Historian to probe disasters

by Chris Griffith
Published 5 May 1996 in The Sunday Mail


my face


A mining historian last week said he would publish research on government responses to Queensland mining disasters this century, including Moura.

Author and mining journalist Alan Murray made the comment as he prepared to launch his latest book ""Nothing But Scrub'', which traces the development of mining towns in the central Queensland Bowen Basin region.

""Nothing But Scrub'' begins in the early pioneering days of the last century. It covers the confrontation between Aborigines and the white colonists, and notes as many as 15,000 Aborigines were killed during settlement in central Queensland.

But its main focus is Moranbah, the mining town built by American giant Utah to service its Goonyella and Peak Downs mines which cut their first coal in the early 1970s. This year Moranbah is 25 years old, and the book forms part of the Moranbah Silver Jubilee celebrations.

During its early history, Moranbah exhibited the predictable behaviour found in male-dominated mining towns.

There were the sly-grogging days before the pub was built, the run-ins with the law, even the confession of an under-cover police officer who could not face dobbing in his newly-found mates. He broke down and wept, and confessed to the miners en masse that he was a police spy.

There's also the sad tale of a young miner whose affections were rejected by a local barmaid. In mid-afternoon, he walked out into the main street and shot himself, in full view of passers by.

One of the books light-hearted yarns is the establishment of the Moranbah zoo, opened in 1980 by then Primary Industries minister Mike Ahern. The zoo became an administrative nightmare, particularly when the locals tried to import monkeys into the relatively treeless central Queensland zoo.

It took local MP and then Member for Belyando Vince Lester to cut the red tape and get the monkeys in. It ranks among Lester' s many colourful achievements.

Understandably, the zoo's two koalas were later acquired in less formal circumstances. One mysteriously appeared on a coal stockpile at Peak Downs, the other was ""put over the fence'' into the zoo one night. There was no paper work.

Author Murray arrived from Scotland 25 years ago. In the early 1970s he worked as a journalist for The North-West Star in Mt Isa and for The West Australian. He spent the next 20 years in and around mining settlements in north-west and central Queensland, and in Western Australia.

Between 1979 and 1994 he gained first-hand mining experience working for Utah and the Department of Mines. These days he writes extensively for national and international mining publications, most recently on the 1994 Moura mine disaster.

Murray said his research into government responses to Queensland mining disasters would soon be published in a book entitled ""Reading Between the Lines''.

He said media coverage of mining disasters had ""concentrated on the initial horror for a few days''.

""After that, there's little in the way of medium to long-term media follow-up of what governments do with recommendations.''

In the 1994 Moura disaster, he said the media concentrated almost entirely on the Warden's Report delivered by Warden Frank Windridge. Windridge's coronial report which was highly critical of some very senior public servants, had been ""glossed over'', he said.

Currently, 35 Queensland mines produce around 100 million tonnes of coal each year. The industry employs 10,500 people, and Queensland coal is exported to 30 countries. It generates $4.12 billion a year, of which several hundred million dollars go to consolidated revenue annually.