The Pike families have been picketing the road to the mine over the last couple of weeks. Solid Energy were trying to seal the entrance to the mine by plugging it with thirty cubic metres of concrete. It would have been a crude symbol of finality and some of the families reacted. The protest grew in numbers and escalated into a call for a re-entry of the drift and for Mines Rescue volunteers to take a walk up the tunnel to see what they could see. It would be a limited walk, for the breathing gear only lasts four hours maximum and they keep it down to three hours for safety reasons. The mine atmosphere is now 90% methane and the present mine seal has an entry chamber so oxygen would not get in. So, it is argued, this would be a safe venture.
The families tried to negotiate with Solid Energy to no avail and this week are approaching government. Of course, with any re-entry, health and safety concerns are present and who would be willing to shoulder the risk? Another rock fall is always possible. Some other accident? A fobbing off will not be difficult. But local feeling is running high.
Already local contractors have stopped supplying materials for the job and at the weekend the farmer whose land the initial section of the road passes through decided to lease the land to the families. They now have control of who goes to the mine. A brilliant touch, like renaming the Blackball Hilton, formerly the Blackball Hilton when the chain threatened to sue.
We got up early and went to the picket this morning. There would have been close to a hundred people there. It was an evocative scene: misty hills, rain threatening, those Coast faces, some kids playing, a barbie, the 29 portraits on the fence, crosses painted on the road, plus the camaraderie of a picket. I wandered around with a video camera and got the story in ten minutes.
There was a tv crew there from the Paul Henry Show, who seemed to be doing very little. But suddenly they moved into action, gave Bernie Monk an ear piece and a mike, orchestrated the crowd, who fell silent, waved cell phones in the air and the penny dropped: there was going to be a live interview with Paul H. It started, the connection was lost, much dithering, with everyone watching as if this were a sacred ritual. I was gob-smacked. Paul Henry on the side of the worker?
Yet all those present were going along with it. That camaraderie, that ingenuity, fell silent for the media. Where had everyone been trained to accept this hegemony? I was reminded of The Hunger Games – the regions were suddenly providing entertainment for the centre and the glitterati who live there.
Who knows what will happen? Even if they do get in, will Mines Rescue find anything of importance? No one knows. Perhaps that’s the point. Is this a situation where a more sophisticated aesthetic is required? Instead of thirty cubic metres of concrete, why not design and place at the portal a set of beautiful wrought iron gates, designed by an artist. Something spiritual that might grace a castle entrance. That would be my solution.
As we drove home, the most beautiful rainbow formed, almost within touching distance.
But of course, it soon disappeared. That’s the nature of rainbows.