April 1st, 2011


Australia's Chernobyl

Wittenoom was once the largest town in the Pilbara - a region of Western Australia now most famous for it's stunning national parks (Karijini and Millstream/Chichester) and iron ore mining. As early as the 1940s concerns were raised over the dust caused by the processing of blue asbestos - the livelihood of the town and it's reason for being.

By the 1960s many workers and townspeople were coming down with abestosis and mesothelioma due to inhalation of the deadly dust. CSR, the company that owned the mines continued to operate them for 6 years after the health authorities confirmed that the dust was the cause of these fatal diseases. A large lawsuit ensued. Midnight Oil wrote a song about it all - Blue Sky Mine.

From the 1960s onwards the population started to dwindle. Come the 1980s the government was deliberately phasing down the town, demolishing old buildings and gradually cutting off services. In 2006 power was finally cut off to the towns, it was de-gazetted and mention of it removed from signs and maps. A few tenacious residents still live there however, refusing to leave thier homes. I remember staying here overnight in 1987, when I was just a kid.

I was there again just a few weeks ago on a solo road trip covering most of the state. I couldn't resist the opportunity to go and take a few photos. I was a little blase about the risk, but by the time I got to the town I decided to play it safe and closed the vents on my car and kept the windows up (hence the reflections in some of the photos). A later look at the town and nearby Wittenoom Gorge on Google Earth revealed the main danger - huge tailing piles still in the gorge. I wouldn't want to visit on a windy day.

The (quite detailed) Wiki article about the town is here.

Wittenoom - Gemstone Gallery
Wittenoom - Gemstone Gallery
Even the name sounds eerie now. Wittenoom was a town that rose up around the asbestos mining industry. I believe the Gemstone Gallery was the last business to close, catering to curious visitors until the very end.

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Me - Shooting Profile

Abandoned Places – Chase Nursery (Huntsville) – Part 1

On New Years Eve (31 Dec 10), I took my daughter out on a wander to the east side of town. Several places there had caught my interest over the past couple years and we needed some father - daughter time.

Barcoloungers on the Edge of Eternity

Chase Nursery was a massive operation that encompassed thousands of acres and employed hundreds worker. It was set up in the same manner as many of the southern mill towns of the same era (1880-1930's). It had a store, infirmary, and housing for the workers. The operation provided flowers and live plants to much of the eastern US via refrigerated railway cars from their own company siding (http://www.northalabamarailroadmuseum.com/restored.htm) through a succession of railroads. The Chase Nursery covered most of the land east of Monte Sano The Chase family and their business were so prominent that the northeastern 'burbs of Huntsville is called "Chase" and "Chase Gardens."

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