Legacy of lethal ‘sand’
I would like to add my voice to that of Linda Walker (Susan Chenery, “James Hardie’s asbestos mining ‘genocide’ ”, November 7-13). We appear to be the same age but I never met Linda. I was appointed to Baryulgil as a teacher in 1958, the same year that Linda’s father was diagnosed with asbestosis. I knew nothing of this disease. I, as well as my head teacher and the local residents, was not told anything. I lived with that dust because the mine manager, no doubt unwittingly, provided piles of this nice white “sand” for the children to play in, the Indigenous children and the children of the farmers in the area. It was also spread on the gravel roads as some kind of supplement. But its lethal effects were obviously known by whoever diagnosed Linda’s father’s condition and yet this crucial information was suppressed. Of course in those days indigenes were only “fauna”. Subhuman. Expendable. Linda calls it “genocide” and while it may not have been a deliberate policy, the end result is the same. My heart goes out to those children I taught, for so many of them now would be dead. Not one, not one of those responsible ever faced prison. And the subsequent action, as detailed by Susan Chenery, still treats these people as shabbily. The settlement of Baryulgil deserves a lasting memorial to record that the inhuman practices of the 19th and early 20th centuries were still in place in the mid-20th century and that the legacies are still with us today.
– Paul Sowter, Westleigh, NSW
Break the silence on euthanasia
Congratulations for being the only media outlet to criticise the Medical Board of Australia’s frankly outrageous display of arrogance in blackmailing Philip Nitschke into silence (Editorial, “Deathly silence”, October 31-November 6). As someone who has researched the voluntary euthanasia debate in Australia extensively, it concerns me deeply that no other media have taken up the cause of resisting this absurd censorship by a body with no mandate to impose it. It seems the rest are content to allow the Medical Board to succeed – where the likes of George Pell and Paul Kelly have failed – in silencing our best advocate for changing the laws relating to death. I must correct one thing. While Andrew Denton has recently been speaking about his support for Dying With Dignity Victoria’s assisted death stance, his talks for the Wheeler Centre on October 28 and 29 did not mention either Dr Nitschke, or the Medical Board’s censorship of him, until his views on these issues were sought in question time – by me. While in his answers he did express opposition to the board’s actions and stance, he was also dismissive of Dr Nitschke’s work in the Australian community over many years, implying it was “unhelpful”. I would reject that assessment and argue instead that both Denton and Dr Rodney Syme are missing a key point in this debate. It is not about doctors and their permission: it is about personal agency. Nevertheless your editorial is correct in its assessment: Nitschke’s forced silence is the silence of political cowardice. It is a cowardice that will not lift until the public asks loudly for its end. And so we must.
– Dr Debora Campbell, Deans Marsh, Vic
Politicians must take the lead
Your editorial reiterated that the current law on voluntary euthanasia criminalises compassion and therefore enshrines suffering. While the call for law reform focuses on individuals facing unbearable and hopeless suffering, the issue is also about enshrining a society based on greater compassion and social justice. In the Di Gribble Argument Andrew Denton demolishes the spurious “slippery slope” argument relied upon by the powerful forces opposed to assisted dying for ideological reasons. After finding no evidence of threats to “the vulnerable”, he argued, “It was hard to avoid the conclusion that using the disabled and the elderly as the spearhead of a campaign against assisted dying is politics at its most brutal.” Politicians who continue to evade this issue should question what their role is, if not to deal with contentious issues. However, in the case of voluntary euthanasia law reform there is unequivocal community support; and ultimately it is not a choice between life and death, just between two very different ways of dying.
– Julia Anaf, Norwood, SA
A principled stand
Thank you, Lauren Williams, for reminding us how far this country has deviated from the fundamental principles of the rule of law (“Control groups”, November 7-13). Back in 1939, Robert Menzies said: “We must remember that the greatest tragedy that could overcome a country would be for it to fight a successful war in defence of liberty, and lose its own liberty in the process.” This warning must be heeded in regard to our convoluted “war on terror”.
– Pat Williamson-Hill, Brunswick, Vic
Saving the world in your backyard
Seduced by Helen Razer’s dirty talk of winking sepals and erogenous blooms (“Bucket lift”, October 31-November 6) I read on, into the apocalyptic doom of El Niño and the demise of gardening as we know it. Razer’s advice is smart and sound – the ways we use water can make or break gardens. Another angle matters, too: discernment about what we grow and eat. An upcoming volcanic-heat summer invites a big rethink. It invites planting a bathtub, or bucket, full of kangkong, that Asian wonder plant that grows faster than fast and is brimming with iron and other goodness. It invites harvesting edible weeds from safe, chemical-free backyards. It invites growing sprouts and microgreens on our kitchen benchtops, far away from the madding sun. Anthropogenic climate change is getting real. While we fight hard to address its many mitigable causes, we can, with hope, garden our way through some of its symptoms.
– Tilly Hinton, Kings Cross, NSW
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 14, 2015. Subscribe here.