Allan Takes Aim Blog

Indulge your humanity

Posted on: 30 March 2011

First posted in The Chronicle, Canberra, Tuesday March 29

In this column I talk about the aftermath of death and destruction caused by mine accidents, earthquakes and tsunamis. Sadly however I must accuse some comfortably off citizens of lacking humanity when on the basis of a war long past and/or skin colour, either complain or refuse to help support families who, through no fault of their own, were affected by such calamities.

 All of them should be held in contempt by the community, which is what happened to people who, when as a small boy and living three hundred yards from the pithead, denied help to families of miners from the local community affected by mine accidents. 

Like earthquakes and tsunamis these accidents came without warning. Only after an accident happened did the siren wail a warning that something had gone wrong at the pit. Naturally the wail sparked alarm among the wives and mothers in the community with husbands and sons and relatives working in the mine who rushed to the pithead carrying with them the unspoken hope that neither husband, father nor brother had been killed or injured so badly that, in the months ahead, they would become so depressed as to think that death would have been preferable. Sadly some men did, and in doing so left behind mothers, wives and children who would experience what could only be called a living death.

It is to be hoped the wives, children and family of the men involved in the mine disaster November 19th at the Pike River Coal company mine on the rugged west coast of New Zealand’s South Island, or the families affected by the Christchurch earthquake do not suffer in the same way. Let me add also, I wish the same for the families in the Japanese city of Sendai and surrounding towns that were destroyed by the recent earthquake and tsunami.

Like Japan, New Zealand is a country familiar with earthquakes, something I found out when I lived there in the early fifties and was fortunate to escape being killed or injured in what turned out to be a minor earthquake. Indeed, had I been sitting in the centre stalls of the Majestic Cinema, Wellington at a matinee of the Third Man. instead of the back stalls, the very large chandelier that fell from the ceiling during the quake might have put my lights out for good.

Despite leaving New Zealand many years ago, the recent Christchurch earthquake was also of personal interest because when I lived there I had the feeling of being part of a large family like the large family I came from. I retain that feeling, so that even though I was sitting at home in Canberra when the Pike River disaster occurred I felt the same emotions as I did when a small boy in Scotland as the pit siren wailed in warning and I watched wives and mothers rush to the pithead. And though the results in Scotland were never as severe as Pike River, the fear seemed just as strong.

Because of family connections the Christchurch earthquake was personal also because some members of my extended family have established themselves in Christchurch through a Cousin Margaret Hutcheson, who died in Christchurch some years ago. Not able to contact them, I wondered if they were safe. Fortunately other Hutcheson cousins living in NZ did so and were able to assuage my concerns.

Then came Japan’s mega earthquake and tsunami that turned Sendai and the surrounding area into wasteland.  I immediately telephoned my nephew in Tokyo to see if he, his children and wife were safe. Not able to get through my pithead fear returned.

More in hope than expectation I sent him e-mail not expecting an answer. Instead I received the following reply next morning: “We are all fine. We get earthquakes all the time and don’t worry about them too much, but this one was different; it was a big one, indeed. The earth did not only move, it jumped and swayed as well. Thankfully, the only damage we incurred was that we lost most of our cups, glasses and plates.”

They are fortunate. But for those less fortunate and unlike the pariahs I ask you to indulge your humanity

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