In the 1970s and 1980s, a campaign of weed eradication was started by the Agriculture Protection Board in Western Australia, to eliminate weeds such as Noogoora Burr, Mesquite and Parkinsonia. Many young unemployed Aboriginal men in the Kimberley jumped at the chance of having a well-paid job whilst being able to spend time on country. They sprayed two herbicides, 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D. These, combined together, are known as Agent Orange, which was used during the Vietnam War. These men were told that the herbicides were so safe they could drink them. They were not told to use any protective gear, often coming home with their clothes soaked in the herbicide mixture. Many of them died very young, in their thirties. Many are dying of cancers now. Their partners and children were also affected, with some of their babies born with deformities, and young people dying early of rare cancers. These inter-generational impacts are still affecting their families today. To date, in spite of two inquiries in 2002 and 2004, there has been no official recognition of the plight of the families, or of the government organisation’s lack of duty of care for their employees. 2,4,5-T was banned in the United States in the early 1970s because of its adverse health effects. Scientific reports in the early 1980s raised concerns about health impacts, but nothing was done.
Because of our close relationship with Kimberley families affected by this, we were asked by them to produce a documentary enabling people to tell their personal stories. Thanks to private philanthropic funding, a total of 41 interviews were filmed by Alexander Hayes and myself and released on our Ngikalikarra YouTube Channel. We are now in the process of producing the documentary.
Please go to our Ngikalikarra Website for more information on this project: On Australian Shores: Survivor Stories