A Stranger to Their Shores: Robert Vojakovic 1940-2024. 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



The death of Robert Vojakovic was announced on June 27, 2024. Robert was a star in the galaxy of asbestos campaigners: he was indefatigable, incontrovertible and irrepressible.


Robert Vojakovic at the offices of the ADSA in Osborne Park, Perth, Australia.

Coming from thousands of miles away, Robert Vojakovic grew to represent the very best of Australian values in his fight for a “Fair Go” for workers in his new country. He devoted his time and energy initially as a volunteer, latterly as the President of the Australian Diseases Society of Australia (ADSA), to making manifest the devastating impact asbestos exposures had had on miners, millers, transport workers and family members from the infamous asbestos mining town of Wittenoom, where he himself once worked.1

As the numbers of the injured grew Robert, in partnership with colleagues from the trade unions, medical community and political parties, pioneered new legal strategies, more equitable legislation and innovative research and treatment strategies, becoming the public face of all things asbestos in Western Australia.


My last photograph with Robert Vojakovic was taken in the ADSA offices in December 2019. Robert is second from the left; Rose Marie is next to him, with visiting Danish Professor Oluf Dimitri Røe, Melita Markey and Dr Greg Deleuil on the right.

With his high profile came threats and intimidation. Australian vested interests soon found out that Robert would not be cowed or diverted. He had the physical stamina of an Olympic athlete and the patience of a saint, although his language was not always saintly. He had a political mind that could outwit asbestos defendants in the commercial as well as government sectors. When asked how he’d obtained key documents for landmark legal cases he’d say they’d arrived in unmarked brown envelopes and smile. Robert treated everyone who came into his office as a long-lost friend, offering glasses of Croatian brandy or strong coffee to those newly shattered by devastating diagnoses. He knew the importance of simple gestures not because he read about them but because he lived them 24 hours a day.

You can’t talk about Robert without mentioning Rose Marie who was by his side throughout the decades-long asbestos odyssey. She was a pivotal force in the ADSA who gave her time unflinchingly to support devastated ADSA members and their families. Faced with looming legal deadlines, Rose Marie ensured that whatever necessary was done to prevent claims becoming time-barred whether that involved an unexpected hundred-mile journey to Bunbury or a late night deposition in a Perth hospital.

When shattered families entered Rose Marie’s office they were greeted by a wall of multi-colored butterflies; these symbols of transformation and hope were a terrific conversation starter for the grueling discussions which were to follow. In this neutral space, Rose Marie listened and responded; her calm and reassuring presence proved an invaluable resource for people charting a voyage into unknown waters.


Robert and Rose Marie at the unveiling of a plaque to Wittenoom victims in Solidarity Park, Perth. 2018.

In his 84 years, Robert lived many lives, struggling to get by in Austria and France after fleeing his native Croatia – then part of Tito’s Yugoslavia – as a teenager; then, another step into the unknown, joining the human tide from post-war Europe arriving on Australia’s shores seeking wider horizons. Many of the new arrivals made valuable contributions to Australian society – Robert certainly did! My life and that of so many others was greatly enriched by knowing him.

Our sincere condolences to Rose Marie, Robert’s beloved daughters Melita and Simone, their families and all the ADSA staff and members.

July 1, 2024


1 A Lifetime Supporting Workers. Accessed June 27, 2024.
Robert Vojakovic AM. Asbestos victims' supporter. 2011 WA SENIOR AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR.



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