Miners Memorial Service

The miners memorial service was held in my electorate on the weekend to commemorate the 1,800 people who have lost their lives in coalmines across the northern coalfields since coalmining began 200 years ago. Of course, this annual service is always moving and appropriate tributes are paid to the miners and the community of Cessnock and its valley. Unfortunately, this year four new names were added to the wall, which is the largest influx of names since the terrible Gretley disaster in 1996. The first name—because she was the first of the four to die in the past 12 months—is that of Ingrid Forshaw, who was crushed in a four-wheel drive vehicle at the Ravensworth mine. Ingrid has the unfortunate honour of being the first female to have her name inscribed on the wall bearing the names of 1,800 miners killed in pursuit of getting coal out of the ground in this great country. Ingrid was a resident of Cessnock, even though she worked at the Ravensworth mine a little further up the valley.

In April I made a private member’s statement about Mr Jamie Mitchell and Mr Phillip Grant, who died in a tragic underground rock fall in the Austar mine at Paxton in the Cessnock electorate. The Cessnock electorate had an emotional couple of weeks because those two men were part of the fabric of our society. Indeed, their mates are my mates who live and work in the Cessnock community. Unfortunately, we also lost Mark Galten. Mark was not known to me. He worked further up the valley at Boggabri and was tragically killed in a crane accident in May. The names of those four miners were added to the existing 1,800 names on the wall. Without fail, the speeches made during the miners memorial service are always about the ideal of never adding another name to the wall. The youngest person on the wall is an 11-year-old who died more than 70 ago. He was working in the coalmines as a roustabout, emptying skips and cleaning up the mine working areas. The oldest person on the wall is a 73-year-old who unfortunately was still working in the mines at a time when we did not have superannuation and pensions.

They are reminders to us, as a labour movement, of what we have done and what we have contributed to the fabric of our society. Child labour laws and superannuation and pensions are some of those contributions. We are proud of the work we have done in that space. Every person who goes to work should come home from work, which is a result of good work health and safety practices, doing everything we can to avoid what we often call “accidents” and trying to decipher what is a preventable accident and what is not. Several hundred people attended the service this year. That was to be expected because of the four new names added to the wall. Families of three of the four people added to the wall were present on the day. Unfortunately, the family of Mark Galten could not be there.

Bill Shorten gave the keynote address, and in doing so became the sixth leader of the Labor Party—one in a long line of leaders—to address the miners memorial service. Sometimes they are the Prime Minister and sometimes they are the Leader of the Opposition. Bill Shorten flew to Cessnock with his daughter that morning to give the keynote address. That the leader of the Federal party, regardless of which party it is, made the effort to fly from their home in their State to another State to make a keynote address indicates more than anything the importance of mining and the mining community to the people of Cessnock and to the labour movement. It was a sad occasion, with four new names added this year. I hope to attend many more memorial services but I certainly hope that no more names are added to the miners memorial wall in my lifetime.