Mr Fluffy’s poisonous legacy: time to make sense of the whole saga?

Genevieve Jacobs 3 June 2019 7

Mr Fluffy demolitions took place across more than 1000 Canberra house sites. File photo.

A thousand front door keys that no longer lead anywhere. A map covered with stickers trailing across Canberra’s suburban outline. Family photos from houses and backyards that are gone forever. They’re all symbols of the human scars left by the Mr Fluffy asbestos contamination, but how do we best record its history and make some sort sense of it all?

As the asbestos eradication program ends, Dr Sue Packer is chairing the Mr Fluffy Community and Expert Reference Group, which is coordinating a community consultation program on the Mr Fluffy legacy. They’re inviting members of the community to share their stories about the saga throughout June.

“It was a massive upheaval for thousands of households and all those associated with them,” Sue says. “The Canberra community needs to learn from the experience, to look into the future with more knowledge, so that people coming afterwards can understand what happened here. Health fears obviously underpin all this, but there is so much other trauma to understand and process.”

Dr Sue Packer is heading the Mr Fluffy Community and Expert Reference Group. Photo: D Jukic.

Dr Packer says that while some Mr Fluffy homeowners remain angry and unresolved about their loss, others have moved on. “There are nice stories about continuity, and about communities re-developing,” she says.

“But more than any other factor, the thing that still rankles for so many people, no matter how they’re coping, is that this stuff was pumped into our houses at a time when there was clear evidence that it was a bad thing to do.

“We certainly now have a much better-informed trade population with regard to asbestos safety. We learned a huge amount about the sensitivity of demolishing a beloved family home, and the people who auctioned those sites knew they were often doing so in the presence of devastated family members.

“There was lots of worthwhile learning for us all as a community in how to deal with trauma. The next step is to work out how we can best remember this experience.”

Many ideas have already been put forward about creating a permanent memorial, from public health scholarships to the huge wall map from the asbestos task force showing all affected properties or perhaps an installation involving all those poignant keys. Dr Packer says it’s likely that the Canberra Museum and Gallery will be involved.

The reference group wants to hear as widely as possible from anyone connected with the Mr Fluffy houses who would like to contribute their stories and ideas for commemorating the events. At the end of the consultation period, there will be a report to the government with recommendations on how to record this part of Canberra’s history.

And while there’s been plenty of criticism over whether the government has made money in the sale process, Dr Packer says it’s important to remember that house site profits have gone into reducing the size of our Commonwealth loan, following the Federal government’s refusal to take responsibility for the events that occurred before self-government.

Dr Packer also points out that without the assistance offered by the ACT government, the Mr Fluffy homeowners would have been left with an entirely unsaleable asset and potentially in dire financial straits.

“Those most affected were conscientious caring people who looked after their families all their lives and never asked for help or assistance. Their best efforts to give their families a secure future were undone by this asbestos. For a group of people, who never thought they’d have to ask for help, it was a shattering learning curve.”

Throughout June, the CERG will host a number of drop-in sessions as well as an online presence. Community members can visit the project website to provide their input through online forums or by completing the online questionnaire.

Community drop-in sessions will be held from 2 pm-4 pm and 5 pm-7 pm on 19 June 2019 at Forrest Hotel, and on 20 June 2019 at The Tradies Dickson.


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7 Responses to Mr Fluffy’s poisonous legacy: time to make sense of the whole saga?
Terry Soutberg Terry Soutberg 11:18 am 06 Jun 19

Genevieve writes “As the asbestos eradication program ends”. Maybe so, but in my suburb a number of ‘Mr Fluffy” homes are still present and remain untouched. One house I know of is being rented out to a young family. If I’m not mistaken the ‘buy back scheme’ is near its end, but the asbestos issues have not gone away entirely. What is to happen to those houses that are still standing that have been identified by the Government as Mr Fluffy Houses?

Lisa McRobbins Lisa McRobbins 8:22 am 06 Jun 19

Lets commemorate death, sickness and the government's inability to compensate their own

Felicity Anne Prideaux Felicity Anne Prideaux 11:04 am 05 Jun 19

Lucy, it’s great that you have so much compassion and re supportive of your community. I trust you either have happily changed places with any of the Fluffy affected families ….

Just to give you some FACTS…
There have been numerous governments, both Federal and Local, which have ignored the official written warnings since July 1968, about the dangers of the loose fill asbestos and yet they allowed it to be pumped into houses.

The governments then told the community they were cleaned, all the while knowing they weren’t clean, and allowed these homes to be sold, renovated, or knocked down and rebuilt with no block remediation .

So “whinging” people like me purchased these “clean houses”, paid our stamp duty and taxes to successive Governments who knew that we were living in homes that were unsafe.

I’m sure you would be happy to tell the family members of the 6 or so people who have died from Mr Fluffy related mesothelioma to stop whinging and be grateful ….

What about the people who ran small
Businesses from their homes – they lost their homes and their livelihoods – they lost everything ….

What about the marriages / relationships that have collapsed due to the stress of this whole debacle …

Perhaps you would like to sit in a room with 30 or so Me Fluffy affected people and hear the “suicide” word mentioned by multiple people – you could support them by telling them that they are a bunch of whingers ! That would help them !

Wish about the families with kids, kids whose clothes, bedding, wardrobes were covered with almost invisible fibres and now have another 30 to 50 years to wait to see if they are going to die from an asbestos related disease .

Sharon Barnes Sharon Barnes 12:37 pm 04 Jun 19

ACT government will probably give a public holiday for it.

Cheryl Gay Cheryl Gay 7:04 pm 03 Jun 19

Why? I lived in a Fluffy house for 20 years. Had the stuff removed, then moved back in. Why would I want

to commemorate the fact that my husband has asbestos in the pleura around his lungs or that I & more particularly, my children, may have been contaminated. I used to wash the loose asbestos off the bath as it floated down through the vent in the bathroom. And brush the fluff of my husband’s shirt after he came down from the ceiling cavity. Fortunately, so far so good, no ill health affects from it. A memorial is a complete waste of money & an insult. Why do we have to have commemorations for everything. Utter nonsense.

Lucy Baker Lucy Baker 11:43 am 03 Jun 19

The Mr Fluffy households should refrain from whinging and thank their lucky stars that the rest of the community so willingly picked up much of the tab. Neighbours of Mr Fluffy houses haven’t had a fun time either, with additional houses crowded onto smallish blocks in order to help raise the funds needed.

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