The West Coast of the South Island is a rugged and remote place. It is sparsely populated, and relies heavily on a sense of independence, and help thy neighbour. Coal mining has been part of the Coaster way of life since the start.
Coal mining has always been acknowledged as being dangerous. Rock fall, explosions, asphyxiation, injury, chronic illnesses and ill health are all associated with mining. And on the Coast, medical and rescue assistance isn’t always readily available.
And when things go wrong, it has a deeper impact than in more populated areas. 19 men may not seem very many when you live in a city of millions, constantly bombarded with strangers dying, as part of daily life. But on the Coast, where everybody is your neighbour, and every neighbour is your first responder in times of need, 19 men make a difference. 19 men, and their 19 families, one community, all affected.
Coasters aren’t immune to loss. They take care of those left behind, they support each other. And they remember.
And so, from time to time as you travel around the West Coast, you’ll come across memorials. Simple ones, usually with a patch of grass, a rock and a placard with some details. All of them are well tendered, with the grass mown short, clean and unspoiled by graffiti or litter. Some remember individuals who served their community, others entire communities who have moved on, others like this one remember those who lost their lives through tragic circumstances.
And to me, this is part of what makes the West Coast special. Not the geography, not the scenery or the wildlife, but the people. The people make the difference.