In Memory of Jill

An address at the 2012 International Workers' Memorial Day event by Tony Evans.


Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this International Workers Memorial day.

I would just like to take a few minutes to reflect and share with you the reason for me being here today.

There are a few dates and times that we have locked away in our memories that constantly serve as a reminder of the good times and of course the tragic events that have affected us all here today.
Tony Evans speaking about his wife, Jill, who died
as a result of asbestos exposure.
Those dates and times in my family are:-

  • D  Day 6 June 1944 the day my wife Jill was born.
  • August 28 1965 the day we got married Jill never let me forget that day or the other 46 we had together.
  • My son and daughter’s & grandchildren's birthdays.
  • Australia Day 2001 the day we moved into our new home, in Narre Warren.
  • Australia day 2002 the day Jill passed away after a long illness with Mesothelioma. This as a result as of exposure to dust containing Asbestos fibres.

Jill had been exposed to Asbestos fibres through her work.

Not that she ever worked in an industry such as construction or demolition where Asbestos may be present. Jill was a humble cleaner in a Hospital environment. She merely swept up the mess and dust, after maintenance had repaired steam pipes that were lagged with asbestos, breathing in the dust and asbestos fibres as she swept up. Just a part of her normal cleaning duties in a hospital environment.

Asbestos is the silent killer.

It doesn’t hurt when you inhale the fibres, it doesn’t smell. In fact in many cases the victim may not be aware that they have been exposed. This was the case with Jill.

As a consequence she inhaled the dust and this over time developed into Mesothelioma, an asbestos related cancer.

For anyone who doesn’t know about the effects of Mesothelioma, it is a hideous debilitating disease that attacks the lining of the lungs making it extremely difficult for the victim to breathe.

Once diagnosed and being told in our case that Jill had only 6 - 9 months, it was very hard to comprehend what I had been told, we had been handed a death sentence.

Then it all begins: the treatment - Chemotherapy, the secondary illnesses such as pneumonia, and a heart attack, knowing the treatment will only slow down the illness not cure it.

Plus the uncertainty, the stress and distress on everyone. I can assure you it doesn’t leave anyone out: family, friends, workmates are all caught up in the trauma.

The hard part if there is one particular part is, watching your loved one, month after month struggle through the treatment, being helpless to do anything to stop the pain and suffering.

Nobody could prepare us for what was to come.

Jill was unable to do the simplest of things, such walk, eat solid food, have a simple conversation not even being able to talk to her grandchildren (coming from Yorkshire we like to talk, we are renowned for being able to talk underwater). Even the simplest conversations were too difficult so she didn’t attempt it.

You can imagine how frustrating and upsetting this was. The exertion being too great, making it harder for her to get any air into the lungs, she just couldn’t breathe.

The sound of her lungs gurgling in their own fluids trying to get a breath is a sound I would not wish any one to hear. Night times were always the worst.

From the day Jill was diagnosed or for any other victims there was or is no turning back. The tragic outcome is that Mesothelioma victims always die as a result of their illness.

What it does highlight is that none of us are immune from incidents that occur at work place, that are systematic of poor Health and Safety practices in the workplace.

Eventually some person does pay ultimate the price and be that victim if health and safety is not given due respect.

The irony of all this I was a Health and Safety Inspector with WorkSafe Victoria for 23 years trying to prevent this type of incident in workplaces and ended up with my wife Jill paying the ultimate price for simply trying to earn a living.

 Jill was a victim of poor health and safety practices at her place of work. 

That’s why we have to remain vigilant in ensuring that our workplaces are safe and that Health and Safety is a major part of what we do at work every day.

It is a fact that in all work related deaths we all become victims: our children, relatives and friends who are at times forgotten in all of this, and the untold stress that is placed on the family and individuals.

In my own circumstances in the early days following Jill’s death I could have very easily called it a day myself. It wasn’t and isn’t easy losing your best friend and soul mate and wife of over 40 years.

We also tend to forget the immediate family - my two adult children found it extremely hard to cope for many months after and still do, especially birthdays, Christmas and of course Mother’s Day. They too were and are also victims of their mother’s exposure to Asbestos, subsequent illness and untimely death.

I went to my granddaughter Hannah’s school Christmas play. My daughter grabbed my arm looked at me with tears running down her face and said “I wish mum was here to see Hannah.”

Even after many years the hurt and the loss in our family hasn’t gone away we are just learning to cope better.

It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that the love of your life is no longer around to share the good and hard times any more. And do the things that you planned once the kids had left the nest.

You have to refocus and learn to manage your life differently at a time when it should be getting easier.

On a lighter note, as a man living alone it is surprising what you can make by just pouring hot water on! I think it is called managing your life differently.

Life goes on so they say, and it does, but not always that easy for some of us here today, who have lost loved ones.
We have moved on, and are learning to cope with those loses and getting on with our lives, but never in our hearts accepting what has occurred.

It is hard and always will be, it’s never easy but it does get better as we learn to cope and come to terms with it, time is the healer. 

The sad part of all this, is that the adverse effects of exposure to Asbestos fibres has been known and documented for decades and yet today those same Asbestos-related diseases are common within workforce and communities. The available statistical information is that illness and death from exposure to Asbestos in Australia hasn’t peaked and will continue to rise for many years yet. The end result of this is of course means that many of our loved ones and friends will become victims.

We have to remain vigilant and resolute in ridding this silent killer from our workplaces.

In conclusion

It would be remiss of me not to mention our organisation IDSA, an organisation which does a magnificent job and has done for many years in providing victim support and advice in many areas. It also lobbies governments and Health and Safety organisations such as WorkSafe Victoria on behalf of victims and their families all on a purely voluntary basis.

The Trade Union Movement through Trades Hall and the CFMEU who are the voice of the workers, continually raising the bar, in respect of health and safety in the work place on behalf of all workers.

Workers have the right to go to work in one piece and come home in one piece - shouldn't they?

That’s why we have to remain vigilant in ensuring that our workplaces are safe and that Health and Safety is a major part of what we do at work every day.

It really doesn’t take much to achieve this.

I have to mention WorkSafe Victoria as I know that without the Inspectorate many workplaces would not pay due respect to Health and Safety.

IDSA, CFMEU, WorkSafe and the various Trades Unions have active victim support programs and systems in place that are only a phone call away if you need them.

Please use them, you don’t have to be or do it alone.

God Bless and thank you all.