Watching his old neighbours suffer through the fallout of Williamtown’s contamination disaster has been hard for Jarrod Sansom.
He was only 10 years old a decade ago, when his parents made the emotional decision to leave the Cabbage Tree Road farm that had been in the family for six generations.
It was a lucky escape: in 2015 it emerged the property was in the heart of a plume of toxic contamination.
But Mr Sansom was devastated to learn the people who helped raise him were now stranded on worthless properties, on a road that has recorded 50 cancer cases in 15 years. His grandfather and three of his grandfather’s siblings – Valmay, Milton and Monty – had all died after battling the disease.
“It’s all generations of people I’ve grown up with and loved and respected,” Mr Sansom said.
When Mr Sansom was given an opportunity to tell his story on the national stage, it felt like a breakthrough.
He was named one of the winners of the ABC’s Heywire competition, which allows young people living in regional Australia to tell their stories. The university student was invited to attend a week-long summit in Canberra, mixing with the politicians who had the power to give the residents of the red zone a way out.
“I had this pressure on my shoulders,” Mr Sansom said.
But while the summit was the “best week” of his life, Mr Sansom struggled to cut through the noise in the nation’s capital.
“It was nothing against Heywire but I felt like I was just getting swept under the rug,” he said, adding that he struggled to convince those he spoke to of the seriousness of the issue, or that it was a national problem.
In contrast to other issues addressed – like mental health and Aboriginal affairs – Mr Sansom felt his story was one with a fixable solution.
“The government and the Prime Minister need to stand up to Defence – they’re the only ones that can do it – and give people the opportunity to get out.
”Even in an alternate universe if there wasn’t a cancer cluster, they still need to get out because their properties are worthless. They’re being left there to rot and die.”