Tourism’s fatal attraction to Pilbara asbestos town

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Wittenoom danger
Keep out ... warning signs make the danger of Wittenoom pretty clear. PIC: Jenny Rush/ABC

Despite the warnings and the dangers, thousands of tourists continue to be drawn to the toxic ex-asbestos mining town of Wittenoom in WA’s Pilbara region.

The local authorities are reportedly exasperated by the continued presence of curious travellers in the deserted town …. despite numerous  signs warning of the serious hazard posed to to human life.

The local shire said it has been told some WA tourism operators are even offering guided visits.

“We’ve just heard on the Pilbara grapevine that there are groups going out there,” Ashburton Shire CEO, Rob Paull, told the ABC. “Maybe they think it’s adventure tourism or along those lines, but we want to make sure everybody is aware there are significant dangers for themselves, their family and their friends if they go to Wittenoom.”

About 20,000 people lived in the town in its heyday from the 1930s to 1966, carting around deadly blue asbestos. More than 2,000 deaths have been linked to the mining activity at Wittenoom and the whole town is a declared contaminated site.

The town’s notoriety has inspired ‘extreme tourism’ which appeals to more thrill-seeking travellers.

During her caravanning adventure around Australia, photographer Jenny Rush visited Wittenoom and said she was well aware of the risk and was therefore accompanied by a relative who owned an asbestos removal business.

“You’re pretty dumb if you go in there without knowledge,” she told the ABC. “I wouldn’t like to think that thousands of people are going to go in there stomping all over it — I mean, it’s been closed for a reason.”

She said the town had an eerie beauty.

“There’s a fire engine sitting there, there’s a sign from the old shop and there’s an old bus that still has salt and pepper and sauce bottles on the table,” she said. “It just looked like people walked out and left it.

Lyniece Bolitho, who lost her grandfathers, her father, three uncles and many friends to mesothelioma and asbestosis, says much more needed to be done to discourage people from visiting.

“You have mountains of asbestos and yet we allow people to go there willy-nilly,” she told the ABC. “If you go there any day of the week, you will see tourist after tourist after tourist.”

The WA Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage warns that remnants of blue asbestos are still present throughout the area and present a serious risk to human health. It strongly advises people not to travel to Wittenoom.

  • Have you visited Wittenoom, or did you give it a wide berth? Comment below.

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2 Responses to Tourism’s fatal attraction to Pilbara asbestos town

  1. It is very hard to cure stupidity. Fence the whole town off and prosecute trespassers

  2. I was over there 3 months ago and made the No Go call, but I have to say in all the literature and brochures the wife read she did not see anything to scream at me “No way we are going there” when I mentioned Whittenoom.
    She just saw it as another place to see, but not on a convenient route.

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