Homily and Dedication by Rev. Kath Hobson.
Ipswich City Uniting Church.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
Friends, we gather here today in this place, in the presence of this magnificent memorial to the fallen coalminers of Ipswich, because we acknowledge that there is a mystery to our human lives that is beyond us. There are no words, no explanations, no reasoning that any of us can offer to reconcile the tragic loss of lives in coalmining accidents over the years. And though we may have diligently pursued greater safety measures and stricter risk management strategies in response to these tragedies over the years, there still remains for each of us the fearful reality that life is uncertain and precarious; and that ‘for everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.’ And so we gather together in order to remember this truth.
It is interesting to reflect on the story of Saint Barbara, the patron saint of coalminers, in helping us today to make sense of life and death, of tragedy and courage. The story goes that Saint Barbara, who lived in the 4th century, had a father who feared losing his daughter to the world, so he built a tower and kept her hidden inside to protect her. But in her isolation, she took to praying and seeking God, and found life in coming to faith as a result. Eventually her father found out about this faith conversion and in a rage took it upon himself to execute her. But in the process, the legend tells us that Saint Barbara’s father was struck down by lightning and consumed by flames from heaven. So, Saint Barbara is revered by all those who face the danger of sudden and violent death, such as those who work with explosives, like coalminers.
On this day of remembering, there is something quite powerful about Saint Barbara’s story for us, because it reminds us that despite our fears and our desperate attempts, we cannot prevent accidents and death from happening; and we cannot protect ourselves from the outside world, like Saint Barbara’s father tried to do. No matter how much we try to keep the world at bay, no matter how much we try to anaesthetize ourselves from tragedy and brokenness, we will always be left with the mystery of life that we cannot control. But we can, in the midst of an uncertain world, choose to live lives of hope regardless. And that is what we are here to do today. We remember and we mourn, but we must do so knowing that there is more to life than even our worst fears and our greatest tragedies. If there is anything that we can grasp hold of out of all the tragedies named today, it’s that we must remember in order to live again. Because it is only against the backdrop of the shadows of life, that the light and colour and beauty of life can be seen more vividly. This is the gift of hope that God has given to us in the person of Christ, who lived a human life and knew what it was to suffer, and yet also experienced the joy of resurrection to new life.
And so today we remember the darkness of those mines. We remember the fear and isolation of those who were trapped. We remember the pain and anguish of those left standing helpless as they couldn’t reach their mates with help. We remember the deep grief and sadness of families hearing the news for the first time of the loss of their loved ones. And we remember the ongoing suffering and trauma that continues today for many who have been a part of each of these tragedies in some way. But so too, we remember the laughter and the comraderie of the coalminers. We remember the courage and bravery it took to enter the mines. We remember the joy and celebration each day they returned home. We remember the larrikins, the quiet ones who kept to themselves, the dedicated ones, the risk-takers, the planners, the family-men, the mates. And together on this day, and in this place, we give thanks for all the memories together, both the sadness and the joy, as we celebrate the wonder and the magnificence of life in all its fullness. For all of life is a gift – and for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.
And so let us pray as we dedicate this place in honour of those who have gone before us:
Loving God, Source of all life, we dedicate this memorial in memory of those who lost their lives in sudden and unexpected tragedies in the coalmines around Ipswich. We remember and give thanks for their life among us, and we commit ourselves to keeping their stories alive in the way that we live our lives going forward.
May your deep and unending peace bless those for whom this day is a day of grief and a reminder of great sadness.
May your overflowing healing bless those here today who bear the scars and the memories of those tragic coalmine disasters.
And may your grace be upon us all this day as we remember the stories of lives lost, as we give thanks for their sacrifice and toil, and as we re-commit ourselves to seeking the common good in our community.
Dr. Roderick Perry on Behalf of the Relatives
On this historic day for the city of Ipswich, it is my great privilege to speak on behalf of the families whose relatives are commemorated in this monument. I am aware that, never myself having worked in the mines, I am less qualified than many others who could carry out this task. But having grown up as the son, grandson and great-grandson of miners, I have coal dust in my DNA and great empathy for all the families whose loved ones have contributed so much to the proud heritage of this city.
When I speak of being privileged, I mean this in several ways: Firstly, the privilege of being born and bred in this city. It has been said that there are really only two types of people- those who were born in Ipswich, and those who wish they had been. It was the coal industry that breathed life into this city in its infancy; and today we honour the memory of those whose lives were claimed by the same industry.
Having an honourable and hard working father, who went “down the pit” at the age of fourteen is the second privilege. He taught me values of mateship and generosity that are not on the curriculum of any university. But, having gone to university to study Medicine, I was to have another privilege- that is, the privilege of treating injured miners at the Ipswich Hospital, under the guidance of the late, great Dr David Trumpy, after whom your bridge is named. And what a tough and stoic breed they were- and still are!
My grandfather was one of the four men killed in the Harts Aberdare disaster of 1936, a few weeks before I was born. Five years before that, he had actually participated in an attempted rescue at that same mine. My grandmother lost her husband and her brother in the same accident, leading to a grief that lasted many years. (Her son Bill, my uncle, twelve at the time, and now in his nineties, is here today).
The year 2015 was marked by the commemoration of the Gallipoli landing. We as a nation celebrated the Australian characteristics of mateship, courage and self sacrifice. I think it is most appropriate that, in this same year, we honour the memories of those who lost their lives in the coal industry. For, when you think about it, those same qualities- mateship, courage and self sacrifice, are typical of miners.
And just as the Australian story has been defined by those events long ago at Gallipoli, so the history of this city, Ipswich, has been defined by its miners. It too is a history of triumph and tragedy, of hard ship and prosperity, of courage and heroism.
Courage and heroism are the qualities we honour today in this memorial: the courage of those miners who, in the early days, went to work in primitive and dangerous conditions to eke out a living. The lost lives commemorated in this monument bear witness to this, but they are only part of the story. Think of the large number of miners who did not lose their lives but bore the long time legacy of injury or chronic lung disease. We remember too the courage of the Mines Rescue Teams who risked life and limb in going to the aid of their mates.
And finally, we acknowledge the anguish and heartbreak of loved ones- the wife whose husband went to work neber to return, the children left fatherless, the parents who lost sons. Reading a cutting from the Queensland Times of 19th May 1936, I was struck by the following paragraph, written in the journalistic style of those days: “In hushed houses last night, fond ones and sympathisers gathered as a clan and talked of the fateful yesterday. A raised coffin in each house mutely bespoke the tragedy, and the houses’ occupants were dim eyed; the widows, the children bereft of parents, and the brothers and sisters bereft of brothers....”
So let us today remember the sacrifices of those who have gone before us, and gives thanks for this vibrant city which owes so much to its coal miners. In conclusion, on behalf of the relatives and descendants here today, I pay tribute to my old friend Beres Evans and his great team, who, by their hard work and vision, have brought about this fitting memorial.