Courtney Allan

Domestic Travel

Australia’s Chernobyl: Why tourists keep heading to this deadly Aussie town

Australia’s Chernobyl: Why tourists keep heading to this deadly Aussie town

As the region of Pilbara in Western Australia works hard to grow tourism to the area, which has rare flora and fauna as well as rich Indigenous culture, there is one place that the Western Australia government is trying to keep people away from.

The destination is so deadly that the name has been removed from maps and signs.

The former country town of Wittenoom lies abandoned as the decaying town is considered the most contaminated site in the Southern Hemisphere. 

There are more than 2,000 deaths linked to the town’s blue asbestos mining operations in the ‘60s.

Mining was formally shut down in 1966, but the asbestos fibres left behind have rendered the area permanently unsafe for human habitation according to experts who spoke to Travel Nine.

The area is so contaminated that it’s been dubbed “Australia’s Chernobyl”. Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Lands Ben Wyatt has described the fallout from the contamination as one of “the saddest chapters in WA history” and one the town would never be able to recover from.

"It is important to understand that when the Wittenoom mine closed there were 3 million tonnes of asbestos tailings left behind in the gorge and surrounding area," he told 9Honey.

"Exposure to a single fibre of these tailings could prove fatal. Therefore, as disappointing as it is, it is virtually impossible to clean the area to a level where it would then considered safe for human habitation."

However, the strict warnings haven’t stopped people from travelling there, despite the well-known and documented risks of asbestos. 

View this post on Instagram

Wittenoom gorge free camp with @zeke.holt.1 and @megcarmen. Pretty epic spot apart from all the asbestos! 😷

A post shared by E. (@emmet_f) on Jun 12, 2019 at 11:52pm PDT

Wyatt has serious words and a simple message for those who want to visit Wittenoom.

"I have a simple message for anyone thinking of travelling to Wittenoom. Don't. These warnings signs are not there for decoration or to add your Instagram collection. They are serious warnings about serious health consequences.

"I can't stress enough that it is particularly foolish to travel to Wittenoom. There are plenty of gorges in WA which do not bring with them the threat of a fatal consequences."