August 31, 2017
On 1 September 1923 a fire and explosions at Bellbird Colliery in the Hunter Valley caused the deaths of 21 underground coal miners.
The cause of the explosions were attributed to the distillation of coal gas within overheated coal heaps. The subsequent ignition of this gas by the fire created the explosions and caused the fire to spread. It was deemed that all of the fire’s victims were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Those involved in the heroic rescue and sealing operation noted a total of seven separate underground explosions.
The terrible loss of life devastated the nearby town of Cessnock. The funerals of the 15 who were recovered were held on a single day. Twenty five thousand people lined the streets to pay their respects and mourn the dead.
Many years after the event, survivors who were interviewed noted the long term impact the disaster had on the local community. A young miner said “People everywhere became conscious of the pit whistles, and it has made us all permanently fearful of accidents.”
A coronial inquest and Royal Commission were conducted. In 1924, the Bill to establish mines rescue stations was tabled in the NSW Parliament.
In 1990 a memorial monument, situated in a park near the site of the disaster, was dedicated to those who died.
To learn more about this tragedy you can read the extensive article ‘An Enduring Sense Of Disaster – The Bellbird Colliery, 1923‘ in the Australasian Mine Safety Journal.