31 July - two massive mining tragedies remembered

Published: 30 Jul 2018

Mt Kembla - 31 July 1902

31 July is the anniversary of Australia's worst industrial disaster, in 1902, when 96 miners lost their lives in an explosion at Mt Kembla Colliery in NSW.

There were 280 workers underground at the time of the explosion, including young boys. The explosion was so massive it could be heard 11 kilometres away in Wollongong. Recovery of the bodies took several days, and all but one were recovered in a courageous rescue operation. The NSW Parliament suspended sittings, such was the shock felt in the broader population.

A Royal Commission of Inquiry followed. The mine owners attempted to establish a theory that the disaster had been caused by a "fall of ground" and not be the presence of dangerous gas levels. However evidence presented refuted that theory. Not only was gas present in dangerous quantities but the mine managers were aware of that fact.

Recommendations from the inquiry included more testing for gas, better ventilation, improved shot firing practices and the abolition of naked flame lights. It was not until 1925 that the ventilation system at Mt Kembla was replaced, and it was years before naked lights were finally banned. Mt Kembla colliery closed in 1970.

We must never forget the human price paid for coal. R.I.P.

Box Flat - 31 July 1972

On 31 July 1972, a fire followed by an explosion at Box Flat in the Ipswich area of Queensland killed 17 mineworkers and severely injured three others. It was the worst ever industrial disaster to hit the Ipswich area.

At about 6pm on Sunday 30 July 1972, signs were detected of a fire underground. A team went underground to check it. A second team went into the mine some hours later to try to make temporary seals. It was then that a tremendous explosion shattered the mine.

Of the seventeen men who were killed, seven of them were members of the rescue squad that had been called to the mine when the fire was detected.

In the face of the danger of further explosions arising from the raging fire, the grim decision was made to seal the mine, leaving fourteen of the victims entombed.

A funeral service was held at the top of the mine.

National leaders of the then Miners Federation (Evan Phillips and Bob Cram) issued a statement, reflecting that “the coal mining industry has been subject to revolutionary technological changes, and regulations have followed behind thee changes. The task is to ensure that there are no long gaps between these technological changes and the necessary legislation to safeguard the men.”

Consequent changes to Legislation and Regulations were:

  • The introduction of personal filter self rescuers for all underground miners
  • The introduction of Gas Chromatographs on the surface of all underground mines for the analysis of mine gas samples
  • Modern fire fighting equipment to be available underground
  • Upgrading of Mine Managers’ qualifications
  • Improved stone dust legislative requirements

We will never forget the men who died at Box Flat. May they Rest In Peace.