Doc Holiday's cafe
In 2008, JP was music therapist to Bill, a palliative care patient who had mined blue asbestos in a town called Wittenoom in the 1950’s. Deep in the Pilbara, 1000 kilometres north of Perth in the deserts of Western Australia, Wittenoom had once been a busy mining town with a transient population and many young families. It is now an abandoned ghost town.
The miners endured shocking conditions mining the blue asbestos of Wittenoom from the late 30’s to the mid 60’s. With no masks or ventilation, the crowded and dirty milling plant had to be flood lit both day and night because the ‘baggers’ couldn’t see more than two yards with the air so thick with the murderous fibres. By 1967 the 'safe' level of airborne asbestos particle exposure was limited to 5 parts per cm3. In the late 1950’s the asbestos fibre count at Wittenoom’s mine and milling plant was regularly measured at 1000 parts per cm3 or more.
After witnessing the onset of illness in so many of his friends (some 30 years after the closure of the mines), Bill was diagnosed with stage IV Plueral Mesothelioma, an incurable and highly invasive cancer caused by exposure to asbestos fibres. Before he died, Bill told JP a story about a place in Wittenoom where the miners drank and gambled when they weren’t drilling or shovelling asbestos into bags. Doc Holiday’s Cafe, was the meeting place in town where miners played darts, drank home brew, laughed together and told their stories. Bill’s recollections of this place were bittersweet because the years that he felt should have been fondly recalled as the best of times, had now come back to haunt him because he, like most of his mining mates, had been invaded by an unknown and silent killer. This important story, told so courageously to JP in Bill’s last few days, lived inside JP for a few years. Eventually, it became the song Doc Holidays Cafe, title track of JP’s 2017 album release.
Wittenoom is now a ghost town, erased from maps and signing with only a handful of residents remaining who have refused the Western Australian government’s requests that they leave for their own safety. For these last remaining few, Wittenoom is still home. The open cut mines are still there, abandoned since the 1960’s when people started to get sick and the authorities stepped in. Wittenoom is dangerous - don’t go there.