What Would Our Forebears Have Done?

At 9.30am on the morning of Thursday the 26th of March, 1896, an explosion deep in the Brunner Mine, shook the surrounding area alerting those above that something terrible had just occurred.

The explosion was most likely caused by ‘firedamp’ a hazard that occurs when a pocket of methane gas is accidentally ignited resulting in a sudden and violent detonation.

Within minutes of this event miners from the surrounding area, including the owner of the mine itself, began to pour into the head of the shaft in order to save anyone who was still alive.

The toxic gases built up through the ‘afterdamp’ caused a large number of deaths to those who had survived the initial blast, and also made the process of saving the remaining survivors and retrieving the bodies of those killed all the more difficult.

Rescuers repeatedly were carried back to the surface after passing out from the noxious atmosphere below ground, frothing at the mouth but yet returning to the retrieval effort after gaining consciousness.

Altogether 65 miners were killed on that day, making the Brunner Mining Disaster the worst of its kind in New Zealand’s history.

When word of this tragedy began to be heard throughout the country, many groups and individuals devoted time and energy in raising funds for the families of the victims.

From concerts such as the Patutahi School in Gisborne to meetings of citizens in towns throughout the country and as far away as Adelaide, an enormous sum of money was raised and provided through the Brunner Mine Relief Fund.

Fast forward just over 100 years and the families of the Pike River Miners are still living in a limbo world of anguish and neglect. Their grief cannot be imagined or put into words.

Their pleas have repeatedly fallen on one set of deaf ears after another and it is only a small number of tireless people who still remain around them offering what little support and action they can provide.

While I would never presume to know the minds of anyone, let alone someone in grief, I can only think that the return of a loved one’s body for a final goodbye is the least one could expect.

Furthermore, I have for some time held a deep suspicion regarding the reasons for delaying the retrieval of these bodies and how much influence the owners of the Pike River mine have had on the consultation processes for re-entry and the apparent lack of transparency and honour to date.

Perhaps the fact that such a moving sense of solidarity, evidenced by the actions of our forebears in the face of such a crisis of loss and grief, is a measure of the will and spirit we still hold as a nation for those who are affected by such a tragedy and will ensure that the families of these men will finally have their wishes honoured and respected in silent action without fanfare or political gain.

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  • A large round juicy citrus fruit with a tough bright reddish-yellow rind.


  • Hard translucent fossilized resin originating from extinct coniferous trees of the Tertiary period, typically yellowish in colour. It has been used in jewellery since antiquity.


  • Fifth generation Kiwi, social-political writer who left the Left sometime back and turned right. Heavily reliant on spell check with hopefully the intelligence to admit when he’s wrong and the humility to see the truth, irrespective of where it’s found.

To read my previous articles click on my name in blue.