From Killer Company to Devils Dust

Mon, 12 Nov 2012 11:48:00 +1100

As ABC TV screens Devils Dust, Deakin Research revisits the IT'S NOT MY FAULT forum that featured Matt Peacock, one of the central characters in the television drama.

The forum was titled YES IT IS UNETHICAL BUT IT IS NOT MY FAULT.

Peacock had spent much of his career investigating the activities of James Hardie and at the time of the forum in 2009 had just published his book Killer Company.

To hear the forum, click here.

Devils Dust is an intensely personal drama based on one of Australia's most shocking corporate scandals, Devil's Dust tells the story of ordinary Australians caught in a web of deception in the James Hardie asbestos saga.

The two-part series follows four people - led by everyday hero and ex-Hardie's employee Bernie Banton (Anthony Hayes) - thrown together by a tragedy that becomes a high-stakes battle through the corridors of corporate, political and media power.

Spanning four decades, Devil's Dust shows industrial manufacturer James Hardie first cover up its knowledge of the dangers of its asbestos mining and products and then threaten compensation plans by moving the company overseas.

But it is not just a story of court cases and corporate legalese. Devil's Dust depicts Australians from all walks of life whose lives are ripped apart by a deadly dust that looks so innocent, yet is so lethal.

In the 1970s, Bernie Banton works on the James Hardie BI factory floor in Parramatta where asbestos dust is piled like snowdrifts. Little does he realise the impact the dust will have on him, his family and his colleagues - and that he will inspire a nation with his determination to hold his former employer to account.

Young and tenacious ABC journalist Matt Peacock (Ewen Leslie) uncovers the dramatic gap between the dangers of asbestos known to international scientists and the public position of James Hardie and its allies.

When Matt meets Bernie during an interview for The 7.30 Report he anoints him the unofficial spokesperson for the asbestos compensation campaign. As the two become fixated on pursuing James Hardie, it's up to Bernie's wife, Karen (Alexandra Schepisi), to pick up the pieces at home. Karen helps Bernie handle the emotional burden of fighting for victims of asbestosis and mesothelioma, the cancer caused by asbestos - and to face his own asbestos fate.

The fictional character of James Hardie spin doctor Adam Bourke (Don Hany) is Matt and Bernie's nemesis, as he works hard to protect the interests of the company's shareholders. But far from being ruthless and uncaring, Adam experiences terrible moral dilemmas when he realises that the health and survival of thousands of Australians is jeopardised by the materials his company manufactured.

Based on interviews with those who have survived and the stories of those who have died, Devil's Dust is inspired by the work of Matt Peacock, author of the book Killer Company.

The legacy of asbestos will continue for decades to come. By 2030, asbestos-related illnesses are expected to have killed more than 60,000 Australians, more than our country's death toll in WW1.


Matt Peacock
Matt Peacock
Showcase facts
  • Peacock had spent much of his career investigating the activities of James Hardie and at the time of the forum in 2009 had just published his book Killer Company.
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20th August 2012