The CFMEU Mineworkers Memorial Day at Aberdare is always a touching ceremony, and this year’s was particularly poignant with the addition of four names to the Jim Comerford Memorial Wall.
Austar mine collapse victims Jamie Mitchell and Phillip Grant, Bellbird’s Ingrid Forshaw (the first woman on the list) and Boggabri miner Mark Galton were remembered among the 1800 miners that have lost their lives on the job in the Northern District since 1801.
The service was held at the CFMEU’s Northern Mining and NSW Energy District office at Aberdare on Sunday morning.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten became the sixth Federal Labor leader to attend the ceremony in its 19-year history.
Mr. Shorten said it was an honour to continue the tradition and renew the pledge to remember those who have lost their lives on the Northern coalfields.
He acknowledged that the service no longer just remembers men and boys, with the addition of the first female name to the memorial wall.
Ms. Forshaw, 38, was an employee of TESA, working as a trainee on the Ravensworth North open cut mine site.
She died on November 30 when her four-wheel-drive vehicle was crushed by a 400-tonne dump truck.
Mr. Mitchell, 49, of Aberdare, and Mr. Grant, 35, of Metford, were killed when a 15-metre wall of coal fell onto them as they worked at Paxton’s Austar mine on April 15.
Mr. Galton, 50, lost his life on May 21 while working as a rigger on a coal mine site at Boggabri.
“As a father, as a son, as a husband, as a brother I cannot imagine, I cannot know the pain, the loss, the bottomless chasm of sadness brought on by the sudden fateful phone call or the knock at the door by sombre officials bearing the most unimaginable of news,” Mr. Shorten said.
“There is no memorial, no ceremony, nothing that we can say or do that will fill the void left by the sudden tragic theft of the people who loved you, the people you loved.
“But I sincerely hope that you can draw comfort from the knowledge that you do not walk alone today and that you never will.
“There are no strangers here.”
CFMEU Northern District president Peter Jordan said it has been a tough year for the mining community.
“Today’s service provides an opportunity for mine workers and their families and the community to remember and pay tribute to all mine workers whose names appear on the memorial wall and to reflect upon them and their families’ loss,” he said.
“It’s a solemn reminder of the high-risk nature of coal mining, and why we must have the highest healthy and safety standards – and we do, but we must do more, until there is never another name added to this wall.”
In memory of each miner lost in the past year, four safety lamps were placed on a table supporting the bronze bust of Mr. Comerford, known for his lifelong commitment to the working class.
The United Mineworkers Pipe Band played throughout the ceremony and Cessnock’s Tara Naysmith performed two songs – ‘Jealous of the Angels’ and ‘Working Man’.
Jason Jenkins from the Maitland Salvation Army, whose grandfather’s name is on the memorial wall, offered a prayer of remembrance as part of the service.
See more photos from the memorial service in the gallery below.