The wheels of justice turn slowly, but the red zone residents refused to give in.
On Wednesday evening, almost five years since learning their properties and bodies had been poisoned from per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) once used in firefighting foam at the Williamtown RAAF base, the residents made legal history when they forced the federal government to compensate them.
"I'm numb at the moment, that's the best way to describe it. We've been fighting for five years and it's hard to believe we won. I always knew we could, I just didn't know how long it would take," an emotional Lindsay Clout told the Newcastle Herald on Thursday morning.
"This is recognition that they (the government) were wrong, it was plainly obvious to all of us and the community but they refused to admit it. The thing that I feared the most is that until today they were getting away with it."
Williamtown residents were the first to launch a Federal Court class action against the Department of Defence in 2016 on the basis that their livelihoods and property values had been severely affected by toxic chemicals leaching into ground and surface water.
Residents in Oakey in Queensland and Katherine in the Northern Territory launched their own claims soon afterwards.
After two days of intense mediation talks lawyers representing the communities reached an in-principle agreement to settle the class action late on Wednesday.
The 500 households covered by the action in Williamtown, 450 from Oakey and all households in Katherine are yet to be advised of the full details of the settlement.
An administrator will be appointed in coming days to assess individual losses and distribute the compensation.
"I'm comfortable with an administrator, a third party, dealing with the financial side of this so people can be confident in the result," Mr Clout, the campaign's spokesman said.
"Our lawyers knew the outcome of this mediation had to be able to provide people with a future. It would be pointless going through mediation and coming away with a figure that wouldn't allow people to move on. A lot of people say they want to go, this will give people that option."
Mr Clout was among the Red Zone residents who spent the morning reflecting not only on the win, but also on the enormous human toll the past five years had taken.
Cain Gorfine and his wife Rhianna were also among the lead campaigners in their community's fight for justice.
"We've known all along we've been right, it's Defence who've been in denial. I feel vindicated. It's a fantastic result," he said.
"It was never going to be a perfect solution but this will go a hell of a long way to giving people some options."
Ms Gorfine said the community had stuck together throughout the battle.
"It's been a united front. They tried to divide and conquer," she said.
"This shouldn't happen to any other community now they've accepted it as an issue. The distress and destruction this has cause should not happen to any other community."
Another,Gavin Smith, who was the class action's lead litigant, said while the win did not remove the contamination burden it would allow affected individuals to move forward.
"We've still got it in our system and we're still getting it into our system, but this gives us options," he said.
"There is hope that people can get out of here if they want to. We now have hope and we need to celebrate that as a win."
In a statement issued on Wednesday night Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and Veterans Affairs Minister Darren Chester said the government was committed to concluding the environmental investigations into PFAS contamination on and near defence facilities across Australia and to the ongoing monitoring and engagement with affected communities.
Ben Allen, the lawyer who led the legal battle - one of the first ever environmental class actions against the Australian Government, said the government had finally been forced to accept responsibility for decades of toxic pollution at Air Forces bases around the country.
We've been fighting for five years and it's hard to believe we won. I always knew we could, I just didn't know how long it would take."Lindsay Clout
"The announcement today that an in-principle agreement has been reached to settle these class actions against the Australian Government does not mark an end to the battle for this "forever chemical" to be cleaned up in Australia, Mr Allen said.
"The comments from the Australian Government when announcing the terms of settlement are encouraging.
"They show that the government will now take their responsibilities seriously and are committed to engaging with those impacted by PFAS contamination in Australia."
He paid tribute to the residents of Williamtown and surrounding communities who refused to remain silent in the face of years of government stonewalling.
"They (the community) were badly underestimated," he said.
"Feeling that their concerns were not being heard by the polluter of their land, it was a group of dedicated community members on behalf of Williamtown and its surrounding communities who travelled to Sydney and engaged global law firm Dentons and litigation funder IMF/Omni to take on one of the first ever environmental class actions against the Australian Government."
"This was a complex legal matter but not only did the community spend significant time understanding the issues, they have, as acknowledged by the Senate, become national experts in the dangers and risks of PFAS."
Oliver Gayner, investment manager of IMF Bentham, the company that funded the litigation, said the result should not have taken five years to achieve.
"The Senate twice recommended that communities be urgently compensated to allow people to move on with their lives," he said.
"Compensation is only one part of the solutions needed to make communities safe from toxic "forever chemicals". But today's settlement shows that, finally, their voice is being heard."
Mr Gayner also applauded the affected the communities for fighting for justice against the might of the federal government.
"The team at IMF Bentham / Omni Bridgeway backed the communities at Williamtown, Oakey and Katherine for five long years," he said.
"We congratulate them on reaching this milestone, but more so we thank them for their courage in never stepping back in fighting for what's right."
Had the matter not settled at mediation, it would have proceeded to a full hearing in the Federal Court in April.
The residents' legal team was buoyed by comments from Justice Michael Lee who said during a preliminary hearing in January that he accepted there may be a probable link between PFAS exposure and testicular and kidney cancer.
Federal Paterson MP Meryl Swanson said news of the community's victory was overwhelming.
"At first, I didn't believe it. Then I got a phone call from Lindsay and Anne Clout to say "Meryl, we won"," Ms Swanson said.
"The Williamtown, Fullerton Cove and Salt Ash communities have consistently shown courage, tenacity and determination throughout this gruelling process."
Ms Swanson said she was relieved the government chose not to cause further trauma by dragging the community through a drawn-out class action court hearing.
"The next step is to ensure this matter resolved speedily so my community can move on with their lives like they so deserve to do," she said.
State Port Stephens MP Kate Washington said she hoped heartbroken families would be able get on with their lives.
"I am in awe of the strength and determination shown by this community in the face of unimaginable cruelty and obfuscation from their own government," she said.
"So many good people have worked so hard for so long. I thank them for their courage and tenacity, taking on the government in the fight for their lives, and the lives of their neighbours."
"I'm hopeful this settlement will deliver what families affected by PFAS have lost for too long - a sense of hope."