralia chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer Melita Markey said her or­gan­i­sa­tion had lob­bied for decades for such recog­ni­tion.

She said de­spite the mine clos­ing in 1966 and the loss of fam­ily and home, peo­ple still felt a con­nec­tion to Wit­tenoom.

“They needed some­where to go to re­flect,” Ms Markey said.

More than 4000 peo­ple have died from as­bestos-re­lated dis­ease in Aus­tralia and Wit­tenoom is the main source of the sub­stance.

Pic­ture: Nic El­lis

Bron­wen Duke holds the Wit­tenoom plaque.

Thir­teen fam­ily mem­bers died of mesothe­lioma af­ter Wit­tenoom.

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