Australia’s worst mine disaster remembered

Hundreds of Illawarra residents gathered at Mount Kembla to remember the 96 men and boys who died in the nation’s biggest mining accident.

A memorial service was held at 2pm yesterday at the Mount Kembla Soldiers and Miners Memorial Church to pay tribute to the men who lost their lives.

An explosion at the Mt Kembla colliery in July 1902 killed 96 men and boys, leaving behind 33 widows and 120 fatherless children.

Mount Kembla Mining Heritage chairman Phil Grant said it was important to preserve the stories of the disaster, and remember how the community rallied behind the families after the tragedy.

‘‘This year we are looking at the youths aged between 14 and 17 years old. There were 10 of them who perished in the disaster,’’ Grant said.

This number includes brothers Alexander, 15, and Henry, 17, Morrison and first cousins Claude and David Stafford, The Illawarra Mercury reported.

The 111th anniversary of the disaster is also being marked by the play ‘Windy Gully’, a story about the community of Mount Kembla around the time of the accident. It runs until August 3 at Phoenix Theatre.

Miner Andy Relf who is an actor in the production said the issues in the play hit close to home.

"Even though it's set in 1902, the relationship side of it is still exactly the same as it was,” he said.

"They talk about what they took for crib, the meal you take to work. Andy comes home and tells his wife stories about stuff the guys at work have done, and all of that's still relevant, that's the sort of conversations I have with my girlfriend all the time.

"Our mine has gone underneath Mount Kembla Mine, and you think: 'wow, 111 years ago, 96 guys died basically right here'. It didn't cause me any concern or freak me out, but it makes you realise how good we have it now compared to how they had it then."

Relf said it was important for people to know the story of the men who lost their lives in the disaster.

"I like being able to tell a story, which is why I like this play so much. The events aren't in anyone's living memory, but it's still important people know the story," he said

The 96 Candles Ceremony in Windy Gully will be held on July 31 from 6.30pm to commemorate the evening of the mine disaster anniversary.

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