2 December, 2010
Prime Minister's Address: Pike River Official Remembrance Service
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The stage I stand on today is a small stage – too small to hold the four million New Zealanders who would like to express their deepest sympathy this afternoon, and show solidarity with this community at the time of its greatest suffering.
But you can rest assured that those four million people are behind you today as they have been since that fateful afternoon almost two weeks ago.
New Zealanders as a whole are not an overly-religious people and are not given to public outbursts of emotion.
But on Friday, November 19, 2010, when the news came through of an explosion in the Pike River mine, New Zealanders – in their own way and in a quiet way – began to pray.
First, we prayed that the 29 missing men would simply walk out, perhaps supporting or carrying others, in the way mates do.
In places like Gallipoli and Alamein, Kiwi men have shown that in the face of terrible adversity and peril, they can rally an inner strength.
Had circumstances given them a chance, we know the men in the Pike River mine would have done just that.
But those men did not appear on the afternoon of Friday, November 19.
So New Zealanders began to pray that the men were alive but trapped somewhere underground.
We hoped that they would stick it out for as long as it took. We hoped that, as in Chile, they would eventually emerge from the depths of the Earth to embrace their wives, parents, partners and children.
Again, had circumstances given them a chance, we know the men in the Pike River mine would have done just that.
But, as the hours passed, we had to start thinking the unthinkable. These 29 strong, fit, men, who were all sons, and who were also fathers, husbands, and brothers, were not going to walk out of that mine.
And so we prayed that when death came to them, as it will come to all of us, they did not suffer.
I hope there is some comfort in the recollection of bus driver Tony Nicol, who drove half the miners to work on that fateful day, and recalled them being unusually jovial.
It was a Friday, and summer was on its way. They would have been sharing a joke. They would have been looking forward to the weekend. And I’m sure they were looking after young Joseph Dunbar, aged only 17, who was having his first day on site.
They went happily to work on November 19, 2010, but never came home.
How that day went so tragically wrong will now be the subject of a Royal Commission of Inquiry.
The Royal Commission will spend a good deal of time down here on the Coast as it seeks to answer the questions we all want answered – how and why did those 29 men die, and what can we do to prevent such a disaster ever happening again?
What happened at Pike River has become a fresh, new, raw part of the story of New Zealand.
It has made news all around the world. But it has had by far the most impact in the kitchens and living rooms and bedrooms – some now empty – of homes only a few miles from here.
This is a small, tight-knit community. You do things for each other.
I want to thank all those people who rallied round to support the families of the miners. I know your work is not done and will continue for many months and years to come.
I want to thank those who worked so hard on the attempted rescue and especially those who were on standby to go into the mine. I know you wanted to bring your fellow miners home alive, but that was not to be.
I want to thank all those who offered support from throughout the country and indeed from around the world.
And I’d like to say something personal to the families of the lost miners, and in particular to those mothers of children who have so cruelly lost their fathers.
Amongst all your other emotions and pain there may be fear for your children growing up without the father who loved them.
Because I was such a child, I know that the absence of a parent is a heaviness you learn to carry in your own way.
It is a terrible thing to happen. But it doesn’t mean your children will not go on to live happy, worthwhile and fulfilling lives and, in time, experience joyfulness and love in new families, yet to be created.
And even if those children’s memories of their fathers fade, his legacy will live on in each one of them.
Any sudden death in a close-knit community like this would be hard felt. To have 29 deaths in a single, terrible incident is almost beyond imagining.
What makes it even harder is that you have not had the opportunity to lay your men to rest in a place and manner of your choosing.
I do not know whether some or all of your men are in their final resting place.
But I do know that where they lie now, in the Paparoa Ranges, is a very beautiful place.
and Keith Valli
You are so near and yet so very far from us now.
Some of those men are a long way from home.
We think of those from overseas because they were for a time part of this community. Now they will be part of it forever.
Their names will be etched alongside those of our own Kiwi sons, on some yet-to-be-determined monument to honour and commemorate the lost miners.
Most of the four million New Zealanders did not know these 29 men personally or had even heard of them two weeks ago.
But I know they are all men that this community would have been proud to introduce to the rest of New Zealand.
Sadly, we came to know of them too late.
I am proud to lead a country whose people care so much about each other.
The miners’ families have told me that although their personal grief is immeasurable, they have deeply appreciated the expressions of support from all over the country, and from overseas.
In the streets of Greymouth, and all along the Coast, the intensity of this loss has weighed heavily on every heart.
But the human spirit is resilient, and people are by nature, hopeful.
I hope the knowledge of the nation’s support helps you through.
Your men were our men. And even if many of us know them only as names, and faces and stories, their deaths touched our lives, and we will remember them.
May they rest in peace.