How to sandbag a community?

Today Lou would have been 92. Lou grew up down the road from where we live in a little rental cottage. A child of the depression, he started school at six and finished just at the end of primary school. His father was out of work for some of the 1930s and they were adept catchers and eaters of rabbits. In World War Two Lou was captured in Greece and spent several years as a prisoner of war. The nightmares of what he had experienced never left him and became particularly menacing in his later years.

Lou came back to Greymouth after the war a changed man, the cliche which is only a cliche because no one was lucky enough to come back unscathed. He married a lovely young woman called Mary, the daughter of a sawmiller father and a strict Methodist mother. Mary is also my Dad's cousin.

Mary and Lou made a new life, a life which they wanted and which the country desperately wanted. The sorrow was not over - they buried their first child only five days after he was born. Only, Mary did not bury him. She lay in hospital, not far from the mothers feeding their live babies, while Lou stood at the graveside of the son he had longed for and wondered if it was something that had happened in the war which had contributed to the baby's health problems.

They had two more children and devoted their lives to their families and their community. Lou umpired cricket - a sport he enjoyed and had not had the chance to play in his financially impoverished childhood. Lou brewed his own beer and Mary sewed her own clothes. Lou battled the oxalis in the garden to grow spuds, lettuces and beans. Mary filled the cake tins for her husband and children and for many more besides. Sometimes the grandparents minded the children while Mary and Lou went to dances.

In 1968 they were on holiday, Mary and Lou and their two children, at Mitchells, on the edge of Lake Brunner, when the news of the Strongman mine disaster came through.

Lou was spared the news of the Pike River mining tragedy - he died three years ago. Today we took flanders poppies and red and white roses to his grave. The children danced and jumped around and over gravestones while Mary cleaned the bird poo off his age at death on the stone.

Lou has not just been spared the details of the tragedy; he has been spared the questions we all have to face in our community. I ration media exposure tightly as so much annoys or upsets me. As a community we all stood together during the fortnight of hell as we waited for a miracle for our 29 men and then as we marked our love last Thursday. I fear that as others ask their analytical questions and probe for answers about the future of mining on the coast as well as the history, I fear that our community may be torn apart. We have lost so much, is it so very stupid and naive to fear losing more?


Heather said…
I don't really know what to say, but I wanted to let you know that I fear you are right, and you have my deep sympathy as you try to find a path through this.

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