Pike River disaster: Yellow ribbons of hope

Last updated 15:07 24/11/2010
Daniel Tobin

Greymouth Mayor Tony Kokshoorn is feeling more positive that there will some sort of closure soon. By Daniel Tobin

Pike River Coal mine
LAWRENCE SMITH/Fairfax Media Zoom
SHOCK: Shortly after family members were told of the second explosion at the Pike River mine.
Mine graphic updated

Mine blast footage

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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The people of Greymouth are pinning their hopes for a miracle rescue to their chests.

Tiny yellow ribbon pins are being worn on shirts all over the town as the operation to save the 29 trapped miners stretches into its sixth day.

Bright yellow ribbons - a symbol of safe return - have also been tied to lamp posts and displayed in shop fronts along the main street. It is a silent plea for the safe return of their men, who have been underground and not heard from since a massive explosion at the Pike River coal mine on Friday.

Local post office manager Debra Norton came up with the idea and said it was a way of showing support.

"All it was was just a little something that I could make up and have ready for them and that I'd be able to offer people and it's really grown from there.

"I have pin pricks in my fingers from making hundreds and hundreds and it's really grown from there."

The gesture was popularised in the old folk song, 'Tie a ribbon round the old oak tree', in which a convict asks his wife to tie a ribbon around the tree at the front of their house if she wants him home. He arrived to find 100 ribbons.

Mrs Norton said such had been demand, the town had run out of yellow ribbon and they had been forced to switch to gold. People were still coming in to collect theirs.

"They just want to show their support. It's all about bringing the boys home."

The ribbons were a way of "showing them the way home" and it was rewarding to see people taking it up, she said.

Away from the area for 25 years, the response to the tragedy emphasised the reasons she had returned, she said.

"The reason I came home is because of the people so I guess we can just band together and I'd love to see the boys come home."

Her husband was white baiting earlier this year when they had just returned and found himself fishing next to trapped miner Riki Keane.

"And he was just a really friendly normal Coaster kind of guy. That's just one of many stories."

The Yellow Ribbon often features as a symbol of hope.

In Singapore, the annual Yellow Ribbon campaign promotes giving ex-convicts a second chance while in the US during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979 it was used as a symbol of support for the hostages.

Pike River Coal chief executive Peter Whittall said he'd absolutely overwhelming support from "everywhere in the country" and all over the world. "Friends and workmates that I haven't thought of for 15 years, 20 years sending me emails and text messages."

"But it's been very heartening for myself and my family. My daughter asked me to wear her little victims' support badge that she was wearing today. Her friends around Wellington are starting to wear them and a lot of people around Greymouth as well.

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"It's a wonderful tribute."

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