Thursday, 10 December 2020
Blair Electorate: Coalmining
Coalmining has had a long and proud history in the Ipswich region. In fact, Ipswich was the home to the first coalmine in Queensland, although we were still part of the colony of New South Wales at the time. In 1843 mining commenced on the banks of the Brisbane River at Redbank, and soon coal seams were discovered across Ipswich, including in the rural parts of Rosewood. Coalmining provided work for thousands of people and contributed to the growth and development of the Ipswich region. Unfortunately, coalmining also brought its share of accidents, disasters and deaths.
Specific mine safety legislation was introduced in Queensland in 1898, but it wasn't until after the 1921 Mount Mulligan disaster, where 75 miners died in North Queensland, that we started to take safety more seriously for workers. In the Ipswich region, including Rosewood, the records show that 186 men have lost their lives in mine related accidents, the worst moment in Ipswich being the Box Flat disaster in 1972 near Swanbank. I recall the explosion from when I was a boy; it could be heard across most of Ipswich. Seventeen men lost their lives, eight of those part of the rescue team. An 18th man later died directly as a result of the injuries sustained. Saint Barbara is the patron saint of miners. Each year on Saint Barbara's Day, 4 December, those in the Ipswich mining community stop and pay tribute to those 186 men. I was privileged to be there last Friday, as I've been on numerous occasions, and to lay a wreath to honour those men who lost their lives.
We are fortunate to have a beautiful memorial located in Limestone Park in Ipswich, dedicated to coalmining and paying tribute to each of those men. The memorial is structured around an image of Saint Barbara, with pillars that are illuminated at night and symbolise the coal seams in the region. The main wall displays details of each man who was killed working in a mine in the Ipswich-Rosewood mining region. Alongside their details is a history of coalmining and depictions of the local topography. I want to pay tribute to the Ipswich Historical Society and acknowledge the work of president, Hugh Taylor, who has always been a great source of inspiration and history on these matters. I want to pay tribute to the retired miners who spent years developing the concept and convincing local politicians, community groups and mining companies they needed to contribute to the development of a memorial. Specifically, I want to thank Beres Evans, John Walker and Keith Chicken, and so many others I might add, who lobbied me incessantly, and politicians at all levels. I want to thank all levels of government who contributed towards the memorial, including the support of the mining division of the CFMEU. I want to make mention of New Hope Group, the only mining company who contributed, a company headquartered in Ipswich.
While coalmining is part of Ipswich's history—and I was there 12 months ago when Jeebropilly Mine near Rosewood closed—the tragedies and the sacrifices of local people remain. In the earliest days, coalmining was dug by hand. It was a pretty tough industry. The safety measures now in place have only been developed as a result of deaths and sacrifices. I recall this as a boy growing up in Trumper Street, East Ipswich, directly opposite Charles 'Digger' Murphy, who was the head of the coalminers union, who was a great fellow who made an enormous contribution to workers' safety and workers' conditions. He let me study the Miners' Federation journals when I was at university studying political science. The days of coalmining are over, but we've seen an enormous contribution made by the coalmining industry. The Queensland Mines Rescue Service has evolved. It's no longer in Ipswich; it's based in Dysart in Central Queensland. But we in Ipswich must never lose sight of the development of this industry and the important safety measures that have been achieved. Together with the industries of meat production, woollen mills, railways and defence, coalmining built Ipswich. It built homes, sporting facilities, civic facilities and churches. It built our community.
The memorial is a lasting tribute to the industry, it reminds us of the men who sacrificed their lives and on whose shoulders miners stand today. It's important we take the safety and security of all Australian workers seriously. It is my hope and prayer that the Ipswich and Rosewood Coalminers Memorial is an ever-present reminder of how important it is for workers to come home safely each night. I want to thank the Ipswich Historical Society, those former miners who made the memorial possible, and those who continue to work in the mining industry in my home state of Queensland, for their contribution to our economy and our local communities.