South 32 unveils new memorial to commemorate Appin Mine Disaster

A memorial sculpture honouring the 14 men who lost their lives in the 1979 Appin Mine disaster was unveiled at commemorative service held today.

The memorial sculpture is located on the eastern side of Appin Sportsground, adjacent to the existing mine disaster memorial garden.

It was commissioned by South32 Illawarra Metallurgical Coal in 2019 to mark the 40th anniversary of the disaster.

Illawarra Metallurgical Coal vice president of operations Wayne Bull said the commemorative sculpture was created in consultation with the victims' families and provided a space for contemplation and remembrance.

"It is important we honour the memory of the 14 men who lost their lives in the Appin Mine disaster and acknowledge the deep and ongoing impact it had on their families, colleagues and the broader community," he said.

"Our thoughts, as we mark the 41st anniversary of the tragedy, are with all those affected by this terrible event."

On the evening of July 24, 1979 a "savage explosion" ripped through the most remote tunnel in the Appin Mine.

The miners were about three kilometres from the pit head and 600 metres below the ground when the blast happened.

Out of the 45 men working underground, 14 of them lost their lives.

The artwork created to commemorate the disaster was made by Artventure, led by sculptor Paul Johnson and designer Gail Mason.

The sculpture consists of 14 curved steel arches rising approximately three metres in height.

The arches, each representing one of the miners who died, gently curve upwards and inwards to form a tunnel, reminiscent of a longwall mine tunnel.

The new Appin Mine disaster memorial sculpture. Picture: South 32

The new Appin Mine disaster memorial sculpture. Picture: South 32

The arches were made from local BlueScope Steel and the sculpture's three hardwood seating areas were made by members of the Appin Men's Shed.

Gail Rawlings, who lost her partner Roy in the 1979 disaster, praised the memorial design.

"With South32 commissioning this special artwork so many years after the disaster, I see it as a beautiful honour to our much loved men," she said.

"I also see it as a very caring gesture to the memory of our men and also to us, their family.

"I see a reminder of the importance for safe work practices to be in place and to be remembered each day.

"It shows me too, that after all these years, our men and their important message is still so very much alive within the mining community and its people and for this I am eternally grateful. It can never be forgotten."

South32 employees laid a wreath during Friday's service of remembrance and the new sculpture was formally unveiled by South32 Appin Mine Rescue Team members John Nellestein and Frank Lauterbach, whose older brother Jurgen died in the tragedy.

Mr Lauterbach paid a moving tribute to his brother and thanked South32 for commissioning the "beautiful memorial sculpture" at today's event.

He also praised the consultation process conducted by Paul Johnson throughout the design process.

"Paul listened to our thoughts of how we wanted the miners to be remembered," he said.

"We asked for a place of light, reflection and to be able to sit with family members.

"It's so wonderful to live in a community that honours their fallen even after 41 years."

This story New memorial to commemorate Appin Mine Disaster unveiled first appeared on Wollondilly Advertiser.