Home' Greymouth Star : September 14th 2017 Contents Greymouth Star
4 - Thursday, September 14, 2017
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uLetters to the editor
1752 - Britain adopts Gregorian calendar.
1812 - Napoleon Bonaparte enters Moscow
and Russians set fires throughout the city.
1814 - Francis Scott Key writes America’s
national anthem, The Star-Spangled
1948 - A ground-breaking
ceremony takes place in New
York City at the site of the United
Nations’ world headquarters.
1992 - The UN Security Council
authorises the dispatch of thousands
more peacekeepers to Bosnia.
1994 - Tropical storms in north-central
Africa kill about 100 people.
1998 - Northern Ireland’s new power-sharing
parliament starts proceedings.
1999 - US President Bill Clinton calls for
multi-national military exercises in preparation
for a mission to East Timor, which was
ravaged by Indonesian-controlled militias after
residents voted for independence.
uWest Coast yesteryear
uToday in history
Clayton Moore, American actor (1914-1999);
Zoe Caldwell, Australian actress (1933-);
Kate Millett, US feminist (1934-); Nicol
Williamson, British actor (1938-
2011); Joey Heatherton, US actress
(1944-); Sam Neill, New Zealand
actor (1947-); Geraldine Brooks,
(1955-); Kepler Wessels,
South African cricketer (1957-
); Faith Ford, US actress
(1964-); Dmitry Medvedev, Russian
president,(1965-); Gabrielle Richens, UK
model (1974-); Amy Winehouse, British singer
“Keep your mouth shut, your eyes open.”
— Japanese proverb.
“So the leaders partook of their provisions,
and did not ask direction from the Lord. ”
— ( Joshua 9:14).
On the Greymouth
Department ’s ‘death
map’ there are six pins
on the old McLeans Creek bridge for 1965
and 1966. They mean that six injury accidents
occurred there in two years — two of which
were fatal. Eliminating this death trap is the
new bridge which took traffic for the first time
Ninety feet long and 26 feet wide, the steel
girdered bridge will bring better and safer
motoring to all using State higway 6, through
The four-day-old Greymouth to Westport
bus ser vice is travelling a ‘bumpy road’ at
present. A Greymouth man Mr H Haughey
who used the ser vice this week described it
as “the most inefficient, most inconvenient
and most expensive” trip he had experienced
between the two towns.
Mr Haughey ’s chief complaint was aimed at
the non-provision of toilets either on the bus
or along the route — the subject of letters to
the editor on Tuesday. Mr Haughey said the
bus went nowhere near a toilet that appeared
for public use.
A spokesman for the Railways Department in
Wellington, commenting on the criticism, said
a stop would be made if requested. People were
advised that if they wanted to make a stop they
should advise the driver.
Despite good runs of whitebait in the
Karamea area in Buller, the lower West
Coast rivers have had little in them for the
whitebaiter to enthuse over. In the Grey River
today there were only “one or two” reasonable
catches of bait.
However, 650lb was sent by air to Wellington
and another 800lb railed to Christchurch from
Buller on Monday.
uFood for thought
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It is not often in electoral politics that
a party is given a second chance to get it
right. In 1999, Labour and the Alliance
(with the Greens more-or-less in tow)
were gifted the chance to craft a political
relationship that could have grown into a
near-permanent lock on New Zealand’s
still-new MMP electoral system. That
neither partner in the Labour-Alliance
coalition had the wit to seize, or even
understand, the opportunity before them
is a testament to the woeful immaturity of
the New Zealand left.
Perhaps the best way to describe the
opportunity missed by Labour and the
Alliance (and, after 2002, the Greens) is
by deploying a military analogy.
Think of Labour as a large army
marching through enemy territory. (The
analogy works best if the army you are
imagining is a 19th century one — think
of Napoleon’s Grande Armee, or Robert
E Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia).
The much smaller army of the Alliance
is spread out well ahead of Labour’s line
of march. Its role: To reconnoitre the
territory into which Labour is marching;
noting the disposition of the enemy’s
troops; their strongpoints; and the places
where their defences are weak and
vulnerable to attack. Should the enemy
encounter the smaller force, the resulting
engagement will give the larger army
plenty of time to prepare its defences.
For a while, it looked as though
the Labour-Alliance combination
had decided to work in precisely this
fashion. The radical policies of the
Alliance — especially those relating to
employer-funded paid parental leave
and the rolling-back of the Employment
Contracts Act — provoked a vehement
backlash from the business community.
Labour was, thereby, warned in advance of
exactly where and how the enemy would
attack these measures if they were adopted
as official government policy.
Unfortunately, Labour failed to make
good strategic use of this advance
warning. When the business community’s
counterattack came (in the form of the
infamous ‘ Winter of Discontent ’ of the
year 2000) Labour fell back in confusion.
The Alliance’s policies were slaughtered.
Never again would the centre-left armies
of Helen Clark and Jim Anderton engage
the forces of the right across such a broad
Indeed, in the general election of
2002, the forces of the centre-left found
themselves fighting each other. Labour
and the Greens, at loggerheads over
the issue of genetic engineering, were
unwilling to march together. Abandoned
by its natural ally, Helen Clark reluctantly
joined forces with Peter Dunne’s United
Reassured that there would be no
more left-wing offensives, National
concentrated on reinvigorating its worn-
out fighting machine and prepared to take
the fight to Labour. In 2005, Labour just
managed to hold them at the border. But,
in 2008, National brushed aside Helen’s
broken army and occupied huge swathes
of Labour territory.
Nine years later, under the command of
its Joan of Arc-like leader, Jacinda Ardern,
Labour is again presented with the
opportunity to take the fight to the right.
Once again, they have an opportunity to
send their radical allies out ahead of their
main force to draw enemy fire and provide
Labour with the information required to
seize the strategic initiative.
If Ms Ardern and her advisers decline
to accept this second chance to put things
right — or, in this context, left — then
they will, once again, have denied to
themselves, their party, and their radical
Green allies, the opportunity of making
steady progressive reform New Zealand’s
political default setting.
Allowing the Greens to make the
case for change; assessing the force and
quality of the right ’s objections; and
then, following a period of extensive and
authentic public consultation, fashioning
a suite of reforms acceptable to a solid
majority of New Zealanders. Such is
the royal-road to making Labour the
dominant force in New Zealand politics.
The test will be whether or not Ms
Ardern is willing to follow the example
of her mentor Helen Clark. In 1999, with
the Greens under sustained attack from
National, Ms Clark tipped the wink to
Labour’s Coromandel supporters to give
their electorate vote to the Green co-
leader, Jeanette Fitzsimons.
If, next week, the Greens are still at risk
of falling below the 5% MMP threshold,
and Ms Ardern tips the wink to Labour’s
Wellington Central voters to back James
Shaw, then we can be sure that the forces
of centre-left are, once again, on the
Chris Trotter is a left-wing
A second chance for Labour to put things left
hen a William
rescued at the
explosion 103 years
ago, a wife and a
girlfriend were waiting at the pit-head for a
father and son who shared that name. The
women knew it was likely only one of them
would get her man back.
“It ’s Billy Brocklebank,” someone shouted,
and the crowd at the pit-head broke into
cheers, according to the first of many stories
about the disaster in which 43 men died or
were fatally injured.
William junior was alive.
The explosion on September 12, 1914 is
one of two coal mining disasters that marks
September as a dark month in the history
of northern Waikato. The second was on
September 24, 1939 when 11 men in the
Glen Afton mine were killed by carbon
The Ralph’s mine tragedy ranks as the
second-worst coalmining disaster in New
Zealand, after the one at Brunner in the
Grey Valley in which 65 were killed by gas
In more recent history, the bodies of
29 men remain in the Pike River Mine,
following explosions in 2010.
William Brocklebank the fifth, 74, is a
retired teacher who lives in Cambridge.
He shares his first and last names with —
among other forebears — his grandfather
and great-grandfather, William the second
and third, who both worked in Ralph’s
mine at the time of the 1914 explosion. The
grandfather was the Billy who sur vived. The
great-grandfather was killed, aged 52.
When rescuers found Billy, he was
crawling on hands and knees towards the
mine’s vertical main shaft.
“My grandfather was the only sur vivor
at the blast face,” William the fifth says.
Billy, 28 at the time, sur vived underground
by breathing from a fractured air pipe, his
grandson, who learned details from his
grandmother Mary, said. He had been
unconscious for some time and suffered
cuts and bruises.
Mary, and Billy’s mother Margaret rushed
with other townsfolk to the main shaft,
the pit head, in Huntly after the explosion
at 7.20am on a Saturday which sent thick
smoke and dust and a sheet of flame
roaring out of the shaft.
When the shout went up that “Billy
Brocklebank” was rescued, Mary and
Margaret knew that one of them had
their man back, but not which one. Mary
called her future husband — they married
in 1915 — Will, not Billy, their grandson
said. He says Mary later recalled standing
with her mother-in-law-to-be “and she said
— although they were not married — she
knew that ‘one of us was a widow and one
of us possibly wasn’t ’.”
Billy resumed mining and lived until
Margaret still had two of her eight
children at school when she lost her
husband. She was advised against trying
to see his body, as the men killed in the
explosion were so badly burned. William
the fifth understands Margaret received
a small compensation package and
Ralph’s mine passed underneath the
Waikato River and had a shaft on each
side. The explosion was so big it was heard
all around the Huntly area.
“Men who were near the eastward shaft
at the moment of explosion say that there
were two dull, heavy reports, separated
by only a moment,” the Herald wrote at
the time. “ Then came the belching dust,
smoke and flame, and a hissing noise, like
an engine letting off steam, which lasted
for some seconds. ”
One of the cages weighing a tonne was
“shot up like a bullet ” from the top of the
eastern, main shaft in Huntly and was
wrecked on the frame of the winding gear.
As it was a Saturday, about only 60 men
were at work, far fewer than if it had been
Rescue parties were not able to get
into the mine until the afternoon, but
fires and poisonous gases meant the last
body was not recovered until 15 days
after the explosion. Eleven men managed
to escape from the mine up its western
shaft, the ventilation intake. The mine was
The explosion was caused by the naked
flame in a miner’s lamp igniting firedamp,
a collection of gases, mainly methane.
Safety lamps, with a covered flame, were
demanded by a commission of inquiry.
The New Zealand Herald reported that
Huntly mines “have always been regarded
as so safe that safety lamps were never
considered necessary, and never stocked.
The miners habitually worked with naked
About 12km south-west of Huntly, at
the Glen Afton mine, carbon monoxide
gas from a fire killed 11 men on Sunday,
September 24, 1939. Four men had
entered the mine in the morning to
investigate an electrical fault and reported
gas. The manager and six others followed.
Two hours later the engineer went in
and, after nearly being overcome by gas,
staggered out and raised the alarm.
“ Four of the dead men were found near
a junction about two miles (3.2km) from
the entrance to the Glen Afton pit head,”
the Herald reported. “All of them were
clear of the gas area, but evidently they
had insufficient strength left when they
emerged into the comparatively clear air of
another sector to walk any further.
“ Many men among the rescue teams
collapsed as they emerged from the shafts
. . . O ld hands said they could smell the
smoke of the fire which raged somewhere
in one of the sectors.
“ Tiny cages holding finches, canaries and
budgerigars were taken into the shafts as
the rescue parties entered.
“ Many of the men who went below
owed their lives to them, for toward seven
o’clock tonight searchers were confronted
with increasing waves of carbon monoxide,
detected only by the collapse of the birds
they had brought with them.” — NZME
PICTURE: Alexander Turnbull Library
William Brocklebank III, sole sur vivor from the seat of the explosion at Ralph’s
Mine, Huntly, on September12, 1914.
The Waikato coalmining disasters that killed 54 men in two Septembers
PICTURE: Price Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library
Ralph’s Mine at Huntly.
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