The sign on the side of Nelson Bay Road says it all – Paradise Lost.
Three years ago this week, residents living in Williamtown and surrounds learnt their properties had been contaminated with toxic firefighting chemicals draining from the nearby RAAF Base.
Many have experienced health problems, others have seen their property prices plummet and all have lived with increased stress as they continue their battle for compensation.
Fullerton Cove resident Lindsay Clout acknowledged that, while the community’s spirit remained strong, the war of attrition being waged by the federal government had taken a toll.
“I was talking with a senior Defence official about a month ago who said there were a couple of ways they could approach this. One way to do nothing. As soon as he said it I could tell he was trying to put the words back into his mouth,” Mr Clout said.
Among the latest casualties was Anita Bugges who was was forced to walk away from the 25-acre farm she had bought 10 years ago.
Unable to rent the property because of the contamination, she became the first Williamtown resident to default on her mortgage payments.
The so-called red, or contamination, zone was expanded by 50 per in November 2017. There are now 700 houses potentially affected by contamination.
Many affected property owners gave evidence at Senate inquiry hearing into PFAS contamination.
Jenny Robinson told the hearing that her family’s “whole world had been turned upside down”.
“Our faith (that) the right thing would be done has taken a huge beating. We live this hell every day,” she said in July.
On the same day, Department of Defence deputy secretary Steve Grzeskowiak said he did not know when the pollution would be contained.
Despite the admission, Mr Clout said the department was attempting to convey the impression that the situation was under control.
“They are doing so much work on the base right now but they aren’t stopping PFAS from running off it. At the same time they are they are trying to convince the community that everything is fine,” he said.
Five hundred property and business owners at Williamtown and Oakey in Queensland have now joined a class action against the federal government.