Mixed feelings (gemfyre) wrote in abandonedplaces,
Mixed feelings
gemfyre
abandonedplaces

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.





Wittenoom
Wittenoom
I was a bit blase about the risk as I headed into town (although there are large warning signs that the dust can cause cancer and it is not recommended to visit the area). Once I got there I decided to err on the side of the caution and close my car's air vents and take photos through closed windows.




Wittenoom
Wittenoom
Despite services being cut off and the town essentially being condemned, 5 - 10 people still live out here, refusing to leave their lifetime homes. The lived in houses are decidedly neater than the abandoned ones.




Wittenoom
Wittenoom
The street signs have fared well. The Hamersley Ranges provide a dramatic backdrop.




Wittenoom - Guest House
Wittenoom - Guest House
Don't think they've taken guests for a few years now.




Wittenoom
Wittenoom
For some reason the roads in abandoned towns really strike me. You think of bitumen roads as being indestructable, but a few years without maintenance and they break up and become overgrown. I wonder where this road led.




Wittenoom
Wittenoom
I think this Nissen Hut provided accommodation to tour groups. Obviously camping was available nearby as well.




Wittenoom
Wittenoom
The Nissen Hut by the Guest House.




Wittenoom
Wittenoom




Wittenoom
Wittenoom
Old dongas, probably providing accommdation for miners, left to the elements.




Wittenoom
Wittenoom
Debris beside the road.




Wittenoom
Wittenoom
A water tank and an old hills hoist.




Wittenoom
Wittenoom
That sign says "Holiday House".




Wittenoom - Doc Holiday's Cafe
Wittenoom - Doc Holiday's Cafe
Probably served coffee to many a miner and tourist back in the day.




Wittenoom - Doc Holiday's Cafe
Wittenoom - Doc Holiday's Cafe
I guess it was also the petrol station. The bowser is now a bit worse for wear.




Wittenoom
Wittenoom
Leaving an abandoned town.

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