Families gather for Pike River memorial milestone

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 05:00 20/11/2012
Pike River memorial plaque
John Kirk-Anderson

NOT FORGOTTEN: The Pike River memorial garden at Atarau is a poignant tribute to the lost men.

Malcolm Campbell Sr and his daughter Kerry place a flower during a public service at Blackball Workers’ Museum in memory of Malcolm Campbell, who died in the Pike River mine.
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Fairfax NZ
TOUGH DAY: Malcolm Campbell Sr and his daughter Kerry place a flower during a public service at Blackball Workers’ Museum in memory of Malcolm Campbell, who died in the Pike River mine.

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For the past two years, Pike River families have had to grieve the heartbreaking loss of their 29 men in public.

Yesterday it was time for them to shed tears in private.

Since the underground West Coast mine exploded at 3.44pm on November 19, 2010, the country and the world have watched as the devastated families learned of their loved ones' fate.

More than 10,000 people attended a public memorial service at Omoto racecourse two weeks after the first blast and about 2000 at the service at Greymouth's rugby park on the first anniversary last year.

But yesterday, about 160 family members and friends met for the tragedy's second anniversary away from the public gaze at a memorial garden near Atarau, about 30 kilometres from Greymouth, where 29 boulders are placed to symbolise the men.

Afterwards, they were taken by bus to the mine deep in Paparoa Range, where a private service was held at White Knight Bridge, overlooking its entrance.

Yesterday's service ended at 3.44pm with a lone piper sounding a lament.

While some families and friends were from the West Coast, others travelled from around New Zealand and overseas to attend the anniversary, including Malcolm Campbell's parents and sister, who arrived from Scotland and Australia on Sunday.

Malcolm Campbell Sr told The Press: "It was a very, very tough day."

A spokesman for most of the families, Bernie Monk, turned to Malcolm Sr and said: "We are never going to give up the fight to get these guys out."

Pike's former safety and training manager Neville Rockhouse lost his son Ben, 21, in the mine. Another son Daniel survived and dragged colleague Russell Smith to safety. He said standing at the entrance to the mine was "quite surreal" because "nothing has changed" in two years. The men's bodies are still entombed.

"What is that about? I'd like to ask John Key that question."

Yesterday evening, about 120 people, mostly families and friends of the 29 men, attended a public service at Blackball Workers' Museum, followed by a dinner, which was organised by the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union.

Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn, who attended the public service, said he encouraged families to mourn this year away from the public gaze.

"I suggested that because I think they needed a bit of privacy from the media, the public and everyone. I think it's very fitting and they just go and share their thoughts with other families."

A new memorial monument on Greymouth's floodwall to all 390 mining workers killed on the West Coast since the first death in 1864 would be unveiled on January 19, the 46th anniversary of the Strongman Mine blast that killed 19 men.

Four of the seven worst mining disasters had been in the Grey District. These included the Brunner Mine with the loss of 65 men in 1896, the Dobson Mine with the loss of nine in 1926, as well as Strongman and Pike River.

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Kokshoorn said fundraising for the last $2 million of an $8m miners' memorial centre, which would include civil defence headquarters, was still under way.

- The Press

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