It’s been 50 years since the Bulli Mine disaster but the recovery mission will forever be etched into Andrew Duncan’s memory.
Four men - Fred Hunt, Harry Smith, Jack Murray and Bob Stewart – lost their lives when a pocket of gas ignited in the mine on November 9, 1965.
Mr Duncan – who had been rostered on for afternoon shift – had raced to the mine when he heard news of the fire and formed part of the rescue effort.
‘’I was involved in bringing the bodies out,’’ he said.
‘’The only things not burnt were covered in wet slurry. I collected a belt buckle and cap peak from out of the slurry when a body was removed.
‘’...At the time you are absorbed in what you are doing, but afterwards it burns into you. Today it’s etched into my mind just like it was yesterday.’’
Mr Duncan, now 79, said one of the men - Bob Stewart - had survived for some time in an air vent.
His final words were scrawled on a ventilation tube: ‘’Tell wife kids I love them dearly. Can't last 10am. All can think of wife kids. I'm getting weaker. Can't last. Hope can die like man.’’
Barry Swan, a former Mineworkers Federation national secretary, said there were seven miners behind the point of ignition when the fire started. Three men survived - Barry Kent, Charlie Stewart and Dale Jones.
Mr Kent, now living in Queensland, will be among those attending a memorial service in Bulli on Monday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the disaster.
‘’From all reports two got out before the fire got out of control and started yelling out for help,’’ Mr Swan said.
‘’Barry Kent, who was an electrician, then managed to escape but the fire was very fierce and he suffered some bad burns.
‘’We are happy that he has accepted our invitation to attend the memorial in remembrance of the four lives lost on that fateful day.’’
Mr Swan, who will MC the ceremony at the Bulli Mine Disaster Memorial, is also pleased some of those ‘’’brave people’’ who attempted to save the miners, will also attend.
Family members and friends of those who lost their lives are also slated to attend the memorial which starts at 12.30pm.
The disaster in 1965 came almost 80 years after 81 men and boys lost their lives in an underground explosion at the Bulli Mine.
The March 23, 1887 disaster remains the second largest loss of life to an Australian industrial incident.
In 1890 a memorial to the lives lost in that disaster was erected in Park Road, Bulli.
There was some restoration work in 1994 but the monument has required ongoing care and maintenance by local residents.
The Bulli Disaster Memorial Committee (BMDC) formed earlier this year and its efforts led to a further restoration of the memorial.
The Mineworkers Trust and the South and Western CFMEU Mining Division came to the party and helped financially with the project.