Bruno Comelli died of a broken heart, says his adoring wife Edda. He’d survived Nazis and post-war poverty in Italy before arriving in Melbourne. There he worked seven days a week as a fruiterer and concreter to give his children the education he never had.
In his late 70s Bruno was fit, strong, and savouring the life he had made for his family in his beloved Australia. Then, after all he’d been through and fought for, he was cut down by the deadly lung cancer, mesothelioma, a result of exposure to stray asbestos fibres decades previously.
Bruno hadn’t worked with asbestos. Like many poor migrants he had lived in Melbourne’s west when it was the city’s smelly, industrial engine room. His home was just down the road from James Hardie’s Brooklyn asbestos plant. Twice a week he’d take his greengrocer’s rubbish to local tips and throw it into pits through clouds of white dust. “He used to say it was horrible down there,” says Edda. “Especially on a windy day”.
Decades after the Hardie factory closed, Bruno died in 2012 aged 80, a likely victim of environmental exposure to waste asbestos.