Ian Fraser, a former de-sealer with a range of serious health problems, now runs the Fill De-seal Re-seal Support group with the help of Kathleen Henry and Liz Agerbeek, whose seriously ill husband Rudi also worked in the tanks. While they have energetically lobbied the federal government on behalf of the injured and have done much to keep the de-sealers in the pages of the local press in Queensland where most of them still live, Fraser is now calling for a royal commission into the military compensation system.


"OK, so we've had the board of inquiry which identified the problem, we've had the health study which showed we were injured by the chemicals, the government has promised us compensation, but we're still waiting. They should be treating this as a humanitarian issue, not a political problem," he says.


"Blokes are dying [the support group estimates 40 or 50 have died since the board of inquiry] while they wait for compensation and get shuffled from agency to agency and doctor to doctor.


"Enough is enough. We need a royal commission into the way these people have been treated before more are mistreated in the same way. Everyone's had enough:"


"We need grief counselling because we know all these men are going to die," Liz Agerbeek says matter-of-factly. "It's a mother-child relationship that's developed between the wives and their men. It's not healthy. All we do is care for them. We do not have normal healthy relationships ... those planes have ruined our lives:"


While Curtin University in Western Australia is conducting a lifestyle impact study on the partners of the de-sealers, no quantifiable research has been conducted into the health of their offspring. But anecdotal evidence (supported by postings on the support group's website www.gooptroop.com) abounds that countless children of the Fill workers were born with defects.


They include Allan and Kathleen Henry's son Sean, who was conceived while his father worked in the tanks. He was born with respiratory and learning problems. He also suffers from a rare disease, osteo chrondoma, which causes tumours to grow from the bone.


"When he was a little boy, he effectively grew another bone out of his shoulder blade. He's had five growths like this removed from his body. As a little boy, he used to ask us what was going on and we'd tell him he was growing spare parts," Kathleen says.


Doctors give Sean a life expectancy of 30.


He's just turned 21 - a little younger than his father, Allan, when he first crawled into the bowels of an Fill. How cruel it is that the Fill will be almost 50 when it's eventually retired from service.

Ian Frazer

Allan Henry

Ian Frazer


Brothers in Arms

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The Government's Game

Story by Paul Daley. Published in The Bulletin. Permission for use given.

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