Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 32, September 1988
By W. E. Lawrence
In the deep years of the depression there were many scouts at the mine. They were men without permanent jobs who went up to the mine at change of shifts on the chance that some miner may not turn up for work or had been hurt and was on compo. If they could, get a couple of days a week they were far better off than being on the dole or in single men's slave camps.
One such person arrived, at No. 4 brace (thatis where the cage embarked, and disembarked the men at change of shift). This chap was a stranger to most of us but was warmly welcomed by old Tommy Gibbons. Tom Gibbons was a man well advanced in years, an old battler who had worked in mines in Australia as well as here.
The stranger said, nodding towards Tom, "He's the gamest man I've ever met in my life. I've seen men act on spur of the moment at the war, but for sheer guts he beats the lot."
During the First World War this fellow as a young man was working with Tom stoping. They had not seen their cross-mates as they had gone up in opposite cage to them at the change of shifts.
In those times explosives were conveyed in a special cage but fuse could be carried by miners. Explosives were kept underground in an area away from working places and were often shared by two parties.
When Tom and Joe came back into the work place next day it was just as they had left it so they assumed their cross-mates had not been at work. They carried, on boring and as they had their crib time they asked their neighbouring contract party could they borrow some coils of fuse. They readily agreed but said "Don't take the bundles hanging up on timber."
Towards end of shift Tom told Joe to get the fuses. Joe went to the other party's magazine and saw the fuse bundles but could not remember exactly what the other miners had said. In poor candle light it looked all the same to him so he cut off the lengths, usually four lengths to coil when well up in stoping. That gave three minutes to get clear.
They lit the fuses and headed along stope in direction against air movement. They had only got about five yards along when the broken ground under their feet dropped only a few feet but enough to trap them almost up to their knees. In a flash they realised what had happened. Their mates had trucked out on previous shift but stope had hung up. They were directly in line of fire. Joe screamed and cursed vainly trying to wrench himself free. Tom said, "No good mate. You might as well have a smoke. It will be your last so relax and enjoy it." Tom took out a rolled, cigarette, lit it and took deep draws at it.
The seconds dragged by. Tom finished his cigarette and said quietly, "Looks like we may be lucky". He calmly set about shifting the rocks that were locking his legs. Joe was buried more deeply than Tom so Tom had got himself free then helped Joe.
Joe's legs were so badly bruised that he had to go off work but when it came to go back underground, he found he could not face it. Instead he went to the war. Tom was back at work next day as if nothing had happened.
Looking back, Tom was a product of a hard life and had made the grade as the struggle of life must go on. Men and women like him are the strength of a nation.
* * *
Everyone who worked up the hill knew Doughy Burke, if not very well, then certainly by reputation as a hard worker and equally hard drinker. On a sunny early Spring morning Doughy was sitting with his head in his hands looking worse for wear after a heavy night.
"Good morning Doughy". "'Morning Bill" ——a long silence, then "Bill" - more silence. "Bill, a man must be bloody crook when he dies".
* * *
The Waihi Gold Mining Company have formed a pathway leading from the old rake line in Seddon Street to a platform overlooking the work being done on Martha Hill to allow the public to view the progress of the work being done.