By Col Hesse
SYDNEY — It was standing room only on April 10, at St Peters Town Hall in Sydney's inner west, as 250 local residents met to protest against "Mt Sydenham". On May 5 their rage will be maintained at a public demonstration called by the South Sydney Greens at "Mt Sydenham"itself — an exposed stockpile of building waste that has been found to contain deadly white asbestos.
The stockpile has arisen from under the roof of the old Thornley Railtrack Equipment works, which runs for about 300 metres along the railway between St Peters and Sydenham stations. Since August 1989 the site, along with an adjacent Telecom site, has been operated by R.J. Brady Pty Ltd as a "recycling depot" for building rubble and fill.
The "recycling depot" was soon spewing dust all over the neighbourhood. Marrickville Council, which had granted Brady's a nine-month terminating lease to clear the site, was forced by local complaints to apply for an injunction against the company in the NSW Land and Environment Court. The council had originally granted the lease against the advice of its own officers.
The council lost this case in November 1990. The court found there was no danger to residents from the material being blown off the site.
But the residents didn't give in. Their pressure led the NSW workers' compensation authority, Worksafe, to do its own tests. It found clear evidence of white asbestos and placed a restraining order on Brady's on April 5.
At the St Peters Town Hall meeting, the audience spoke out about life near the stockpile. According to local resident Michael Delaway, uncovered trucks entered and left the site at all hours; there was no sprinkler system to damp down the rubble; the old asbestos-impregnated roof of the Thornley factory had been dropped in clouds of dust in just one day.
At the end of the meeting Bruce Welch, South Sydney Greens candidate for Marrickville in the state elections, moved that an injunction be put on Brady's to stop work. Chair Barry Jones, the Labor mayor of Marrickville, refused to put the motion.
Pressure must still be maintained "from below". As local resident John Tibbett, one of the speakers at the May 5 demonstration, puts it: "It's only because working class people live here that they think they can get away with anything."