Williamtown residents call for Defence to help them escape contaminated properties

“Can we get an answer?” 

It was the desperate plea from one resident to Defence officials on Tuesday, as he raised his voice above the fracas at the Murrook Cultural Centre on Nelson Bay Road. 

About 250 residents gathered there at dusk for the unveiling of an updated Human Health Risk Assessment, a keystone report on the contamination crisis at Williamtown. 

They were told that while the environmental investigation was winding down after two years, Defence would continue its attempts to stop toxic poly- and per-fluoroalkyl [PFAS] chemicals spilling off the Williamtown RAAF base.

The reassurances sparked a furious reaction from residents, who begged for an escape route from their worthless properties. 

“My wife has got one breast missing because of you f****** assholes,” yelled a resident of Salt Ash, who had positive test results on his bore water withheld from him by Defence for four months.

“Buy us out. We need to get out of this shithole,” he said.  

Kim-Leeanne King is trapped on one of the most heavily polluted properties in the red zone, on a rural road that has had at least 50 cases of cancer in 15 years.

One of the cases was her father, Leslie ‘Tex’ Facer, who died of bowel cancer at the age of 66. 

Ms King told the meeting her livestock were often “up to their guts” in contaminated water, waving a photo of her acreage inundated up to the front steps of her home.

“They’ve got feet falling off,” she said of the cattle. 

“Come and live out at my place. Five bedrooms, two bathrooms, two lounge rooms, two dining rooms ... four years building it and now it’s worth jack shit, mate.

“I was quite happy to be there and just go on in my own little world, oblivious to all of this, but you put this on to me.

“Your filthy Lake Cochran is at my back boundary.” 

A member of the audience interjected: “Can we get an answer? We want an answer.” 

“They haven’t got one,” Ms King replied. 

The meeting was hosted by Defence first assistant secretary of infrastructure Chris Birrer.

He was forced to repeatedly deflect questions over compensation and buybacks, saying the matter was not within Defence control. 

“It’s something being looked at across all of government,” he said. “If I had an answer, I would give it to you.” 

He noted Defence Minister Marise Payne and head of the PFAS taskforce senator James McGrath had visited Williamtown, a point that was met with jeers from the audience.