GROWING up I wasn’t aware the little town I loved and called home had a stigma attached to it, besides that of the sulphide.
I loved my little town, Boolaroo, the “place of many flies”. Nestled between Munibung Hill and Cockle Creek, it was just a stone’s throw from Lake Macquarie. I only had to skip across soccer fields and a park and I was there.
I call it a town, not a place.
Everyone knew each other, and their business, and the town folk kept an eye on each other’s kids (you can imagine how annoying this was as a teenager).
There were a lot of old people who had been born here and the town had a real sense of community. So much so that when I was older and had my first two children I was determined to buy a house in Boolaroo because I knew it still offered my children the kind of safety and sense of community that not many other places did.
When I hit high school I became aware there was a stigma attached to my town, but I thought it was just the sulphide. It wasn’t until recently when I read the article in the Herald that I heard Boolaroo referred to as ‘‘working poor meets destitute’’.
Finally I knew what everyone else did. I had never considered my family poor. We weren’t rich, but we had a pool.
I remember a lot of old people in Boolaroo who had never lived anywhere else. My great-grandmother was over 90 when she died here.
During the ’90s the effects of lead hit the papers and groups were started.
Some wanted to shut the smelter down. Some wanted it to stay open. Some said lead was a problem. Some said it wasn’t.
In 2002, I landed a full-time job with an environmental consulting company in Camperdown after completing a bachelor of science at Newcastle University. My boss had interviewed me in Boolaroo, he was there working for Pasminco.
I remember one day he told me a TV current affairs program would be airing a story on Pasminco the following week. He had heard me rant about how the people of Boolaroo were often misrepresented by a handful of people.
It wasn’t that I disputed that the smelter was unhealthy or that I didn’t want to see it closed, I was just sick and tired of being made to feel I should be simple or sick or have two heads because I had grown up in Boolaroo.
This went against everything I knew. The town I knew was full of ‘‘dinosaurs’’ who had lived there forever and were healthy old people who had vegetable gardens. I didn’t know any abnormally sick kids. I swam in the creek and played in the dirt and went to the local school.
As I predicted, the story was not flattering. I believed the people interviewed did not represent the town.This misrepresentation would go on well after Pasminco was gone.
Now, in 2014, my husband and I own a house we bought off Pasminco in 2005. We bought here fully aware of the past lead issues and with the knowledge that a legacy of land contamination may be left behind. I chose Boolaroo school for my children.
I knew lead and cadmium and zinc weren’t good for you, but neither were a lot of other things that could potentially harm my children.
I concluded the safety Boolaroo offered my family in regard to having so many good people know and watch over them as they grew up, like they had done for me, far outweighed the risks of lead contamination. I take precautions, and will do until the development is finished and thereafter.
Of course there is lead in the dirt being removed, but once the works are finished and the dirt covered, contaminants in the soil are only a problem if disturbed or uncovered. It isn’t a great situation but it is what it is. You can’t change the past.
I was excitedly awaiting a new subdivision, with more young families surrounding us, as well as the ‘‘dinosaurs’’ who are left.
Things can only get better, so I wonder why stories from the past need to be repeated.
Sulphide is no longer here and the environment is starting to recover. You only need to look up the hill at the new green growth or go for a walk along the creek to see this.
If people are considering buying land or an existing house in Boolaroo or surrounding areas they should make an informed decision knowing all the risks and not one based on scaremongering.
I say let the dust settle. Let the town have a chance to rebuild itself.