‘We had this perfect little life’: Pike River families remember those lost 10 years on

Families of the Pike River miners have gathered on the West Coast, marking 10-years since their loved ones never returned from work.

From about 11 am on Thursday families came in small groups to the Pike River memorial at Atarau – a small area fenced off, the perimeter filled with monuments, crosses, and plant pots.

It was a place they had come to many times over the past decade – the mine itself is not far up the road.

Several people came holding fresh flowers to be laid beside plaques bearing the names of their son, husband, father, brother, or friend.

Stephen Rose, who lost his stepson, 31-year-old Stu Mudge, told the Herald it did not feel like 10 years had passed.

“It doesn’t feel like 10 years, it feels like three or four months ago on a day like this… we’ve gone such a long way in 10 years but we feel like we have only just begun,” he said.

“I was thinking this morning that seven years ago we were poised to do what is being done now… I think we’ve really only just begun, there are so many answers to come from inside the mine.”

“We’ve got hints of what to come.”

Rose said he was just finishing up selling firewood to a customer on November 19, 2010 when news of the explosion reached him and his partner Carol Rose.

Thinking it was supposed to be a “modern mine” he thought there would soon be answers as to what happened.

Ten years later he was still waiting – and the fight for answers had taken its toll.

“At times it’s been hard,” he said.

“About four years ago I had severe Post Traumatic Stress disorder, I just crashed and burnt… you just kind of bury it, sooner or later it squeezes out.”

“When you think about the time that has gone since my son has killed, it has flown by, but if I think about just the time it has taken to get where they are up the drift and how little we’ve achieved… man it’s been a long 10 years.”

Despite the still overwhelming sense of loss, there were hugs and smiles and round. Lifelong friendships had been born out of this tragedy.

Smiling, Carol Rose remembered her son as a “ratbag from the day he was born.”

“He had a mind of his own.. .he was into everything.”

But at 31 years old he had “really turned a corner”, and had found a career.

“That’s what really sad we never really got to see his full potential… the boys were snuffed out too early.”

During the last conversation with his mum, Stu handed a USB stick with songs he had downloaded off the computer.

He then caught the boss to go up the mine – two days later he was gone.

She still had this “very special flash drive with Stu’s music for mum.”

Like most family members at the memorial spoken to by the Herald, Rose still wanted answers as to why the mine exploded – and who was responsible.

“Really what we want is we want the truth… we know the truth is there.”

She still wanted an explanation from the mine managers – including former Pike River Coal chief executive, Peter Whittall, to front and explain exactly what happened.

Whittall refused to speak to the Herald ahead of the anniversary.

“We need somebody to be accountable for that… we’re hopeful the police can get a case together and bring charges,” said Rose.

Aside from the events on the West Coast, many here had their own way to remember what happened at the mine.

Jo Hall lost her son, Daniel Herk, in the Pike River disaster.

She described her son as a “good man” who would be “sorely missed”.

“Dan was a very solid guy; he was a lot of fun. He would stick up for you… he would put his whole heart into it.”

“We had a perfect little life going, one we could manage and one in which we had a lot of fun – this has changed all of that.”

Aside from the memorial events at the Atarau memorial and at the mine itself, Hall said she and her family would spend some time at home “and just remember Dan”.

Jo had also lost other sons, and each had a cabinet with their own ashes in it – except Daniel’s, as his remains laid somewhere deep inside Pike River mine.

“He was a funny, honest, straight forward, working, and providing man,” she said.

“He has been sorely missed.”

After visiting the memorial, families had lunch at the nearby Moonlight Hall, before boarding a bus to the entrance of the mine.

There they observed one minute of silence before a roll call of the 29 men was read out loud.

Afterwards, many attended a memorial at Blackball.

There, Carol Rose sang This Love, by Dave Dobbyn, which was composed as a tribute to Pike River miners who died.

Nine-year-old Erika Ufer, the daughter of miner Joshua Ufer also spoke to the crowd – she was not even born when her dad died.

“I have been learning about Pike River mine since I was very little,” she said.

“Everything I’ve learnt about my dad is from the people who loved him.”

Ufer said she was “very sad” she lost her dad at the mine.

“I like to come to the memorial on my dad’s birthday and Father’s Day each year so I can have a quiet think about him,” she said.

She thanked all of the people who had tried to recover information about what happened, so her dad and all of the other men in the mine could not be forgotten.

Families also attached flowers to the names of their lost loved ones that now adorned a large wheel in the centre of Blackball.

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