Asbestos Cement Penguin 

by Beris Penrose



In 1975 the seaside town of Penguin, Tasmania commemorated its 100th anniversary. The centrepiece of the celebration was 3 metre high asbestos cement penguin. It was made by Goliath Portland Cement Company in Railton, Tasmania, which manufactured asbestos cement products from 1947 to 1986.


The penguin became the focus of debate in 2008 when former Goliath asbestos cement worker, Laurie Appleby, who has asbestosis, and the Australian Workers Union told the media it contained asbestos. The union's national occupational health and safety co-ordinator, Dr Yossi Berger, said: “Any product that has asbestos in it presents a risk - full stop.” Berger also commented that: “The council will say 'it's all painted therefore it will not release asbestos fibres.' It's a bit like saying 'this product is loaded with TNT so let's not let anyone with matches go near it.'”1

Although the Central Coast council and Mayor Mike Downie believed it didn't contain asbestos, an inspection and a risk assessment was done.2 The inspection confirmed it was made of asbestos cement, as the former Goliath workers had claimed. But it was deemed to be safe because the penguin was coated in a layer of polyester resin and fibreglass. Downie claimed: “Asbestos containing construction materials cannot escape from beneath this layer unless the outer resin/fibreglass covering is destroyed or opened”.3

“The Big Penguin will be here to stay for many, many years to come,” Downey said.4 Over those many, many years regular inspections will have to be made to ensure asbestos fibres are not escaping, endangering the lives of residents and tourists. This seems a high price to pay for what is merely a tourist attraction, which could be replaced by one made from safe materials.

As for the workers at Goliath, since it stopped manufacturing asbestos cement products 40 workers have been paid settlements for asbestos diseases. It is expected that more workers with asbestos-related diseases will be found through an epidemiological study that has just gotten underway.5

April 3, 2009


1 Chris Pippos, 'The Asbestos Claim to be Tested', The Advocate, 1 Nov 2008.

2 Pippos, 1 Nov 2008.

3 'The Big Penguin is Safe', 3 Dec 2008

4 ABC Northern Tasmania, 1 Dec 2008.

5 Pippos, 1 Nov 2008.



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