Books & Literature

Book Review: Hazelwood, by Tom Doig

RECENT HISTORY: An indispensable and eye-opening account of the cause and aftermath of one of the worst coal mine fires in Australian History.

Hazelwood should serve as a warning to the rest of the world about the importance of external governance.

If you were part of the StopAdani movement, this disheartening story affirms your worst fears. On the other hand, if you don’t know what all the fuss is about or, you think the StopAdani campaign was ‘just’ about climate change, this book is a must-read.

Hazelwood is one of the most enlightening books on the consequences of poorly maintained, privately-owned coal mines and should serve as a warning to the rest of the world about the importance of an external form of governance for the industry.

Within the first few chapters the scene is set, and the emergency is illustrated with colourful language. There is a sense of urgency for the workers but also a sense of hopelessness. A string of misjudgements, errors and a habit of passive acceptance by the workers to an unyielding corporation – with regards to past maintenance issues – all compound into one of the worst coal mine fires in Australian History.

Hazelwoodanalyses the progression of what led to the fire and the personal impacts of it. It does this by narrating the paths of a handful of residents’ health issues caused by the fumes. The fire burned for 45 days in 2014 and the health impacts were not minor. They were and are devastating. As Doig later notes, the health impacts to the residents of Hazelwood and others in the Latrobe Valley are going to be researched for at least two decades by a team of researchers from Monash University.

Doig develops a strong affinity between the reader and the people featured in the book. Despite their suffering, were not being heard. They were effectively censored from mainstream media by not being featured. At the same time, they were being fed lies from the organisations from which they were seeking support. This included the Victorian government. Ultimately, the residents turned to social media to circulate information and spread news.

When you read Hazelwood and contemplate just how much effort, passion and perseverance it took for their plight to be acknowledged, there is a sense of pride for the community banding together in what became a lengthy political fight. It doesn’t end pleasantly but it ends adequately. And that is just how the story ends.

Reviewed by Rebecca Wu

Distributed by: Penguin Books Australia
Released: June 2020
RRP: $34.99

Publication of this review was deferred from July 2019 due to the ongoing Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry. The inquiry has now concluded and the book was published on 22 June 2020.

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