Driven to tell doomed WA town’s stories

Caitlyn WattsPilbara News
New Zealand author Kara Douglas on her trip to the Pilbara.
Camera IconNew Zealand author Kara Douglas on her trip to the Pilbara. Credit: Supplied

A New Zealand debut author has written a novel about the devastating events at Wittenoom to help raise awareness about the town and pay tribute to her father who passed away from an asbestos related disease.

Kara Douglas, pictured, spent 10 years crafting The Air that we Breathe, a historical fiction exploring asbestos mining at Wittenoom — one of Australia’s worst industrial disasters.

The story weaves between following an Italian couple who move from Italy to Wittenoom in 1961 to work in an asbestos mine.

Ms Douglas wrote the book in memory of her father who passed away from mesothelioma.

“My father passed away when he was 53 and Wittenoom wouldn’t leave me alone. The more I researched and the more I looked and found out, I thought gosh how can this be?” she said.

“My whole reasoning for the book I guess was in memory of my father but also mainly to increase awareness of asbestos for people reading it and hopefully save lives. They might read my book and think otherwise if they come across asbestos.”

Ms Douglas travelled from Wellington to the Pilbara to research her book, and said the landscape was very different.

“It was such an experience. I did a full-time writing course a couple years ago and one of the ladies that was starting to read the book said my trip to the outback was worth it because I’ve captured how desolate and how harsh part of those areas are,” she said.

“I met the Asbestos Disease Society in Perth and I met some of the Wittenoom research team when I was there. The job they do for people is amazing.

“I have been told that people in WA, they kind of know ... about Wittenoom, but they don’tknow what is underneath and all the things that happened to people that lived in the town ... and so I guess I have just thrown everything at it. At the end the reader’s emotions should be stirred but also they have a lot more awareness.”

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