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Issue #1752      October 12, 2016

Baryulgil man takes action over asbestos

As a child growing up in Baryulgil, northern NSW, Ffloyd Laurie remembers playing with the white dust that came from the nearby asbestos mine.

Ffloyd Laurie with wife Noelene.

Now aged in his 50s, Laurie, who has never worked with asbestos, has the fatal cancer mesothelioma, which is usually found in people who worked directly with the deadly fire-retardant mineral.

Now he’s started what is likely to be complicated legal action in a bid for compensation.

“As a kid at Baryulgil I didn’t know what it was,” Laurie said of the white dust.

“My father worked on the mine and we used to go up and see him where he was working. Dust would float around us and we’d ride on the equipment.

“We used to eat the fruit near the mine; we never used to wash it off.”

Major building products company James Hardie, which operated the Baryulgil mine until 1976, established a huge compensation fund after widespread media coverage and legal action from former workers and unions.

But because of a clause in a settlement agreement the company struck with the NSW government in 2005, Laurie is unlikely to see any compensation from the mining company.

That clause dictates that James Hardie can be sued in relation to the mine at Baryulgil only as a “last resort”. Consequently, Laurie’s lawyer, Tanya Segelov, said she has started a legal case against the NSW Department of Education because Laurie and his classmates were exposed to the dust at Baryulgil Primary School.

“Normally we’d sue James Hardie, but because it was dust around the playground we have to sue the Department of Education,” she said. “They used it (asbestos dust) to cover the surface of the playground. There’s a special section of the deal James Hardie made with the government that only covers the mine in Baryulgil.

“It means that we’re required to sue the government or anyone else who can be sued before we can sue the company. So we’re suing the NSW government because it had a duty of care to keep those kids safe.

“There’s no doubt the school had a duty of care, but we would have normally sued James Hardie. It’s a very unusual provision that was agreed on as part of those negotiations.”

Laurie says he can no longer work with the Aboriginal Medical Service, where he has been employed for the past nine years. “I used to be a health worker,” he said. “I used to walk a lot and do lots of driving, and now I can’t do that any more.

“I would have been coming up to long service if I could stay.

“The chemotherapy treatment for my cancer is draining and sometimes my eyes blur. I get blurry vision. I started chemo in June.”

Laurie’s wife Noelene said the cancer has also had a significant impact on her and the couple’s children.

“It’s frustrating, and it’s tiring, and it’s something you’d never think would happen to someone you love, so it’s had a big impact,” she said. “We lost a daughter a few years ago, then last year we lost another daughter, which had a big impact.

“We’re handling this as well as we can. All we can do is put our faith in God.”

Laurie is the first of his family who went to the school in Baryulgil to develop mesothelioma.

He said he hopes the upcoming court case will help his family get the treatment they need if they find they have the fatal cancer. “Dad didn’t get any compensation so I want to do this for my family,” he said.

“I hope it benefits my family. We just didn’t know what asbestos was.

“I never smoked and I never drank, so the cancer can’t be from that.”

The Baryulgil community has now rallied around Laurie and his family, raising money through an online funding website for the couple to have the honeymoon they never had. In less than a week more than $1,000 was raised.

“It just makes me feel like there’s people out there who care,” Laurie told the Koori Mail. “I’m well known in the local community. I’ve got lots of connections. I was raised in Tabulam and I’ve been all around.”

To donate to Ffloyd and Noelene Laurie’s honeymoon fund, visit www.gofundme.com/2nzpfbkn

Koori Mail

Next article – Joint Communiqué – Establishment of Diplomatic Relations

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