SOURCE: The Newcastle Herald.
THE moment that workers at Austar Coal Mine learnt that their mates Jamie Mitchell and Phillip Grant had died 500metres underground they started a vigil that lasted more than 40 hours.
Though they received the news in the early hours of Wednesday morning, they were not going anywhere.
PAYING TRIBUTE: Austar mine workers, Anthony Bower, Bruce Smith, Kyle Lewis, Brent Nolan, Jono Branch, Terry Parker, Matt Ambrum, Chad Law, Craig Bender, Tony Pyne, Wade Tsakissiris, and eight-year-old Caylan Law gather for a barbecue to honour the two mine workers whose bodies were recovered yesterday. Picture: Jonathan Carroll
They would not leave them alone “down there”.
Between 60 and 80 workers remained at the site, sharing their memories of the pair who were dedicated to their job and loved their sports.
The workers knew that had it been them, their mates would have done the same.
Their 44-hour vigil ended Thursdayafternoon when Mr Grant’s body was removed from the mine.
The workers formed a guard of honour as his body was carried out, as they had done for Mr Mitchell when his body was recovered at 6am on Thursday.
It was a poignant moment for the workers who have been deeply moved by the tragedy.
Many gathered again for a beer and a barbecue last night in Paxton to keep the memories of their mates alive.
Brent Nolan and Chad Law knew Mr Mitchell and Mr Grant better than most because they were part of the same crew.
They were underground with them on Tuesday night when a rock burst caused tonnes of coal to fall and crush Mr Mitchell and Mr Grant to death.
Mr Nolan and Mr Law raised the alarm and tried to help their mates, but they could not reach them.
With an investigation pending, Mr Law and Mr Nolan were not permitted to talk about the accident.
But they paid tribute to the men they described as more than workmates.
“When you’re underground you look after each other’s back … They were like brothers to us down there,” Mr Law said.
“It won’t be the same the next time we go down to work, but we’ve got to stick together and get through it.”
Mr Law had worked with Mr Mitchell and Mr Grant since he started at the mine eight years ago.
Mr Nolan joined them four years ago and will never forget how he met Mr Mitchell.
“It was my first day and I’d never met Jamie Mitchell before in my life, but he just sat down and chatted to me for five minutes like he’d known me for a long time,” he said.
“He was a real friendly guy.
“Every shift he would drive us in and out, and whenever there was something that no one else wanted to do he would already have his hand up for the job.
“You’d never find a harder worker than Jamie Mitchell, I know that for a fact.
“He loved mining. We would be trying to sleep during our break on night shift and he would have something to eat and go straight back down there and get into it.
“There are a lot of broken hearts and upset guys here.”
Mr Law said Mr Mitchell “lifted the whole crew” and had a good sense of humour.
His favourite sayings were, “When they stop paying us I’ll start worrying”, and “If you’re gonna be a bear be a grizzly bear”.
When he stopped in at the pub for a drink, his love of a good time showed.
“He went to every event outside of work and by the end of the night he would be doing his famous Megabolt dance,” Mr Nolan said.
“He just loved life and he was always doing something.”
Mr Grant enjoyed studying the processes involved in mining and was doing his deputy course.
He would have completed his oral test in the coming months and been able to lead a team of eight workers underground.
“He was very safety-conscious; both guys never cut any corners,” Mr Nolan said.
“Phil was a very cautious person underground which makes it so much more tragic.
“He always put safety ahead of production. He always gave 100per cent and was very strong willed.
‘‘He loved pushing himself whether it be academically with his deputy studies or physically … the guy used to swim countless kilometres.”
Mr Grant was always talking about cars, bikes or his son, Shaun, they said.
“I feel like I know Shaun, if he wasn’t talking about the formula one or the V8s on the weekend, it was what him and Shaun had been up to,” Mr Nolan said.
“From Friday to Monday, it was him and Shaun doing an activity together.
“Shaun was his world.”
The workers have vowed to celebrate the men’s lives and support their families.
“April 15 will be an important day for the workforce here and we will do something every year to remember them,” Mr Nolan said.
“They were two great guys and they will be greatly missed. They will never be forgotten.”