I thought Annette did us proud yesterday with this tribute to the Pike River miners. Text version for those who prefer to read:
Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour): The Labour Opposition joins all parties in this House in sending our sympathy to the families and friends of the 29 men who perished in the Pike River Coal mine disaster yesterday. We are also thinking of the people of the West Coast who have woken this morning to the reality of the loss, knowing that all hope of life has been extinguished.
Not a day goes by that we do not hear or read of a tragedy somewhere in the world from natural or human causes—earthquakes to floods, famine to fire—and we watch the passing parade of pictures on our television sets. We feel sad at their loss and we shake our heads at the enormity of their tragedy, but nothing hurts like the death of your own. Twenty-nine men have died, and although five of them are from other countries—Scotland, Australia, and South Africa—they now lie alongside our men and they too are now New Zealanders.
There will be very few people in New Zealand today who do not feel a sense of loss and deep sadness as we look at the faces of the family members, the rescuers, the community leaders, and the clergy, all grief-stricken at their loss and frustrated at their inability to save those lives. As the headlines in our newspaper said today, it is “Our darkest hour”. So many words have already been said and written over the past 6 days, and no doubt many more will follow. Eventually, the stories of this tragedy will also become part of the West Coast legend.
On Friday the Mayor of Grey District, Tony Kokshoorn, who has shown incredible leadership, said that there was a little bit of the West Coast in all of us. I think he is right. But there is a little bit of the coalminer in many of us, as well. My old dad started his working life at 14 years of age in the Owen River mine, 13 miles north of Murchison. His dad worked in the mine too. And his dad before him worked in the Denniston mine, where he broke his back in a mining accident. And his dad was a miner from Jarrow, County Durham, who came to New Zealand for a better life—and my generation got that better life. That will be a familiar story for thousands of New Zealanders whose family grew out of a mining tradition on the West Coast, or in Southland, Huntly, or Waih?.
When most of us think of working in a coalmine, we think of dirt and dust and darkness, hard labour, and danger. But for those who go down the mines it is a way of life. Few other jobs build the sense of brotherhood and loyalty to each other that miners have. The West Coast reputation of stoic, strong fighters arises out of that mining tradition. Now all that strength of character and fighting spirit are going to be needed in the days ahead. As John Crowley, a West Coaster writing in the Dominion Post said today, “what will tomorrow bring … It will bring a heavy blanket of abject sadness.”, until the region rises again from this devastating experience. It will rise again, and they will not be alone.
This morning I was talking to Rick Barker. He is a boy from Runanga, who has spent the last 5 days in Greymouth. He said what a close-knit community it is. In one street in Runanga, Ranfurly Street, two grieving mothers live just a short distance apart. Many others in that street are connected to the miners who died. Rick said there have been 5 days of dread, 5 days of hope, 5 days of courage, and 5 days of great leadership, but now is the time to mourn, and to focus on retrieving the bodies of the men so that there can be closure for their families. Then there will be a time to find out what went wrong.
May they rest in peace.