WA Government to close ex-mining town

Wittenoom. Image: Wikimedia Commons (CC)

Former Pilbara mining town Wittenoom, which inhabits an area highly contaminated with blue asbestos, will be closed by the Western Australian Government after protracted attempts to relocate the last three residents.

Wittenoom, which was degazetted in 2007 and has not received electricity for over a decade, was a bustling Pilbara town from 1939 to 1966 due to its lucrative asbestos mining activity.

It is, however, no longer considered safe for human habitation and there are several signs in the area warning visitors to stay away. The area is also no longer named on maps and road signs.

Over 2000 people who lived in Wittenoom are believed to have died from asbestos-related issues, according to statistics from the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia.

The WA Government will introduce the Wittenoom Closure Bill 2019 to enable the compulsory acquisition of Wittenoom’s last 17 remaining private lots (owned by five landowners, including the three current residents). Current legislation only allows the state to compulsorily acquire property for public works.

State Treasurer and Minister for Finance, Energy and Aboriginal Affairs Ben Wyatt said it would be “virtually impossible” to ensure that the area could ever be made fit for human habitation.

“The story of Wittenoom is as well-known as it is tragic. While it will always remain as one of this state’s darkest periods, we need to accept the reality of the situation and find a way forward,” he said.

“To date, more than 2000 workers and residents of Wittenoom have died from asbestos-related diseases and the area is the largest contaminated site in the southern hemisphere.

“Sadly the few remaining residents and tourists remain in the highest risk user groups from a litany of cancers and lung diseases, and the state simply cannot in good conscience allow the status quo to continue any longer.”