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'Doin' the Dirt' by
Rae Desmond Jones

Doing Dirt On The Danish


During my halcyon years as the Mayor of Ashfield I recall hearing whispers around the corridors of a great heap of toxic paint by products badly stored by a firm ambiguously named Orica, near the Sydney suburb of Botany. Nothing much was heard about it for some years, during which I retired from Local Government and returned to my previous occupation as an unacknowledged legislator. The Rudd Government came in clouds of glory, and disappeared in a smudge of despair: our first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, now hangs onto Government with the support of the Greens and two conservative independents, the first government of this type in Australia since World War 2, when the Japanese were close enough to sink a ferry in Sydney Harbour and bomb Darwin.

Rae Desmond Jones
'Doin' the Dirt'

On that occasion, the independents transferred their loyalty from a conservative Government to the Labor Government of John Curtin. Curtin, in an extraordinary speech, transferred Australia’s loyalty to the USA from Great Britain for the very good reason that the British were having enough trouble with their own tiff with Field Marshal Rommel and Reich Marshal Goering, and were unable to focus on the Japanese in the faraway Pacific. Successive Australian Governments have obediently followed the US or the UN into Korea, Vietnam, both Iraq wars, and Afghanistan. We are at present in a schizoid dither about China, but that is another story.

Imagine my surprise upon receiving angry e-mails from a friend in Denmark, about the actions of Orica and the Australian Government in negotiating a deal with the Environment Minister of Denmark to decontaminate the waste. (1) The initial negotiations were with Germany, which has much larger furnaces for such a purpose, but the Germans lobbed it back at us as quick as a V2 rocket full of old paint. The Germans are a bit too big to pick on, but the Danes….

Well, Denmark is smaller than Louisiana, but the Danes protested big time. Not even the presence of an Australian Princess married to the heir of the throne could stop the anti-Australian propaganda – but none of this was published at any length in the Australian newspapers, except for small by-lines in the Sydney Morning Herald. There is always a problem when you pick on the little squirt around the block, especially when the squirt is smart. Denmark’s Environment Minister Karen Ellemann became known as “Chemical Karen” and the Scandinavian Transport Workers Union decided not to touch the cargo of hexachlorbenzyne ( - for an American site on this real deadly shit). Like all tough politicians everywhere when confronted by a big too-hard basket, Chemical Karen gave in (2).

Post the election, the Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett, (see (1) who is also the Member for Botany, where Orica is located, has found himself a new portfolio as the Minister for Education. Orica and the Australian Government are sniffing around for somewhere else. There is a difficulty: a rather pathetic piece of international double think called the Basel Convention. It does say that such waste should not be moved from countries with the technical capacity to treat it. Australia, especially Orica, has the technical capacity to treat it: the difficulty is political. We also deny that we have this capacity, while an independent review to the New South Wales Minister for Planning stated that “Australia has the technical capacity to construct and operate suitable hazardous waste treatment facilities” (3). OK, where do you find a place in this great arid land of ours to create such a facility? Yes, our indigenous people have become acutely sensitive to their rights these days.

My bet is that Orica and the new Government might start sniffing around the poorer countries of Africa, to find a co-operative leader with lots of medals and a loyal military, who might be interested. For a consideration. Or they might bury it beneath arguably the first landing place of Europeans in Eastern Australia, Botany Bay. Then declare it a heritage site!



Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Atlanta, GA 30341, < > Page last updated: January 7, 2011. Accessed January 10, 2011.
• Bliss, R. Southern Courier, NSW, Australia. < > 17 August 2010. Accessed January 10, 2011.
• Colvin, M., ABC Radio News, Sydney, Australia < > December 3, 2010. Accessed January 10, 2011.
• Wright, T., Chairman, Further Independent Review Panel, Report to the Hon. Frank Sartor, NSW Minister for Planning, NSW, Australia < > November, 2006. Accessed January 10, 2010.



Rae Desmond JonesRae Desmond Jones is a poet and novelist and the former Mayor of the Sydney Council of Ashfield. He still can't resist meddling in politics, but regards himself these days as an unacknowledged legislator for mankind. This means he likes to make trouble.


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