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Monday, 14 March 2022
Government House, Sydney
Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC, Governor of New South Wales

Bujari gamarruwa diyn babana gamarada Gadigal ngura.

I welcome you in the language of the Gadigal, the Traditional Owners of the land on which Government House stands and pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.

As Joint Patrons of the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute, Dennis and I are delighted to host you here at Government House, on one of the first occasions the Board, supporters, including representatives from Revesby Worker’s Club, Turner Freeman, the Signorelli Family and Honey-E-Haven, partner organisations, medical specialists, patients, carers and friends have been able to come together for many months.

Asbestos is one of mother earth’s most enticing minerals.  It has fascinated mankind from the time of its earliest known use in pottery making in south-eastern Finland in about 4000 BC.  It was used by the ancient Egyptians in the mummification process. 

Its magical qualities were written about by the Ancient Greeks. In the 2nd century it was used to make the curtain of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.  Seven threads - gold, asbestos, fine linen, silk, hyacinth, scarlet and purple were given to 7 Jewish virgins to weave.  An asbestos wick was placed in the candle in the middle of the Lateran Baptistery in Rome, built in the 4th century.  Roman Emperor Charlemagne, in the 8th century AD, reportedly threw a tablecloth into a fire and pulled it out without a mark on it to demonstrate his supernatural powers to guests. 

Its seductive powers spread east and west throughout the centuries.  It was hailed as the miracle material – having the same mystical and, as it turns out, the same physical properties as other minerals including jade.  Nephrite, the principal variety of jade, has the same chemical composition as asbestos.[1]   

In the utilitarian industrial and post-industrial age, it has been used, for example, in the construction industry and in the manufacture of car brakes.  It was extensively used in World War II as lagging, particularly in submarines, and as a fire retardant.[2]

As a judge hearing appeals from the Dust Diseases Tribunal, I am not unfamiliar with the tragedy of exposure to asbestos.  That cases have not peaked and will not do so for another 20 years at least, [3] is a sad indictment of its continuing use, especially as its noxious qualities were already becoming apparent in the 19th century.  

Here at Government House, we have our own asbestos story.  Rear Admiral Sir David Martin was the 34th Governor of New South Wales. After retiring from a stellar 40-year career in the Royal Australian Navy, Sir David was sworn in as Governor on the 20th of January 1989.  Just over 12 months later, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. On the 7th of August 1990, having resigned his commission,  Sir David and Lady Martin left Government House.  He died three days later.[4]

Just one fibre can affect you.  Paul Signorelli, here with us tonight, has described it as: “like a fishhook once you breathe it in.”[5]

Tonight, we acknowledge the work of Eora budjari – in the local language of the traditional peoples – good people.  Each person here tonight is a good person, a significant contributor to ADRI’s cause, from world class research scientists and clinicians, to the patients and carers, supporters and donors who work with ADRI, now a World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre,[6] as it combats life-threatening asbestos-related diseases.  A simple thank you is never enough, but sometimes it is the only thing to say.  Thank you everyone.

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