Today, we announce the third and final shortlisted piece in the 2013 Editia Prize: Ephemera Revisited by writer and academic Anna Soter. Keep an eye out for the announcement of the winner at around 3pm tomorrow!
The following passage is excerpted from Ephemera Revisited with the permission of the author …
The former residents of Wittenoom had all chosen to come to Australia, although they had had no idea when they chose to accept an assisted passage from Europe, that some of them would be transported to this remote region. Their ship and others like it would drop off a percentage of these adventurers at Fremantle, the major port for Western Australia, and continue dropping off other percentages of these partially indentured migrants at Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney. The men, women and children who disembarked at Fremantle were temporarily housed in migrant hostels primarily at Cunderdin until relocated to their final destinations. The men, however, left for those locations immediately, the women and children staying behind in the hostels until housing was available for them. It was a rough start to a new destiny, but still an exciting one.
One contract was probably much the same as all the others for those who had received free passage in exchange for two years of work wherever that work was located. My father received his on October 25, 1950 from the Commonwealth Employment Office and was told to report to Australian Blue Asbestos in Wittenoom Gorge on October 30. Weekly wages for a regular shift as a labourer (his classification) were to be £9/1/6 out of which 3/- (shillings) were withdrawn for taxes and £2/6/- for board and lodging. As others, he had to make his way to “arrange movement by air to destination” after finding his way from Northam to Perth. The contract wording clearly indicates that my father and others who came in the same capacity were required to remain in Wittenoom for a minimum of two years as allowed under the authorization of the “Commonwealth Employment Service on behalf of the Minister for Immigration,” although it appears that leaving the employment at Wittenoom was possible with application to and approval by the District Employment Officer to do so.”
Had my father and others who were similarly dispatched to Wittenoom known what was already known by some by the time they signed the contract, namely of the devastating and deadly effects of exposure to asbestos fibres to which they would all be exposed at both the mine and mill, some would likely not have signed this contract even at the risk of remaining unemployed and without a clear alternative destination at the time.
It is this troubling question that, for me, is at the heart of the debate surrounding the closure of Wittenoom. Furthermore, by the time the mines and the mill closed in 1966, significant damage was done, not only to the miners and millworkers but to the residents in the town through exposure to the fibres in the clothes and on the bodies of the men when they returned home, as well as through the spreading of milled, crushed rock (tailings) brought to the town from the mill to reduce dust storms that were common in the area because of large areas of exposed red soil throughout the entire region as well as in the town itself. And yet, why would those who came during these early years as well as others fight so hard to remain there following the closure of the town?
About the author
Born in Austria (Europe), Anna Soter grew up in the northwest Australian Pilbara region. She is Professor Emerita in English Education at The Ohio State University where she has taught since 1986. She also taught high school English and History teacher in Perth and Sydney, between 1968 and 1982. Anna has a PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, an MA in English from the University of Sydney, Australia, and a BA in English and History from the University of Western Australia. Her teaching, research and scholarship has focused on language and literacy, including the teaching of grammar for literate purposes; cross-cultural discourse, literary theory and its applications to young adult literature; small group discussions as a tool for critical thinking; poetry as a vehicle for linguistic sensitivity and personal growth. Anna continues to read as a featured poet in mid-Ohio venues, writes fiction and creative non-fiction, and creates and conducts workshops on language as energy, and writing and poetry for healing and personal growth. In 2011, she founded The Hospital Poets’ Reading Series, bringing poets to special event readings at different venues on the Ohio State University Medical Campus.