Singleton local Joanne Ufer remembers her son 10 years on from New Zealand's Pike River Mine disaster

Joshua Ufer was one of two Australians killed in an explosion at the Pike River Mine.
Joshua Ufer was one of two Australians killed in an explosion at the Pike River Mine.

A DECADE on from New Zealand's Pike River Mine disaster and Singleton's Joanne Ufer hopes the event will continue to be a reminder to the industry to learn from the mistakes of their past.

Her son, Joshua Ufer, 25, was one of two Australians out of 29 men killed when methane blasts tore through the mine on the West Coast region of the South Island beginning on November 19, 2010.

Joshua's daughter, and Joanne's only grandchild, Erika, was born six months after his death. Josh was born in Queensland but Joanne and Josh's sister, Kymberley, 28, now live in Singleton.

It's been a frustrating 10 years for Joanne, with her son's body having never been recovered, but as the anniversary arrives, a long awaited re-entry operation of the mine is reaching its last crucial phases.

Jo at Pike River portal in May 2019.

Jo at Pike River portal in May 2019.

The operation began in May 2019 after an agreement between New Zealand's major political parties in Wellington on August 15, 2017.

At the time, soon-to-be Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pledged that a manned re-entry of the mine would be conducted in the hope to recover the bodies and investigate the cause of the explosion.

Joanne said that after 7 years of being told "no" and the government not wanting to hear reason, everything changed when Jacinda came on the scene.

"She took power and one of her promises was to make sure that if it could happen it would happen and she's kept that promise," she said.

Josh's memorial at Atarau, New Zealand.

Josh's memorial at Atarau, New Zealand.

"I actually got to meet her, I went over for the re-entry commencement in May last year... she's such a down to earth lady.

"I think too, being a woman and a mother she has that understanding of what we were going through and she was compassionate."

While Joanne still holds hope for the outcome of the recovery, she is staying cautiously optimistic.

"You've got to protect yourself and I suppose I've had it in my mind that Josh probably would never be recovered just because I know which part of the mine that he was working in," she said.

"But you've always got to have a little bit of hope, and here we are ten years later."

Joanne has worked in the mining industry herself since 2006 and is currently Production Administrator at Mt Pleasant coal mine near Muswellbrook.

In fact her whole family has some connection to the industry, through current or past jobs or associated businesses with mining.

Joanne was recently nominated for the NSW Women in Mining awards where she received highly commended and has used the tragedy to advocate for continued safety in the industry.

"Mining is a dangerous industry and I think everyone that works in it knows that, but we've got to remember these events to make sure that people are reminded of how dangerous it is and that safety regulations are continuing to occur and not be deregulated," she said.

Joanne will be spending the anniversary with family and close friends in Singleton over dinner before flying to Queensland on Friday to meet with Joshua's friends.

Kymberley, Jo and Joshua in July 2010.

Kymberley, Jo and Joshua in July 2010.

"It's been great that even ten years later his mates still all want to see me and they're like brothers to my daughter," she said.

"I think it's a pretty special thing that we all get together and remember Josh and do things he would like to do.

"He had his whole life in front of him, he was happy, living life to the fullest and that was cut short and he's missed out on so much including family events and the birth of his daughter... it's a reminder you never know what's around the corner."

This story Remembering the Pike River Mine disaster 10 years on first appeared on The Singleton Argus.

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