April 17 2014, updated 11:36pm

New Zealanders stop to join memorial for Pike River miners

GILES BROWN, NICOLE MATHEWSON AND KIRSTY JOHNSTON
Last updated 18:05 02/12/2010
Hamish Coleman-Ross

Prime Minister John Key talked of the strength the miners of Pike River represented at the memorial.

Peter Whittall address

Mayor Tony Kokshoorn

Prime Minister John Key comforts his wife Broghan after paying respects to the 29 tables representing dead miners.
IAIN MCGREGOR Zoom
Prime Minister John Key comforts his wife Bronagh after paying respects to the 29 tables representing the dead miners.
Joseph Ray Dunbar
JOSEPH RAY DUNBAR: 17, Greymouth. The youngest of the miners. The day of the explosion was his first day working underground.

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West Coast ferns, pebbles and petals bade a final farewell to 29 men buried in the Pike River coal mine, after goodbyes expressed in words, songs, tears and even silence in Greymouth today.

Reverend Tim Mora asked the 11,000 mourners at Omoto Racecourse, Prime Minister John Key and Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand among them, to file past tables marking each of the dead, and leave them a fern frond.

"We do this because symbols have power, they are practical expressions of the things we are thinking inside and they give us the chance to do something tangible with our pain," he said.

"For me, I picture the miners on their last drive up to the Pike mine travelling through the West Coast bush, surrounded by ferns - for you let the fern be what ever is most helpful."

Key reached into his own past to tell the families of the Pike River miners that their children can still go on to do great things.

Key, whose father died when he was six years old, told the thousands gathered at the memorial for the miners at Greymouth's Omoto Racecourse today that they should not lose hope.

"Amongst all your other emotions and pain there may be fear for your children growing up without the father who loved them," Key said.

"Because I was such a child, I know that the absence of a parent is a heaviness you learn to carry in your own way.

"It is a terrible thing to happen. But it doesn’t mean your children will not go on to live happy, worthwhile and fulfilling lives and, in time, experience joyfulness and love in new families, yet to be created.

"And even if those children’s memories of their fathers fade, his legacy will live on in each one of them," Key said.

Key joined Grey District mayor Tony Kokshoorn, Pike River mine boss Peter Whittall and Satyanand in addressing the 90-minute long service, which included the miners' families, international dignitaries and rescue workers.

Kokshoorn told the memorial that the "tears we wept for the Pike River men will flow for many years to come".

Whittall, his voice wavering, said no one will "ever forget" the lost men.

The service began with the country marking two minutes of silence for the lost men.

It was followed with a hymn from the Greymouth Combined Primary Schools' Choir. They were dressed in white with yellow ribbons pinned above their hearts.

Canon Mere Wallace then welcomed people in Maori before a Waiata was sung.

Mora said the most important voices at the service were those of the miners' families.

He said it was a privilege to be allowed to share the occasion with the families.

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Mora said everyone on the West Coast knew someone involved with the mine.

He acknowledged it was also a national and international incident.
 
"In front of us all, in between us and you, there are 29 tables each representing a man from our community. I know from myself as I wandered down those tables those men came alive for me. There were 29 faces and their hobbies and things the loved. In a very real sense those men are here with us today,'' he said.

Soon after Key's speech the national anthem was sung and the families were invited to place ferns on the memorials for their loved ones.

Others were asked to leave the ferns at designated spots around the racecourse on their way out. A lone piper played as the ferns were placed.

MINE BOSS: WE WON'T FORGET

Whittall told the service the dead "were 29 men earning a living. Twenty-nine men with hobbies, mates and families. Twenty nine men who lost their lives and 29 families who lost their men".

He said the men were from around the world. They were drawn to the "beauty and the lifestyle of the West Coast. Drawn to the mateship and camaraderie of underground coal mining".

Whittall praised his staff and the rescue effort.

He lamented that the mine was still keeping the recovery effort at bay. He said the 29 men would remain part of the Pike River Coal company and they would continue to work to recover them.

"Our men are still in the mine and the mine is still holding us out," he said, his voice cracking.

"We are fighting to win the battle with science, with technology and with sheer bloody tenacity,'' he said.
 
He thanked all those involved in the rescue and recovery effort and said the disaster was an incident "none of us would ever forget".

MAYOR'S HEARTFELT WORDS

Kokshoorn told of other mining tragedies on the coast.

“Tragedy is no stranger here,” he said.

“We have to pull ourselves through it and work together.”

He said hearing the bells toll through the valley was not a happy sound but he wanted the miners’ families to know they were not alone.

“There is a long way to go, a long and winding road, but we will match you stride for stride. Your West Coast family is standing by your side.”

""The tears we wept for the Pike River men will flow for many years to come."

MESSAGES FROM AROUND THE WORLD

Sir Anand read out messages from Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, Prince William, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and several Pacific leaders.

He said there had also been letters of support from many world leaders including the presidents of Italy and Greece, the queen of the Netherlands, the King of Belgium, the King of Jordan, the Pope, the secretary-general of the Commonwealth and the president of the European Commission.

"These messages from around the world are echoed by all New Zealanders, who feel enormous sympathy for the families of those who died."

Sir Anand said the miners’ deaths had "left a wound that may take years to heal".

"Today we grieve for those we have lost. We all await the time when they can be laid to rest," he said.

FAMILY MEMBERS' TRIBUTES

Family members left emotional tributes on the 29 tables set aside for their loved ones.

There was a surfboard for Glen Cruse, and a cricket bat and ball for Christopher Duggan.

A guitar was propped next to the table for John Hale with a message from one of his parents reading: "My son, my son, you're all the world to me''.

The seating was full and people sat on blankets and ate picnics, listening to kapa haka groups and bag pipes. A lot of men wore mine rescue shirts, ties and blazers.

Lawrie Drew, father of Zen Drew, said he had put his son's motorbike helmet on his table and a cloth with Egyptian patterns as Zen had Egyptian-themed tattoos on his body.

Each of the tables had a specially carved Maori stone pendant placed beneath it.

"We have just got to get through it all. We've got a beautiful day for it and support from everybody,'' he said.

However, Drew said he would not feel a sense of closure until he saw Zen's body recovered from the mine.

"It's not closure for me. Not until I see the body. I want to be there [at the mine] regardless, or I won't get closure. I have been adamant from the beginning as a dad, that's my job and I want to carry it through,'' he said.

THEY'RE OUR FAMILY

Greymouth High School kapa haka group kaia (leader) Chloe Leis, who was taking part in the ceremony, said there were so many people affected by what had happened.

Leis said the West Coast was "such a small place" it was not a matter of "who you know, it's a matter of how many people you know".

She said her father worked at Pike River a while ago, but still knew most of the 29 men involved.

"It's hit our family quite hard."

James Duncan, 64, and his daughter Kristy, 22, travelled over eight hours from Nightcaps in Southland to attend today's memorial service.

Duncan worked in a coal mine in Southland with Keith Valli, one of the dead miners, for 24 years and lived only a minute away.

He had applied for a job at Pike River a year ago, but did not take it up because the firm he was working for decided to stay open.

He praised the organisers of today's event, saying "it's just what you'd expect from the Coast, but it's pretty heart-wrenching".

Duncan said he no longer worked underground, but when the first explosion hit almost two weeks ago it was "just like I'd come out of the mine yesterday, I can still smell what it's like".

"I'd still work for Pike River, I'd still go underground. Everything Mr [Peter] Whittall said was straight-up, no bullshit. He certainly knows his stuff."

Kristy Duncan said the organisers of today's memorial "deserve a medal".

"It couldn't have been any more well organised. It's just amazing how well every thing's going."

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