VIDEO: Bendigo marks centenary of goldmine disaster

HISTORIANS have called for a tourist hub and memorial wall to 900 Bendigo miners killed on duty to be built at the site of one of the state’s worst mining disasters.

Only a modest plaque marks the site where, on May 2, 1914 seven men were killed in an explosion 300 metres underground at the Great Extended Hustler’s Mine in Bendigo.

One of the goldmine’s managers, Richard Reed, risked his life to find bodies and rescue seven men on lower levels.

The dead men left five widows and 11 children. The community raised an astonishing £400,000 for them and a local newspaper declared Bendigo ‘‘a bereaved city’’.

The tragedy was mentioned in Federal Parliament and reported around the country.

To mark the centenary, two days of events will be held in Bendigo this weekend.

On Saturday there will be guided walks of the above-ground site – now a park – two kilometres uphill from Bendigo Town Hall.

Near the now-blocked mine entrance a marquee will host talks on the disaster and Bendigo society of 1914.

Displays will document the victims – men aged 23 to 40 – and tell the story of the Great Extended Hustler’s Reef Mining company, named after an 1850s miner at the site, Thomas Hussler.

In 1865 a consortium of miners bought out mining claims across Hussler’s Hill and raised capital from shares to mine for gold underground.

Fortunes were made as the mine continued, tapping the rich quartz to a depth of one kilometre, until 1921.

At its peak in the 1870s underground branches extended three kilometres below ground from Bendigo railway station to North Bendigo.  

On Sunday the Bendigo Historical Society in Hargreaves Street will host an exhibition on mining accidents and illnesses at the Bendigo goldfield, detailing how most accidents were single deaths caused by falls or cave-ins, and how many more died from lung disease.

Also on Sunday there will be a Cornish miner’s lunch and goldfields music at the Boundary Hotel in Milroy Street, which was the miners’ pub. 

At the Bendigo Hospital the 19th-century mortuary where the bodies were taken after the explosion will be open to the public from 2pm to 4pm on Sunday.

Local historian Aldo Penbrook said the disaster had been forgotten, even by many Bendigo residents.

He said an information centre telling the Hustler’s story and a wall naming more than 900 people killed in Bendigo mining accidents should be erected on the site. It could be a destination for tourist and school groups.

Joan Searle, the granddaughter of one of the seven killed in 1914 at Hustler’s - George Forster, 28 - said her mother, Irene, told her George died in a lift fall - presumably to spare her the more gruesome truth, involving explosives 13 levels down.

Irene and her brother George jnr were aged four and three when their father died, sending the family into chaos.

George snr’s wife, Maud, remarried and moved the family to Melbourne but died of heart disease aged 34.

The children’s stepfather sent the orphans back to Bendigo. But their aunt could only take in George; Irene had to work in a hotel to fend for herself.

Mrs Searle, her daughter Lynette and granddaughter Teagan cherish a fragile photo of George. They say it is good to honour him at the centenary and they would support greater recognition of the miners and their families.

Organisers have set up a Hustler’s Lost Miners Centenary Facebook page.

-THE AGE

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