Twenty-nine figures stood in silence on the Pike River Mine access road this morning – each decked out in overalls, work boots, miner’s helmets and the name tags of the 29 men who died in the 2010 mine disaster.
The display is the most powerful message yet in the months-long protest aimed at preventing the permanent sealing of the mine portal before a final search is made of the drift for possible bodies and evidence of what caused the explosion.
Solid Energy workers who turned up at the access road this morning heading towards the mine portal, turned around and left again.
Families spokesman Bernie Monk, who lost his son Michael in the mine tragedy, said the presence of the 29 figures was emotional.
“Twenty-nine is a number, but when you see 29 figures dressed in overalls, mining helmets and wearing the individual name tags of our loved ones who lost their life at Pike River it is very significant – it really hits home, it is very powerful,” Monk said.
“The significance of the protest now is to make them realise the numbers they are looking to seal in the mine. This morning the two Solid Energy vehicles came and stopped. The drivers shook their heads, reversed and slowly drove away.”
Prime Minister Bill English has agreed to meet a deputation from the families next Wednesday, followed by submissions to the parliamentary select committee on Thursday.
“I don’t think Solid Energy will change its mind so it is now time to bring an independent body in. Solid Energy has to step aside – move on. I think they have under-estimated our stance,” Monk said.
Anna Osborne, whose husband Milton was among the 29, said the past six years had been tough on the families.
“If Bill English is going to offer lip service then I’m not interested. We want action and action speaks louder than words,” Osborne said.
“We are pushing not only to get our men out but because we all need to know the root cause behind every underground accident to ensure others don’t have to go through the heartache of losing their sons, husbands or brothers, like we have.”