These are some of the personal experiences and stories of homeowners, tenants, landlords, real estate agents, tradespeople and neighbours from our community – all impacted in some way by loose fill asbestos insulation.
The demolition of the property today at Guthridge Crescent was bittersweet, as neighbours and former owners gathered to toast the house with champagne and a once young apprentice who had crossed the threshold with his new hammer was today the man signalling to bring it down.
Twenty-three years ago apprentice carpenter Brett was working on a second story cape cod extension to 60 Guthridge Crescent in Wanniassa, when he lost his first ever hammer in the wall cavity. Today that hammer was decontaminated and returned to him as the site supervisor for the demolition of 60 Guthridge Crescent, one of the pilot demolition houses for the ACT Government.
It is an uncanny coincidence that illustrates the interconnection of the Canberra community to the houses affected by loose fill asbestos insulation.
When Brett arrived at the property to set up for demolition and internal asbestos removal, it looked familiar and he hopped on the phone to his former boss to confirm it was the house from his early career.
"I rang him and said, 'Where was that cape cod extension we put on a house in Wanniassa?' and then he told me the address and I couldn't believe it. I spoke to the guys doing the internal asbestos removal and told them that there might be a hammer down in a certain wall cavity. And then they emerged from the decontamination unit with the cleaned hammer, 23 years later," said Brett.
Brett is one of the many tradespeople who has worked in houses affected by loose fill asbestos insulation in the ACT over the past 50 years and he encourages tradespeople to check the list of affected houses and seek advice from a health professional if they need to.
"Working in the industry in one way or another, we've been exposed. I think the first effort to remove the loose fill asbestos was as good as they could do at the time," said Brett.
The prevailing view at the time was that all the loose fill asbestos insulation was removed as part of a joint Commonwealth and ACT Government program to remove visible and accessible loose fill asbestos insulation between 1989 and 1993. We know a lot more today about this substance than we did 25 years ago and modern testing has revealed that asbestos fibres visible to the naked eye contain 20,000 fibres and a 50 cent sample size under a microscope can reveal up to two million.
Brett supervised the team which safely suited up to undertake the internal asbestos removal, capturing two bags full of loose fill asbestos which could clearly be seen to the naked eye. The internal walls were then sprayed with a glue to ensure that fibres stick to the structure before the house is demolished.
"It has been a long day but I have to say that we are all working around the clock to clear the debris from the site before dark and contractors in the industry are really pulling together to make this happen in a way I haven't seen for a long time. We get that this is an important thing we are doing for the community and we want to do it right and do it safely."
Thank you, Brett for sharing your story.
A year ago, many families and homeowners throughout Canberra were awaiting the results of asbestos assessments on their homes and the advice that would see some leave overnight.
Following new insights from the deconstruction of an affected house, a letter had been sent in February, changing the lives of many families, some of whom were learning for the first time that theirs was a home affected by loose fill asbestos insulation or Mr Fluffy.
For a family of three in Lyneham, they were grappling with the fate of their beloved home. A space where they had dreamed, celebrated and sought silence from busy days, the backdrop to their son’s childhood and a canvas which they had careful renovated over time.
This was their home.
"When we got the letter in February, it was quite a shock, we had done over a hundred thousand dollars in renovation works over the years," they recalled.
"It was very emotional, we had lived in the house for 11 years and our son had grown up in the house and we had a lot of memories.
"The Taskforce handled it all so well, our support person was extremely helpful and always responsive.
"Our Personal Support Team member would say that no question was a silly question and this allowed me to call and ask things along the way.
"In the end the practical thing to do was to find a new house and move on. We opted into the buyback program, found a new home and moved in January.
"The support made it so much easier.”
Today the family, formerly from Lyneham, is beginning to dream and celebrate again, creating memories in a new Canberra home they found in January.
"We have a new home and our son is so happy here, which makes my wife happy."
We respect the anonymity request of this Lyneham family who has shared their experience, one of many from the more than 1000 properties affected by Mr Fluffy loose fill asbestos insulation in Canberra.
If you sit in the foyer of the Northside Community Service you can see the faces of the community before you streaming in for a chat, to join a knitting class, taking supplies out to the Men's Shed, adolescents meeting mentors, or carers taking a child to playgroup or the early learning centre.
It is a place of many activities with a common meaning: support.
Support in the services Northside provides the companionship and connection it subtly facilitates. When the Government faced the prospect of removing houses affected by loose fill asbestos insulation from the community, providing relevant support to homeowners and tenants would be critical.
While the Taskforce assembled a team of experienced personal support case coordinators, it has been the partnership with community organisations such as Northside that has made the program accessible, enabled face-to-face meetings in a local environment and importantly provided a pathway to refer people to practical help and support.
Kate Cvetanovski, Executive Director – Community Services, Northside Community Service, says many new families are now accessing their services:
"Many of the families that have been involved are families that have never needed to rely on help from the government, community agencies or the service system before," said Kate. "They are very proud, and proud of what they have achieved."
The partnership enabled the Taskforce to locate two Personal Support Team members, two days per week, within Northside Community Service located in Dickson. This resulted in more than 280 meetings – over 180 hours of face-to-face time with homeowners and tenants, as well as providing referrals through Northside for help with packing, transport, pet minding, childcare, as well as Seniors Morning Teas to bring people together.
"One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about working in partnership with the Taskforce is the respect that they have shown each of the families and the dignity and integrity woven through the entire process."
As people settle into their new suburbs or look to reconnect with their community in the wake of Mr Fluffy, Northside becomes a place to meet new people, volunteer, attend an event or become part of the Men’s Shed.
Kate believes that the next five years hold an opportunity for Canberra to renew its sense of community.
"In the future I’d like to see a community that has a lot more emphasis on volunteerism."
On behalf of the Taskforce and the many homeowners and tenants who you have assisted, we say thank you Northside Community Service.
When Helen first purchased her former home in Chapman a quarter of a century ago, she couldn’t have imagined that she would have to fight through the destruction of the 2003 Canberra bushfires.
Twelve years after that fight, Helen has left her former home and much-loved garden as a result of the legacy of Mr Fluffy.
"My garden was devastated in the 2003 bushfires so I invested 12 years of blood, sweat and tears into re-establishing the beautiful gardens I have now had to leave behind. It was back-breaking work but done with love of gardening and hope for its future," Helen said.
"I replanted the garden from moonscape to provide a beautiful and private garden with long views to the city and beyond. I loved my paradise and can’t tell you the loss I feel in having to surrender it."
In redesigning her garden after the bushfires, Helen sought to tie in elements from neighbouring properties to commemorate the loss felt by the community.
"I used bricks from surrounding burnt houses to make a paved seating area in the backyard with blue flowers and forget-me-nots to reflect on what I had that others lost in the 2003 fires."
Leaving her former home and garden has been an emotional process for Helen, who has relocated to a unit.
"Surrendering the house, buying another, culling and moving as well as having to lift and relocate plants was the most difficult of times," she said. "The advice I was given when I surrendered the house was returning to retrieve plants was not possible and I would have to move anything I wanted to keep prior to the surrender. In the hottest part of January I moved weeping maples and rhododendron. I am not sure the former have survived yet."
The Taskforce listened to feedback from homeowners, and implemented Plant Retrieval Month, which ran until 31 July 2015. The former Chapman resident applied for a permit and attended the free gardening advice session hosted at Rodney's Plants Plus.
"I appreciate the effort of the volunteer gardening experts and gleaned some useful information. I did take advantage of some potting mix Rodney's offered, and would also like to recognise the support they provided post bushfire as I was re-establishing my garden."
While Helen's new living arrangements can't accommodate the plants and trees from her former garden, she has donated them to her family, friends and the community so that others can enjoy a little piece of Helen's paradise.
"I have lifted and replanted 300 daffodil bulbs, two maples, a rhododendron, eight azaleas, nine nandina, and a dozen hellebores into family gardens. I have given away dahlia tubers and agapanthus to anyone at work who has wanted them. I have potted up a maple, three camellias and five roses for a niece who may or may not want them when she moves into her newly built first home. I know exactly what I have been able to save and where they are. I am now in a unit and cannot use the plants myself but just couldn’t leave them," she said.
"I am visiting my family and taking a motherly interest in the plants I have transplanted. There is always a silver lining. I couldn't go through starting a new garden again, and I decided not to try to replace what I lost.
"It is simply not possible to find another affordable home facing the morning sun with a fantastic view and private gardens. It doesn't exist, would never be as good, and not what I am emotionally attached to.
"So I fast forwarded to my future housing needs and made the move that I probably would have wanted to do in ten years’ time anyway.
"Now instead of looking over my garden at city lights, I am closer to town and look over the lake to evening lights. It is not better, but different. I still feel the loss but am happy where I am."
Thank you to Michael, a former homeowner in Flynn, for sharing his story.
"I saw many homeowners under stress," said Michael, who owned his former home for 32 years.
"I felt it was unfair that some people said that we should have known we had loose fill asbestos insulation in our houses when we bought them.
"When I bought the house in 1983, it noted that it had 'loose wool' insulation but then I received a letter as part of the original cleanup program and I went through the program and got the all clear.
"Twenty-four years later I had a worthless toxic site."
Michael opted in to the buyback program in November, received his valuations in December, an offer prior to Christmas and moved into his new home in February.
"I am extremely thankful to the Government as I got my value back for my property and I could get out of my affected house.
"It was hard sometimes and frustrating as there was a lack of information and delays, but I knew the Taskforce was trying to do their best.
"It is a highly complex and very detailed scheme and it was difficult to get through to talk to people in the Taskforce early on but they do receive a lot of unwarranted flak, when they are simply trying to implement the Government's decision.
"But now I feel that it's going to be ok, I bought a new home and I have been fixing it up."
As the Proprietor of The Good Guys Belconnen, Roger Murphy has been an avid supporter of the Canberra community for the last five years.
"We support Snowy Hydro SouthCare, we also support Soldier On which is an organisation that helps soldiers that have been affected by their service, and other various community groups, for example Weetangera School, we donate prizes for their raffles and do a lot of that sort of stuff. We also sponsor the Canberra Gunners basketball team.
"We're quite involved with the community – we are The Good Guys!
"Belconnen has been affected in a big way, I actually have a Mr Fluffy house across the road from me."
Roger says that a number of Mr Fluffy homeowners have come into the store to replace electronic appliances and have received discounts on products, and The Good Guys Belconnen would like to extend this offer to all Mr Fluffy owners.
"When people need to replace any electrical appliances, we will give them a special price on any appliances that they purchase, and we would like to offer free delivery for major appliances as well, which is usually $60.
"Special pricing will be based on what we can offer in relation to the margin on specific products, so it will be tailored to what the customer needs."
In order to access these discounts, homeowners need only take their Letter of Comfort in store.
"They can come in and speak to a friendly salesperson about what they would like to purchase, then they will show their letter and be referred to a manager who can work out pricing for them."
Contact The Good Guys Belconnen by calling 02 6252 4400 or visiting them in store at 49 Lathlain Street, Belconnen.
Julian and Liz Barrington have been supporting the Canberra community for more than ten years, through The Good Guys Tuggeranong.
"Supporting the community within which we live and work is a big part of our business philosophy, that's why we sponsor events and support local sporting teams," said Liz.
"It is also why we responded the way we did with discounts and help for families affected by the Canberra bushfires, even though we had just opened our doors."
This community spirit once again underpins the support The Good Guys in Tuggeranong are providing to people affected by Mr Fluffy and needing to replace household items.
"We want to help people access a special discount rate to replace their washing machines, vacuum cleaners or other household items, so that they have had a bit more extra cash that they can put towards something else they may need," said Julian.
"We will help each individual customer and tailor pricing to their needs."
To access this generous support, people need only bring their Letter of Comfort from the Taskforce.
The Good Guys in Tuggeranong is a part of the community and business response that is helping people affected by Mr Fluffy transition to new homes and living arrangements.
Contact The Good Guys Tuggeranong on 02 6293 2244 or visit Shop 3, 76 Athllon Dr, The Hyperdome House and Home, Tuggeranong.
Gardeners throughout Canberra have long been sourcing their plants, pots, furniture and advice from Rodney's Plants Plus in Pialligo.
"As Canberra has grown, so have we," said Fiona Toll, who now works in the business her parents Cheryl and Rodney started 40 years go.
"We have many long-term customers that once came here as children and today many visit with their grandchildren, we are a part of the private gardens and the community of Canberra."
It is that deep appreciation of their place in the community that saw Rodney's Plants Plus give back and help people re-establish their gardens after the 2003 Bushfires and this underpins their latest
support for people affected by Mr Fluffy.
"Canberra is a really close-knit community and everybody knows someone who has a Mr Fluffy house," Fiona said.
"That is why we want to help with practical items to help transplant trees and plants as well as advice and discounts."
Rodney's Plants Plus will provide people affected by Mr Fluffy with free plastic pots for transplanting, a free bag of potting mix, free satchels of power feed and a 20% discount valid for 12 months on their next purchase.
To access this generous support, people need only bring their Letter of Comfort from the Taskforce.
Rodney's Plant Plus are a part of the community and business response that is helping people affected by Mr Fluffy transition to new homes, living arrangements and new gardens.
Contact Rodney's Plants Plus on 02 6248 6933 or visit 24 Beltana Rd, Pialligo.
Mick Burgess and Dennis Dempsey have been turning the Canberra soil for nearly half a century, bringing the public spaces of our city to life with pathways, treescapes, gardens and playgrounds.
A great friendship spanning more than 40 years and their shared passion and skills from a lifetime of landscaping underpin their support for people affected by Mr Fluffy.
"We both have the skills and experience to help people save a part of their garden or a special tree or to take cuttings from a special rose bush or plant and that is why we contacted the Taskforce to see how we could help," Mick said.
Mick came to Canberra in the 1970s, where new suburbs were sprouting through the landscape and where he would plant, pave and work through much of the Capital. He planted trees in patterns that would later form the streetscapes of Hughes, created the rock walls some 30 years ago that form the Mount Ainslie lookout, and today he walks with his grandchildren past the tall trees recounting how tough the soil was to turn.
"Every tree tells a story," said Mick. "Every backyard or garden does the same. This is why we want to help."
"I agree," said Dennis. "If we lost our garden it would be heartbreaking but I know I have the skills to save many of my plants and trees and I want to share these skills with people who need them.
"Some people may not know that you can transplant out of season with the right advice and I can help people understand what might be possible."
Dennis came to Canberra in 1965. He went to night school to finish his education then joined the National Capital Development Commission working within the Landscape Branch that delivered projects across the burgeoning city from Commonwealth Park to Weston. He then became a horticulture teacher, passing on his knowledge to the next generation of landscapers before taking up the position as Head Groundsman of ACT Cemeteries and then onto a successful career running his own landscaping business.
"Gardens that we build over time are emotional spaces, and that is why we are really happy to meet with people affected by Mr Fluffy to work through how they might be able to take a part of their garden with them."
Mick and Dennis are available to provide free horticulture and landscaping advice and Mick will also store and water plants and trees on his property until new gardens are found.
Mick and Dennis are a part of the community and business response that is helping people affected by Mr Fluffy transition to new homes, living arrangements and new gardens.
For tips on moving, read our Moving Checklist (538.0 KB).
Telstra has become the first telecommunications company to offer a support package for homeowners affected by Mr Fluffy, announcing it will waive a number of fees around connection and reconnection as well as other services, Deputy Chief Minister Simon Corbell announced.
Telstra has advised it will support ACT customers affected by loose fill asbestos by providing:
- free call diversion from an affected Telstra fixed phone service to another Australian fixed or mobile service of the customer's choice, regardless of the landing carrier
- free cancellation of a Telstra fixed phone service at the affected address, with free number reservation for up to 12 months from the date of vacation of their address
- free connection of a Telstra fixed phone service at one temporary residence.
There are supports also available for Bigpond customers.
"Through these supports Telstra has shown it is a community leader by making the transition for homeowners moving to new homes a little bit easier," Mr Corbell said.
"I call on other telecommunications providers to follow Telstra's lead in providing a compassionate response to homeowners affected by this issue."
Telstra Area General Manager Chris Taylor said this was a practical way to support affected homeowners.
"On behalf of Telstra, we are pleased to be able to help support those impacted families through this difficult time," Mr Taylor said.
"We will work with the affected community and the Asbestos Response Taskforce to offer the Telstra home phone service concessions and will seek to fast-track any disconnections, free call diversions and reconnections for affected families."
For more information read the Telstra Support infosheet (505.5 KB).
Executive Director of Woden Community Service, Mr Chris Redmond, has opened the doors of the community centre to the ACT Asbestos Response Taskforce and to local homeowners affected by Mr Fluffy loose fill asbestos insulation.
Chris can see similarities between the 2003 Canberra Bushfire Response and today's ACT Asbestos Response.
"People who own houses aren't often in touch with community services, but this situation is a crisis just like the bushfires and it requires a whole of community response to ensure people don’t feel isolated," Mr Redmond said.
Taskforce Personal Response Team members are based at Community Centres like Woden three days a week to provide greater access and support for Mr Fluffy homeowners and residents.
"By partnering with the Taskforce Personal Response Team, Woden Community Service can help to rally practical community support for affected people."
WCS can provide assistance for people seeking to rent a house while looking for a home to purchase or community transport to get to house inspections or real estate agents.
"The ACT Government's response has been fantastic and Woden Community Service is here to offer whatever support we can for Mr Fluffy homeowners and residents. Being a member of the Community and Expert Reference Group is an important role where we have an opportunity to provide a voice to affected home owners and residents about their needs at this time."
For Chris, its more than just connecting Mr Fluffy homeowners with services. The father of three knows firsthand the impact of Mr Fluffy as a homeowner of an affected house in North Canberra.
"We have owned our home for 15 years and have renovated a couple of times to make sure our home met our needs as our family grew. We love our house however realise it's time to move on.
"We have signed up to the buyback scheme and are out looking for a house that we can make our new home. The approach the ACT Government is taking will benefit the whole Canberra community in the long run and remove an unwanted legacy that future generations would have had to resolve."
Mr Redmond, now former Chief Executive Officer, of Woden Community Service is also on the Community and Expert Reference Group.
The ACT Chief Minister called on the banks to be compassionate and understanding toward customers affected by Mr Fluffy loose fill asbestos insulation.
Wendy Downing of Holder is amongst the first homeowners to benefit from the banks’ compassionate response.
"I first started looking to move a few months ago but at the time no bank was prepared to lend against a home with Mr Fluffy asbestos," Ms Downing said.
"But then I met with the local Relationship Manager for ME Bank and was delighted to be given the 'green light' to go ahead and make an offer on a new home.
"It is a sad situation to leave a large block in an established suburb like Holder where I have lived for the past 12 years but I am looking at this as a chance for a lifestyle change.
"I am very grateful to the ACT Government for this lifeline, without it I would have had to remain in a house that no one would want to buy. I know everyone's situation is different, but the ACT Government has really stepped up for me and provided a solution where there was none.
"For me it's a good outcome, I have dogs and it would have been very difficult to try and find a rental property that allows pets prior to finding a new home to buy.
"The compassionate response and green light from ME Bank will hopefully see me settled in a new place by autumn next year."
The ACT Asbestos Response Taskforce has officially written to the banks providing a 'Letter of Comfort' detailing the ACT Government’s intention to buyback affected properties at a market rate following assessment by two independent valuers.
Read more about financial assistance and support.
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