The Asbestos Diseases Society of WA was formed in November 1979, prompted by the case of Joan Joosten. She had been a stenographer working in the Australian Blue Asbestos offices in the early 1950s at Wittenoom and had developed the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma.
Joan had sued CSR unsuccessfully for compensation and was appealing that decision. The new organisation drew the bulk of its members from those who had worked and lived at Wittenoom and was supported by the Ex-Wittenoom Residents’ Association.
The Society aimed to help all people suffering from asbestos-related diseases not only by providing support, but also by working vigorously for social justice in the form of adequate compensation and damages, and by educating the public on the dangers everyone faced.
One of the Society’s earliest protests took place at the University of Western Australia Summer School in January 1980 when 25 members handed out leaflets entitled ‘Justice for Asbestos Victims’ to people attending a talk by CSR’s chairman. Members also used the occasion to try to question the chairman about CSR’s responsibilities to its sick ex-workers. This activism began the Society’s long public campaign to make CSR liable for the suffering and hardship Wittenoom has produced.