IT WAS called the Forests Commission when Graeme Hughes started working in the public service in 1967.
By the time he retired in 2000, it was Parks Victoria.
There were several incarnations in between but, throughout his 43-year career, Mr Hughes worked in the bush around Stawell, in western Victoria, where he lived and raised a family.
Mr Hughes said that during the 1970s he was required to use Tordon 50D, a chemical herbicide used to kill trees.
“We were told ‘there is nothing wrong with the chemical, it’s harmless to you, you could drink a seven-ounce (200ml) glass a day, it’s a tree killer and harmless to humans’,” Mr Hughes wrote in a recent submission to the Former Lands Department Chemical Inquiry in Ballarat.
A union member throughout his career, Mr Hughes told The Weekly Times his crew was expected to use the chemical without any briefing about the risks involved.
“The (20-litre) drums just went in the back of the ute, next to the Esky with our lunch,” he said.
“We were given a paintbrush and away you’d go through the bush, banging it (a four-litre tin of herbicide) on the back of your legs.”
He said clothes would often be saturated with the chemical and workers did not wear gloves.
“There were no handwashing facilities. You’d just sit down and eat your lunch,” he said.
He said he believed there would be workers “from Mildura to Orbost” with similar experiences and called for the recent Ballarat based inquiry to be extended across the state.
“When my son was born (in 1987) he had an extra finger on his hand,” Mr Hughes said.
“It was removed, but I always wondered if that was (linked to) chemical exposure.”
Mr Hughes also questioned if his late wife’s Parkinson’s Disease could be related to chemical exposure.
“Was it because she washed my contaminated clothing?” he asked.
He said he knew of former employees who had suffered ill health in recent times — including cancers and Parkinson’s Disease.