13 October 1954: 7 killed in gas outburst at Collinsville

collinsville
On 13 October 1954 a gas outburst occurred at the Collinsville State Mine. Seven men were killed. Two other men were hospitalised, severely affected by the gas.

The disaster came after prolonged disputation between the Miners Federation and Mines Department chiefs, who had refused a request for an inspection of the newly mechanised No. 1 tunnel by NSW Check Inspector Jack Barrett.

The front page of Common Cause reported “gross negligence…The disaster followed a long agitation around conditions at the mine, which is an indictment of the whole attitude of the Queensland Government to the Collinsville mine.”

Queensland District Check Inspector, Jack Pollock said “No one could say the Government was not made fully aware of conditions following the introduction of mechanisation.”

Survivors gave accounts of “a terrific blow…a howling gale of wind” and “dust so thick I could not see the men’s lights”.

Bernard Fordham said “It was as if a shot had been fired, then I felt a terrific gust of wind, my eyes began to burn, my breath was cut off and the smell was indescribably horrible. I staggered out to fresh air, but later went back to try and recover the other  men.”

The stories of heroism were widely reported in the Queensland press. And from the Royal Commission which followed, the work of overman Tom Allan was commended, and the rescue efforts praised.

News of the Collinsville disaster prompted widespread expressions of sympathy. The Rockhampton Morning Bulletin reported on the “little town in deep mourning” on the day of the funeral, 14 October. All businesses and schools were closed. Five nearby mines were closed. Waterside workers from Bowen also stopped work. Over 2000 people attended the funeral, which was more than a mile long.

In a moving gesture, a comrade and poet from Cessnock penned a verse:

“It must not come again,
That we must see,
Seven men gave their lives,
This must not be.”

The seven men were: Alex Parkinson, Arthur Shrubsole, Frederick Ernest Walker, Henry Peterson, Herbert Ruff, James Reid Logan, Peter Miller.

Following the Royal Commission the Queensland 1925 Coal Mining Act was amended to require Mine Deputies to undertake statutory examinations for qualification and before appointment, and for Deputies to carry flame safety lamps and gas detectors during inspections.

R.I.P.