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Panpa Bulletin : July 2006
July 2006 PANPA BULLETIN | 13 PUBLISHING MATTERS Peter ISaaCSon Peter Isaacson spares a thought for the Beaconsfeld mine colleagues of Webb and russell who devoted their strength and time 24/7 and now face an uncertain future. All sections of the media - print, television and ra- dio, made heroes and mil- lionaires of the surviving miners who, for two weeks, were trapped underground in the Beaconsfield gold mine. Brant Webb and Todd Russell certainly deserve commenda- tion and accolades for their stoic courage and resolution in holding out in a confined space with only morsels of food and drips of water. The strain, physi- cal, mental and on their friend- ship, must have been tremen- dous. That they lasted out and seemingly came through with- out obvious harm is a credit to the physical and moral fibre of both. The family of Larry Knight who died in the disaster, the Brent and Russell families and their supporters, the townspeo- ple of Beaconsfield, who spent days and nights at the pithead, were the unsung heroes of the incident. The greatest praise must go to the rescuers, the miners who toiled in the mine shafts, tun- nelling their way through rock, knowing that any false move could cause another landslide that would engulf and probably kill them. The public faces of the disas- ter were union leader Bill Short- en and mine manager Malcolm Gill. Night after night they ap- peared on the television screens, day after day their words were reported in the newspapers, their pictures appeared on front pages. The media gave Shorten the opportunity he obviously welcomed to parade himself before the public in a manner which possibly enhanced his reputation before his antici- pated move into Federal Parlia- ment at the next election. We know the names of the miner who died, of the en- tombed men, the mine man- ager and the union spokesman but who were the rescuers? They are the men to whom homage should be paid, who should be rewarded. Disciplined and brave though Brent and Russell were what else could they do but sit it out? What were the alternatives from which they could choose? Unlike the entrapped miners, their above ground colleagues did have a choice, a choice whether or not to devote their strength and time, 24 hours a day for 12 days, to tunnelling through the rock, every mo- ment endangering themselves from the peril of another rock fall. Every miner in Beacons- field volunteered for the peril- ous task. Every woman in the town, and the children too, played a part in maintaining on a high, the spiritual and physi- cal strength of the rescuers and the to-be rescued. In my opinion, the true Bea- consfield heroes were not Webb and Russell but those who res- cued them. So it is the Beacons- field rescuers and locals who should be rewarded with more of the accolades and at least some of the cash that has gone (or is going) to the entrapped two. In this I am supported by two newspaper columnists - Tracee Hutchinson and Matt Price. In The Age, Hutchinson wrote "There's been so much informa- tion about the lives of Todd and Brant that you could be forgiven for forgetting that their work- mate, Larry Knight, was killed ....". Although most of her col- umn was taken up with berating the television stations for what she claimed was their concen- tration on "a merciless milk- ing of the well of compassion in a cynical race for ratings", Hutchison could have similarly chastised the print media for their emphasis on the trivial rather than the more tragic, the more courageous aspects of the disaster. I wonder why she didn't. Matt Price in The Australian was critical of the Prime Min- ister and other politicians for their part in what he called "the Great Escape road show", the reception in the Great Hall of Parliament House for 800 peo- ple from Beaconsfield, for Todd Russell and Brant Webb, their families and the family of Larry Knight. "The PM didn't half carry on in his speech to the mob", wrote Price. Referring only to Russell and Webb, John Howard called their holding out "an achieve- ment beyond the beliefs of so many of us...an extraordinary act of bravery and strength". The "strength" I agree with. The "bravery" I question. Price reported that it was Brant Webb who made the fair- est, the most accurate, the most self-effacing comment. "We're not the heroes, the people who rescued us are the heroes", he said in his speech, thus high- lighting the truth of the matter, the truth which the print and the electronic media were re- miss in not emphasising. The Parliament House recep- tion was a manifestation of John Howard's intrusion into every event that he hopes will reflect favourably on him and his gov- ernment - but particularly on him. If a few troops leave Aus- tralia, John Howard is there to farewell them. When they re- turn, John Howard greets them. Winners (and occasionally los- ers), are congratulated by the Prime Minister in front of re- porters and camera lenses. In her chastisement of the media, Hutchison pointed out that the attention given to Rus- sell and Brant was similar to that given to Stuart Driver who, a few years ago, survived a landslide at Thredbo which killed 18 people including his wife. Who did the media latch on to then? Not the close relatives of those killed, not the rescuers, but Driver, the rescued. Why? The Beaconsfield case is similar. Perhaps editors should note the comment of one reader who may reflect the opinion of many - "frankly I am thoroughly bored with the miners and do not want to read anything more about them. Their situation was dire but I think all the publicity has had a very selective audi- ence and readership". And what has Mr Howard, parliamentarians and the me- dia had to say about the 52 lay- offs which followed the closure of the mine? Virtually nothing. It is time the Prime Minister, our parliamentarians and par- ticularly the media got their pri- orities right. Peter Isaacson is a former publisher and a life member of PanPa Rescuers, not rescued, should get the cash, praise