Bum Stingers and Asbestos Demolition

Mum and Dad would always buy the plastic wooden spoons as the wooden ones broke too easily.

Anyone who went to high school in the 70s and 80s will tell you that the more flexible the instrument for punishment was, the more it hurt. Not that Mum and Dad were thinking about inflicting punishment when they purchased the plastic spoons, they just wanted value for money.

Dean Hukins and I loved to throw Bum Stingers at people from his front verandah. We’d collect the round seeds that used to fall from the tall conifer trees that grew in his yard, hide behind the verandah furniture and then throw them at anyone that would walk past. They were about 20 millimetres in diameter and just weighty enough for a 5 year old to pitch some distance.

Fortunately, our aim and technique was that of a 5 year old so most passers-by were pretty safe from the attack. We cottoned on to the idea of improving our throwing to hit ratio be grabbing handfuls of the seeds and hurling them. Even then we rarely hit anybody.


It was at about this time that the sewer came to Tullamore.

The reason I was at Dean’s place that day was to have a look at his new toilet. An inside toilet was a big deal because it meant that you didn’t have to go outside to the thunderbox in the middle of the night. It was quite a novelty just going to another room to do a poo.

Dean’s dad was the bank manager and mine was the local stock and station agent. We lived in the same street, the main street, and were separated by a road and a pub. The bank was on the corner and mum and dad’s shop was next to the pub.

Anyway, I saw his, so, it was time for him to see mine. We crossed the road, walked past the pub and ambled into our house. We both looked at the toilet, flushed it a couple of times and came to the conclusion, that it was a good toilet.


We spied the thunder box in the back yard and unanimously realised that it wasn’t needed any more.

We decided to help out my dad by demolishing it. I found a few hammers in the shed and we proceeded to smash the fibro walls. I loved doing this as the fibro was really brittle and smashed into small pieces pretty easily. The noise was great. The smashing was loud and the fibro made a ‘ting’ sound as it fell onto the ground. After removing the fibro from the walls, the next challenge was to get rid of in from the roof. Fortunately, the old can was still in the structure. We took turns standing on it, waving the hammers above our heads and bashing the corrugated roof. When we had finished, we stood back from the building and admired our handiwork.


At about this time Dad arrived home and he didn’t look happy.

Actually, he was angry. He started yelling at Dean and myself. He sent Dean home and me to my room.  As I was waiting for Dad to come to my room, I was in fear for my life. As I should have been.


Dean and I had just demolished an asbestos shed, without wearing any personal protective equipment.

The asbestos was old and very brittle. There would have been an abundance of airborne fibres floating around, landing God knows where.


The worst part was not the demolition but the clean-up.

For part of my punishment, Dad made me pick up all of the asbestos and place it on the back of his Ute. I then had to sweep up the dust and put that in the bin.  The residue would have stayed on the ground and on the back of the utility for a long time. My family was in constant danger of breathing in the deadly dust.

Every time the lawnmower went near the demolished toilet, plumes of dust wafted into the air.


I was lucky, that incident happened over 40 years ago and none of my family have any asbestos related diseases.

Asbestos diseases are like cancer, they don’t discriminate. Some people who have worked with it for all of their lives have remained well. Whereas others, like the wives that washed the work clothes, have died horrible deaths from the effects of the disease.

Only yesterday, when I was conducting a building inspection on a house at Engadine, I came upon some asbestos lagging, on a pipe, in the roof void. It was friable asbestos which is the most dangerous kind because it can pulverise to the touch. The lagging looked like old string that was wound around the pipe.


It was the sort of thing that, as a kid, I would have unwound and played with.

If you have any asbestos or suspected asbestos in your house get it inspected. We can take samples of it and send them off to a lab to confirm whether the product contains asbestos or not. Jim’s can also advise you about removing the asbestos or how to keep it safe.

I can’t remember if I got a kick up the bum for my first foray into demolition, but the event has always remained in my psyche. Perhaps I did.


The real sting in the tail is that Dean and I lost touch in the early 80s.

They left Tullamore at about the same time as us and we ended up living at either ends of Sydney’s suburbs.   I don’t know if he has any asbestos related diseases or not. He possibly could. I should look him up.


– Bill O’Grady

Jim’s Building Inspector – Rockdale NSW


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