Phillip Grant always believed he would return home to his young boy.
But when the Metford man left for work in early April he did so for the last time.
Clutching a bouquet of simple white flowers, Shaun Grant, 7, sat silently beside his grieving grandparents yesterday as hundreds of people gathered in Cessnock for the 19th annual Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union Northern Mining and NSW Energy District’s 19th Annual Memorial Day.
“A day like this is very special and it’s such a lovely tribute to the miners,” Mr Grant’s mother, Carmel, said.
“We don’t come from a mining background and everyone involved in this memorial has truly been wonderful.”
Mr Grant, 35, and Jamie Mitchell, 49, of Aberdare, were killed when a 15-metre wall of coal erupted and fell onto them as they worked at a Paxton mining site on April 15.
During the service the names of the two men were unveiled on the Jim Comerford Memorial Wall along with Ingrid Forshaw, 38 – the first woman added to the list – and Mark Galton, 50, who lost his life in May while working as a rigger on a coal mine site at Boggabri.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten also attended the service, along with his young daughter Georgette.
“I did not have the privilege of meeting the people who we mourn today,” Mr Shorten said.
“As a father, as a son, as a husband, as a brother I cannot imagine, I cannot know the pain, the loss, the bottomless chasm of sadness brought on by the sudden fateful phone call or the knock at the door by sombre officials bearing the most unimaginable of news.
“There is no memorial, no ceremony, nothing that we can say or do that will fill the void left by the sudden tragic theft of the people who loved you, the people you loved.
“No words can restore the birthdays that are marked but not celebrated, no words can make up for the empty chairs at Christmas, the encouraging voice from the side lines of weekend sport.
“But I sincerely hope that you can draw comfort from the knowledge that you do not walk alone today and that you never will. There are no strangers here, we are mates and we are family. We are all diminished because we are all involved.”
During the service, four safety lamps were placed on a table supporting the bronze bust of Mr Comerford, known for his lifelong commitment to the working class, and Cessnock woman Tara Naysmith sang Jealous of the Angels and Working Man.
“This year it is with much sadness that we are paying our respects to the four mine workers who have died in mining accidents in the Northern District since last year’s memorial service,” CFMEU northern district president Peter Jordan said.
“It has been a tough year and so today’s service provides an opportunity for mine workers and their families and the community to remember and pay tribute to all mine workers whose names appear on the memorial wall and to reflect upon them and their families’ loss.”
Jason Jenkins from the Maitland Salvation Army also offered a prayer of remembrance as part of the service.
“My grandfather’s name is on that wall, so this is quite sobering for me,” he said.
“But this year it’s not just the brothers, the fathers and the sons, this time we also remember a sister and a daughter.
“They all left for work under the belief they would return to their families and yet they laboured until the very evening of their lives.”
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.