Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Pike 29 Memorial

Catch-up

I wanted to post this last Saturday, in time for the 6th anniversary of one of New Zealand's worst mining disasters, but unfortunately we had no internet connection on the day. 

At 3:44pm on the 19th November, 2010 an explosion happened deep within the Pike River Coal Mine located 46km north of Greymouth and where 31 men were working. Only two men came out alive, they were working in an access tunnel closer to the entrance than their workmates.

Emergency services and mines rescue crews worked around the clock for days, waiting for a 'window of opportunity' where gas levels were safe enough to enter and bring the 29 workers to safety. On November 24th, it was all over. A second explosion rocked the mine and any hope for the Pike 29, as they became known, was lost. Six years on, the Pike 29 remain entombed beneath the Paparoa Range.

We left Reefton heading for Greymouth turning off the main road just past Ikamatua to follow the Grey River down it's true right. The road is in excellent condition, with long straights, hardly any traffic and bordered by dairy farms for most of it's length. Along the way, I wanted to visit Blackball, a well known West Coast town. 


I hadn't realised the the Pike 29 Memorial was located near the road until I saw the sign. 


We found a place to turn around and returned to the memorial. We had a discussion about whether it was appropriate to visit the memorial, as the tragedy is still quite raw for many New Zealanders, and it did feel like we might be intruding. And especially as we had the 5th-wheeler on the back (I know, I know but if there had been others there, I know we would have carried on). But the sign on the gate made it clear that we were quite welcome, which helped.


And I'm glad we did stop and visit. This small corner of a dairy farm paddock-donated by a generous local family- has become a very special and sacred place for the Pike 29 families and friends, a place for quiet reflection and to remember their loved ones. 


A large rock strategically placed so you're overlooking the Paparoa Range while reading, holds the memorial to the men (click to enlarge the photos).


The Paparoa Range and Pike River Mine are 15kms further up the road beyond the rock. The mine portal is located in the range just to the left of the dying tree. The coal processing plant is to the right of the two large trees.


I have many photos of multi-sign posts from around the country but this one has to be the saddest one of all; the distance to each of the men's home towns.


The shelter held many poignant reminders of the tragic loss.


tag board with the identification cards of the 29 miners- a system used to keep track of who is underground at any given time.


And photos of the men. Also in the shelter were a visitor's book (sad reading), diagrams of the mine workings and the blast, photos of the Memorial landscaping and wired to the floor, a rock from the mine blast.


A gate opened to plantings outside the memorial fence and a gravel path led the way down to a small stream. It's a pity there's a substation blotting the landscape behind the memorial but I'm sure once the plantings establish themselves is will be a minor inconvenience. The memorial area has been very well done, with individual memorials to each of the men around the outside of the white stone gravel koru.


Initially I wasn't going to upload the personal memorials here but I've decided I need to. I know that the families of the Pike 29 don't want people to forget their men and the pain and loss that they have suffered. Perhaps there are families or friends that can't visit the memorial, maybe seeing their man's memorial here will help them sometime in the future as they're searching for solace or a memory.

Each of these memorials is very personal; a heartbreaking glimpse into the lives and character of the men and the people they left behind, a moving reminder of the loss of so many healthy, happy and loved people. There is little doubt that the Pike 29 will forever be remembered by New Zealand.


THE MEN OF PIKE 

They came from near and far away 
The men of Pike to work that day 
The afternoon shift way down deep 
Beneath the mountains oh so steep 
A long way in but further out 
The afternoon shift sets about 
A job not flash but hard and trying 
A job that holds the risk of dying 


From seventeen to sixty two
They start their shift to see it through 
For one his first, for all their last 
How could they know there’d be a blast? 
For all at once no siren whining 
Suddenly the worst in mining 
Dust and rubble fill the air 
A loader driver thrown clear 
Just one other finds the light 
The rest are hidden from our sight 


And so we learn as news is spread
The news that mining families dread 
It’s up at Pike there’s an explosion 
Faces drop and hearts are frozen 
Who, how many, where and why ---- 
Will they make it ---- will they die 


Fathers, husbands, brothers, sons
Coasters, Kiwis, Aussies, Poms 
Mates and friends who we are seeking 
Methane gas from coal seams leaking 
Vents exploded, phones unheeded 
Level heads and strength are needed 
The world above unites as one 
To bring the missing to the sun


Rescue teams are standing by
As holes are drilled and experts try 
To find a way that’s safe and sound 
To rescue those beneath the ground 
Could robots work where men are mortal 
To pierce the dangers of that portal 
But alas all effort fails 
The darkness of the mine prevail


A second blast of rock and thunder
Hope and prayers are rent asunder 
A nation weeps and Coasters mourn 
Pike falls silent, dark, forlorn 
A hole remains within the ground 
Devoid of joy, of life, of sound 


Another hole within the heart
Of those forever set apart 
From those they loved who went to toil 
Digging coal beneath the soil 
Those who gave their lives that day 
To work a shift for honest pay 
They wait at rest within their mine 
The men of Pike, the Twenty Nine

Sean Plunket


















Lest we forget

8 comments:

  1. That was a beautiful informative review of Pike 29 written with respect. Thank you for sharing such a tragic event in NZs recent history.

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    1. Thanks for your kind words, much appreciated.

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  2. Love what you wrote. Very respectful of the families.

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    1. Thankyou for letting me know, much appreciated.

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  3. Thanks for doing this Shellie.

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    1. And thankyou for letting me know you've appreciated it.

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  4. This brought me to tears. What a terrible tragedy. I read about each one of these men today for the first time. Thanks you for sharing this. May their families find some measure of peace from this lovely memorial.

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    1. Thanks Kathy for taking the time to leave a comment, it's much appreciated.

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Thanks for taking the time to comment, it's much appreciated.