November 8, 2017
On November 9, 1965 four men lost their lives at Bulli Colliery on the South Coast of NSW.
The four underground miners suffocated when a pocket of gas ignited in a panel a few hundred metres from the main shaft, causing a fire.
The mine was known to be gassy. Gas had been detected on the day of the fire, which started at about 9am. Incredibly and outrageously, despite there being 200 miners at work underground that day, management did not stop work in other parts of the mine. The mine was owned by Australian Iron & Steel, a subsidiary of BHP.
While the underground rescue teams were fighting their way through thick smoke and fallen timbers, production continued in the mine for some hours until Lodge Officials insisted it should stop.
The rescue team worked through the day and night to recover all the victims.
Survivor, Barry Kent, described a wall of flame which suddenly appeared before him. He said he “made a sudden gamble and ran into it to my death or my safety – I did not know”.
The tiny town of Bulli was in deep shock and mourning as they organised the funerals for four of their sons. Mourners arrived from all over the Southern District, with 2000 mineworkers joining the march to the Funeral Parlour.
The Board of Management of the Southern District made a declaration highlighting the 19 fatalities already suffered in the industry in 1965, and attributing this high incidence to the failure of authorities to carry out the safety regulation duties set out in the Coal Mines Regulation Act. They demanded that the NSW Government immediately commence a Public Inquiry. The matter was raised by Mines Ministers in both NSW and Federal Parliaments.
Judge Goran stated in the report of Inquiry which followed that management “tolerated concentrations of noxious gas which drew complaints from the workmen. Its method of dealing with this gas was a mere improvisation for which no justification could be found in mining practice and which was dangerous in the extreme.”
He also found that management had ignored the fundamental principles of ventilation.
Arising from the Inquiry were recommendations for significant improvements be made to the Coal Mines Regulations Act to require more stringent gas monitoring and detection, and the compulsory carrying of self rescuers.
The victims were Robert Stewart, Frederick Hunt, Henry Smith and Jack Murray.