IN HONOUR: Dr Rae Norris has spent the past year tirelessly researching the history of Burrum Distict coal mines.
IN HONOUR: Dr Rae Norris has spent the past year tirelessly researching the history of Burrum Distict coal mines. Cody Fox

MORE THAN NAMES: Coal miners lives retold by historian

WHEN Howard's Dr Rae Norris saw the 26 names of local miners outside Burrum District Museum she knew merely listing their deaths "wasn't good enough".

The former university lecturer wanted to do something more for the men who had been killed in the district's mining boom more than a century earlier.

Dr Norris dedicated the last year to uncovering the miners' stories through meticulous research.

"It struck me as sad that little was known about many of the miners other than their names and the date and place where they died," she said.

 

2.	Q. C. Gauchalland Mine, Howard, 1920. William Billsborough (left) and Walter Putman filling a coal skip. Note the tallow lamps, low seam and the mining supports. Q. C. refers to Queensland Colleries, originally Queensland Coal.
Q. C. Gauchalland Mine, Howard, 1920. William Billsborough (left) and Walter Putman filling a coal skip. Note the tallow lamps, low seam and the mining supports. Q. C. refers to Queensland Colleries, originally Queensland Coal.

"So I set myself a task to get as much information as possible and in the process I found four more, so now there are 30 names on the memorial.

"The first miner died in 1886 and the last in 2010 in the Pike River Disaster in New Zealand."

Following leads from the museum's records, the 69-year-old retiree decided to go to the cemetery to find their graves.

"I made the assumption there would be headstones for them," she said.

"There is one grave of two men who died in a major explosion in Torbanlea in 1900 that killed five men.

 

1.	Group of miners wearing head lamps and leaning on a loaded wooden trolley inside a coal mine at Howard, Queensland, in May 1920. Photograph taken at the Queensland Colliery Company's Gauchalland Pit. Probably part of the Rankin collection.
Group of miners wearing head lamps and leaning on a loaded wooden trolley inside a coal mine at Howard, Queensland, in May 1920. Photograph taken at the Queensland Colliery Company's Gauchalland Pit. Probably part of the Rankin collection.

"It was a father and son.

"On the cemetery website you can find out where people were buried. I read a little bit about them and discovered the old man's daughter, who had been born two months after her father's death, died at 10 months old and was buried in the grave with them."

But Dr Norris said there was nothing to mark the grave.

"I said 'I can't leave it at that' because it's like they died in vain if we have no information other than when and where they died," Dr Norris said.

"They weren't just dead people, they were also alive before that.

"So I have been busily researching all this year trying to get as much information as I can so the people are brought back to life in a way."

 

3.	Pit pony hauling a coal wagon at QC Gauchalland Mine, 1920.
3. Pit pony hauling a coal wagon at QC Gauchalland Mine, 1920.

Dr Norris spent a lot of time researching through ancestory websites, local libraries and old newspaper records to collate the information into a talk held at Maryborough Library yesterday.

More than 30 people attended to listen to the tales of Burrum District coal miners who were killed in mine accidents between 1867 and 2010.

"Some of their stories are just heartbreaking," she said.

"One miner travelled here with his family on a boat which was quarantined for cholera. "All of their belongings were burned and then the year later he was killed in the mines. I cannot imagine what his poor wife and family went through."

Dr Norris said identifying the miners from only a few clues was sometimes difficult and she hopes their descendants may be able to help.

 

History of Burrum Distict Coal Mine - Dr Rae Norris has spent the past year tirelessly researching.
History of Burrum Distict Coal Mine - Dr Rae Norris has spent the past year tirelessly researching. Cody Fox

"Issues that come up include correctly identifying the miners, for example, James Johnston is a common name. So far I've counted 14 as ships' passengers coming into Queensland.

"However, his name turns out to be James Johnson, also extremely common.

"There may be descendants of the miners still living in our community and if there are, I'd like to hear from them."

If you missed Dr Norris's talk it will be uploaded to the Maryborough Library YouTube channel.