Gordon Ward won't talk about Pike River.
Now based on Australia's Gold Coast, the former mine developer and boss has swapped his corporate mining gear for owning and managing a supermarket near the $1.2 million house he now rents.
It's a world away from the West Coast, where Ward spent 14 years spearheading the Pike River development from its inception, construction and initial coal extractions before departing about seven weeks prior to the devastating November 19, 2010, explosion.
Ward maintained his silence last week following the announcement that the majority of families of the Pike River 29 had given up hope of being reunited with the remains of their loved ones, failing to respond to an approach from the Sunday Star-Times.
Ward's reticence to comment about the mine – labelled "Gordon's baby" by former Pike River Coal chairman John Dow – is in stark contrast to the many years when he spoke glowingly of the benefits it would provide, not just to the tight-knit West Coast community, but the nation as a whole.
One of his many statements, issued six months before the tragedy, said it was mining activity like Pike which could lead the nation to a brighter future.
"New Zealand is borrowing $250 million per week as we cannot pay our bills," he wrote in a three-page letter to investors regarding debate over the Government's proposal to look at mineral exploration in conservation land. We cannot continue like that if we want to avoid being the Greece of the South Pacific. We are leaving a massive debt for our next generation to pay back. That does not seem fair to our kids and grandkids."
Ward urged investors they could "do something as a nation" to increase mineral exploration in New Zealand.
"If the economic contribution from the mining sector could be doubled, that would be a massive win-win for the country," he wrote. "This is a realistic possibility.
"For every $100m earned by the Government from taxes and royalties, another 2100 teachers or nurses could be employed. Out of additional taxes, new hospitals could be funded, roads built, hip operations funded, breast and prostrate cancer operations funded, daycare centres built."
Under the heading "Fact or Myth" he wrote: "So who to believe? The reasoned Government and industry, or the earnest entreaties of objectors most recently fronted by a well known TV actor [Lucy Lawless and Robyn Malcolm]."
Seventeen months earlier, Ward, talking at a mining conference in Australia, also spoke of how there would be "no losers" with the development. He said the mine could contribute up to $100m in taxes and royalties to the Government per annum.
"The Pike River prize is set to deliver for a long time and we are ready to mine," he said.
Pike River was opened on November 27, 2008, by then minister for economic development, Gerry Brownlee.
The following day Ward addressed the venture's investors and told them Pike River was a "special mine". Its safety record was "excellent", he said, saying there had been no serious harm incidents involving staff and contractors during the previous 12 months.
He said the mine was on track to hit a steady production rate of 1 million tonnes per annum by mid-2009, an unfulfilled prediction. In his speech to the 2009 annual meeting, on November 23, he said the venture had been confronted by "twists and turns along the way, challenging terrain and surprises around a few corners".
The "hitches" forced Pike River to seek a minimum $20m in additional working capital to make up for delays in sending its coal offshore. He said 2010 would be "very significant" for the mine, saying that "notwithstanding any unforeseen setbacks" it would be the mine's first period of full production.
That target too remained unfulfilled, with mine management, in the 2010 annual review, saying geological issues and "underperforming machines" had stymied development.
Ward concluded his 2009 address by saying: "As Henry Ford once said, 'Obstacles are those frightening things you see when you take your eyes off your goal'. We've never been guilty of taking our eye off the goal and we're not about to now."
But 18 months on from the Pike River explosions, that is just what Ward and other mine officials have been accused of doing.
The open sessions of the royal commission of inquiry into the tragedy has heard a catalogue of concerns over the mine's design, safety procedures and mis-management.
Ward has consistently refused to provide evidence to the commission, which is set to make its findings by late September.
Last month he offered sympathy to "all the people affected by the disaster".
- © Fairfax NZ News