Turning Men Into Stone
A social and medical history of silicosis in Western Australia 1890-1970
by Criena Fitzgerald
ISBN 978-0-85905-635-9, (New, 2016), 170 x 240, section sewn, 252pp, illustrated, indexed, 710 grams
$50.00 + POST
1960, WA physician Dr Bob Elphick remarked to his colleagues that the mining industry was turning men into stone. This evocative image aptly described the end-stage pathophysiological changes that occurred in the lungs of the state’s goldminers after exposure to silica dust. Until 1926 in WA, when X-ray technology became readily available and financially viable, diagnosis of dust disease in miners was fraught, flawed and at best an educated medical guess.
Medical men and miners believed that their ill health was caused by a combination of infection from tuberculosis and exposure to dust, but it was tuberculosis rather than silicosis that became the focus of preventative and ‘curative’ measures. Silicosis damaged a man’s lungs, but in the first ten years of the twentieth century, he would usually died of tuberculosis.
TURNING MEN INTO STONE examines physicians’ and miners’ understandings of disease in miners and the response of government, unions and public health officials to the rise of morbidity and mortality in the mining workforce. Obscured by tuberculosis, silicosis was, like the dust that caused it, often swept under the carpet.
An important new historical study of the goldminers who toiled hard to exploit and profit from the massive golden riches of Western Australia. Yet many died dusted miserable deaths from silicosis and tuberculosis leaving widows and families destitute and in poverty, to battle for what little, if any at compensation all.
This is a largely untold social and medical history at the birth of the state’s mineral wealth.