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Photographer's Note

The Brunner Mine site is located 11 km east of Greymouth and can be accessed from either SH7 just east of Dobson where the old Tyneside Chimney is an obvious landmark, or across the river on the Taylorville Road next to the Brunner commemorative statue. Both sides of the mine site are linked by the Brunner Suspension Bridge. There is a visitor just behind this chimney.

New Zealands worst industrial accident occurred more than a century ago and is still spine-chillingly awful in the recounting. New tracks and information panels at the site make sure the tragedy will not be forgotten.

Tragedies take absolute possession of a site.

Everything else that happens there becomes secondary prologue or aftermath to a single world-shattering moment. So it is with the Brunner Mine site on the West Coast. It is really two sites, linked by an historic suspension bridge from which, during summer months, children from nearby Greymouth still throw themselves into the turgid Grey River.

On a bright, clear morning in March 1896, 65 men and boys walked into the mine at Brunner and more than a kilometre into the hill, past workings long exhausted during 30 years of continuous production. No one returned alive. A massive explosion of methane killed them all where they worked; some may have survived the blast only to be poisoned by the afterdamp gas. Whatever the sequence, by the following morning when the first of the bodies was brought out, the Brunner had been confirmed in its abiding legacy as the site of New Zealands worst industrial accident.

Yet there is so much more to know about Brunner. As well as great tragedy, it was a place of great industry, being at one time New Zealands biggest producer of coal and sustainer of the countrys largest settlement of miners and their families as well as home to ancilliary brick and coke-making industries.

That layered history, however, has always been difficult to penetrate. The sheer diversity of the site confused many visitors. Meandering tracks, a river and railway line through the middle and poor signage all added to the bemusement and sent many of the curious back to their cars none the wiser. No longer. Aware that the historic significance of the site was being missed, the NZHPT, which manages the Tyneside site on the right river-bank, and the Department of Conservation (DOC), owner of the much larger area on the left, collaborated on a trackbuilding and interpretation project so that the Brunner could finally tell its story clearly and intelligibly. This place of memory now makes sense in a way it never did before.

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Viewed: 1897
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Additional Photos by Ralf Lai (kim_gwan) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 99 W: 0 N: 368] (1142)
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