Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

Box Flat Coalmine Disaster

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (7.30 pm)-This evening I want to commemorate a significant disaster that happened in the city of Ipswich 35 years ago on 31 July. On that day Ipswich, a mining town, went through the trauma that so many mining towns survive, and that is the loss of men, brothers, fathers, uncles who died as a result of what has become known as the Box Flat coal disaster. Last Tuesday was the 35th anniversary of that disaster in Box Flat where on that day at 2.47 am 17 miners were killed-14 were underground and three were at the surface of the pithead. Twelve others were seriously injured, three hospitalised, two seriously hurt, and one man died 14 months later directly as a result of injuries occurring on 31 July. Coincidentally, 'the disaster', as it is known at Box Flat, was exactly 70 years to the day from another mining disaster at Mount Kembla in which 96 miners lost their lives.

When I was privileged to join with many citizens, and friends and families of the Ipswich area last week, there was a pall of silence that fell over this beautiful remembrance to the families who were affected on that day. There was an eeriness about the silence and also about the tears that we could hear and the music, because, as often happens in mining communities, everything is commemorated with strong music. We had the wonderful Ipswich choir as well as some strong music that was sung which commemorated the lives of miners. It is an important element to remember in the city of Ipswich which has such a strong mining tradition. I want to acknowledge the amazing work of the Ipswich City Council, which has kept alive the history of their community by establishing the memorial at Box Flat that was originally developed by the Moreton Shire Council, as it then was, and since then it has been retained. It was officially opened in the late 1990s but then restated and recommemorated for the families of Box Flat. When you looked around at the commemorative service last week you could see how important it was for those families to gather together, to share their grief and their memories and to know that their loved ones were there with them on the day. As with so many underground mining disasters, these men were never recovered because they could not be brought up from underground. So, as we stood there, we stood on the grave of the 17 men and of Mr Wolski, who died later. I want to put onto the record the names of those miners from Box Flat. These were the families that were affected on that day. I will read them out as they were read out the other day in Ipswich in alphabetical order. Kenneth Frank Cobbin, William Alexander Drewett, William Rae Drysdale, Andrew Charles Haywood, Robert Lloyd Jones, William Alfred Marshall, John James McNamara, Walter Michael Murphy, Brian Henry Randolph, Brian Rasmussen, Daryl Trevor Reinhardt and Harold Charles Reinhardt-so often in mining families more than one member of a family were lost-John Dudley Roach, Lenard Arthur Rogers, Maurice John Tait, Mervyn Verrenkamp and Walter Benjamin Williams were the miners who died on the day. Then Mr Clarence Edwin Wolski died later of his wounds.

When those names were read the other day there was a reverberation in the area as families gathered and remembered. Whilst there was deep sadness, there was also a great unity because there is something about miners when they gather together. Many of the men whose names I just read out were members of the CFMEU, the miners union, in the 1970s. I was able to speak with Andrew Vickers, the general vice-president of the CFMEU, who gave me a copy of The Coalminers of Queensland, a narrative history of the industry in that area. The confronting element of reading about what happened at Box Flat was the familiarity with what happened in other mines in Queensland, such as the deaths at Collinsville and at Mount Mulligan. While I am talking about Queensland, the experience I am sharing could be known by people in any mining community. Across the history in Queensland we could see that the deaths in Collinsville, Mount Mulligan in North Queensland and other areas across the country were so similar. When people go back and look at exactly what happened, the sequence of events had an amazing and astounding similarity.

But from the experiences of mine disasters so often communities are strengthened and their memories make them stronger. I think that is an element of which we can all be proud. Since last week I have been able to get a copy of the Monday, 31 July 1972 edition of the wonderful Queensland Telegraph, which was a strong paper in my youth that went across south-east Queensland. I remember hearing the media coverage of what happened in Ipswich on that date. It opens up saying to the citizens of Brisbane: Will you help?

Wives have become widows and children have been made fatherless in today's disaster that is the second worst in Queensland's mining history.
Then it goes on to explain what it heard. What I am so proud about-and it continues to happen to this day in many communities-is that this paper then started an appeal. The article went on:
... in shock, in grief, in desperate realisation, life somehow must go on for those who have been permanently, or temporarily, left to fend.
They're the facts of living ... the inescapable facts, in bereavement and in injury.
And so, without delay ... we are asking you to help ...
As a result of this community appeal, an extraordinary amount of money was raised. The families of the miners who were affected were able to have some financial security. This is a tradition in mining families. Every time there is a significant disaster in this industry, the call goes out and people generously give because they share the danger, they share the unity and they share the extraordinary solidarity of this industry. As we stood together at Ipswich the other day at the community service that was jointly run by Reverend Bill Redman and Father Peter Casey, it was drawn to our attention that, as we were gathering there to remember the miners of Box Flat, there were miners trapped in China. The experiences that families were having in China on that very day replicated those of the people in Ipswich. This is an international solidarity which has been mentioned many times by people from the CFMEU. John Maitland, who held positions in the Queensland CFMEU and now has taken on an international role in the miners union, consistently talks about the international unity of industry.

The amazing safety advances that have been established in our industry in Australia must be shared with the industry overseas. As a direct result, we believe, of the Box Flat experience 35 years ago, changes were made to safety elements in Queensland mines. We learnt from what happened at Box Flat. Extraordinary changes were made. In fact, it is very rare to find any underground mining going on in our country now. That is not the same internationally. We should remember that families are being affected in many parts of the world as we speak. The solidarity that we share that is still alive in Ipswich 35 years after what happened at Box Flat should be extended to families, particularly in countries such as China and South Africa, who continue to struggle with unsafe practices which can effect immediate loss.

I felt privileged to join the local state members, Joanne Miller, who comes from a mining family, Rachel Nolan and Wayne Wendt; the local federal member, Cameron Thompson; and a number of city councillors from the Ipswich area in the expression of community spirit and grief. What came out in that celebration-and it was a celebration of the miners' lives, as well as a commemoration of their loss-was a direct call for their stories to continue to be told, because that is part of our history. At Box Flat there is now a storyboard which spells out what happened on that horrible morning when people went down the mine to stop a fire and many never came back because of a terrible explosion. But we will not forget. The citizens of Ipswich will not forget. It is our legacy that we will not forget Box Flat. Thirty-five years on, we remember.