Sistemazione and death: the role of the Wittenoom asbestos mine in the lives and deaths of Italian transnational workers

Di Pasquale, A 2013, Sistemazione and death: the role of the Wittenoom asbestos mine in the lives and deaths of Italian transnational workers, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Sistemazione and death: the role of the Wittenoom asbestos mine in the lives and deaths of Italian transnational workers
Author(s) Di Pasquale, A
Year 2013
Abstract This doctoral thesis records the social history and sacrifices of Italian immigrants who worked and lived at the Wittenoom mine in Western Australia. The Italian miners contributed to Australia’s economic growth in the post-war period. Their lives are explored in the context of transnational migration, the mining of asbestos, and the roles of CSR and the regulatory authorities in the management of the mine and the accumulation of knowledge internationally on asbestos-related diseases.

To provide the context for this thesis, Chapter One introduces several themes, some of which are taken up again later in the thesis. It provides a brief outline of asbestos-related diseases and the history of CSR and the Wittenoom mine, discusses the failure of the global asbestos industry to self-regulate, and provides an overview of asbestos litigation. Chapter Two discusses the methodological approach, which has been akin to that of a social historian or a detective. The approach differed in that the investigator was an insider, whose Italian background and ability to speak Italian facilitated rapport with participants. The approach combines oral history, the use of available photographs, archival searches and the Motley Rice papers obtained in the course of legal discovery by a US asbestos litigation firm. Chapter Three contextualises the participants’ stories about life in Italy within a brief discussion of Italy and Australia’s complementary migration objectives after World War 2. Italy needed to offload her millions of unemployed, and Australia wanted to increase her population to fill the jobs created as a result of the National Development Scheme; of which the Wittenoom mine was a part. Desperate to find work, 1,102 Italians, many with families, went to Wittenoom during the 1950s and 1960s. In Chapters Four, Five and Six, the men, women and children, in turn, talk about their lives in Wittenoom. The children’s accounts, most notably those of the boys, suggest that they enjoyed the Wittenoom lifestyle. The men and women speak of their first impressions, working and living conditions, gambling and drinking, their lack of knowledge about ARDs, their re-creation of important rituals and other efforts to make do. To establish the foundations for sistemazione, mainly Italians with families remained for longer periods than the typical four months. Chapter Seven outlines the Italians’ pathways to achieve sistemazione. The next chapter records the consequences of asbestos exposure, asbestosis and mesothelioma, years after workers and families had left Wittenoom. Using CSR/ABA Limited and the Departments of Mines and Health documents supplied by North American legal firm Motley Rice, in Chapter Nine it has been possible to reconstruct the conflicting and sometimes ambivalent positions of the public players in the Wittenoom tragedy.

The documents also permit us to identify when government departments and CSR became aware of the health risks. CSR’s negligence and lack of duty of care are confirmed in their strategy planning during the 1970s, implemented in response to media attention on Wittenoom. Until this evidence entered the public domain, CSR would thwart the attempts of early victims to obtain damages.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Global, Urban and Social Studies
Keyword(s) Asbestos
Italian miners
Italian migration
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Created: Fri, 13 Sep 2013, 08:44:05 EST by Brett Fenton
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