The Pike picket on a rainy day is a cloud of umbrellas and gumboots. People gather, an independent filmmaker conducts interviews, an important person of one shape or another will be there, a man in what appears to be a waterproof ball gown circulates, there is a tent with two camp stretchers and a gazebo offering bacon, corn patties and a cup of tea.
I am reminded of the Milton Locked Out Workers in the 1990s, who picketed the mill for years. They were ordinary, not particularly political country folk, but when they were burnt by the Employment Contracts Act, they were aroused by the experience of injustice. ‘It wasn’t fair.’As they picketed, they became nationally important, were visited by people from overseas, became increasingly politically astute.
Now the Pike families have decided to act and by doing so, reveal the fundamental injustices of the system. It was a capitalist stuff-up which killed their men and thereafter the avenues to justice have proven to be cul de sacs. Promises have proven false. No one has been held accountable and the system’s failures continue. The ghosts of those entombed continue to visit. As Hamlet said, ‘There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark.’
The closed mine has become a symbol. In there lies not only the dead, but the truth. Now the families want to enter, to at least approach the truth and for perhaps some bodies and some images to be brought out. Each morning they assemble and with their bodies enact this need. In a digital world, they are not digital.
And of course, in such gatherings, conversations take place, theories are expounded, some extravagant, some close to the truth. A tale is told by a farmer of the Timberland’s sustainable logging trials where no one could tell the difference between a pilot block and blocks left untouched. It turns out I had met the filmmaker during protests in the nineties.
This won’t go away. The politicians arrive and jockey for position. Winston Peters has seized the moral high ground by making re-entry the bottom line for any MMP negotiation after the election. Andrew Little will introduce legislation which, in this special instance, exempts Solid Energy directors from the penalties of the Health and Safety legislation. Nick Smith immediately accuses him of hypocrisy. The Greens have requested under the Official Information Act, all health and safety reports to the Government and Solid Energy. Author, Dame Fiona Kidman is presenting a petition to the Commerce Select Committee requesting the Government do ‘all that is humanly possible to recover the bodies.’ The families have a team of international experts who have come up with a plan for drift re-entry. Local experts find the plan short on detail.
And it is complex. The new health and safety legislation is the enduring legacy of the disaster and it makes re-entry a fraught issue. There will be roof falls, debris scattered and entangled, gas… it won’t be a stroll in a park. But if people are willing to do it? Yet if anything should happen how would we feel? There is not unanimous support for the families. Those of a more liberal persuasion find it time to move on – it’s been six years- there are more pressing needs for the few million dollars that will be required for any re-entry. Solid Energy are not the villains, but were ordered by Work Safety to seal the mine and remediate the site for handover to DOC. I am sure the government has done its polling…
Generally we go along with things, adjust to avoid the worst. The Pike families will not adjust. Like Hamlet, they are driven to move through these systemic and intellectual doubts.
So, each rainy day (and they are frequent this ‘summer’), the cloud of umbrellas and gumboots will re-appear to state once again: The system is unjust.