Eureka Quarry Tragedy

Blue-Metal-Quarry-1880In April 2006, amongst the rugged landscape of an old quarry site, now the home of Kiama Leisure Centre and various sporting fields, an exciting theatrical event was staged. The production called ‘Quarry’, was written and directed by Gordon Streek, performed by members of Shellharbour’s Roo Theatre and featured a cast of singers, actors, dancers and a 16 piece orchestra.

In 1990, when the production was first staged, as many as 3000 people turned out to see the story of a family named Murphy and their experiences during the Eureka Quarry disaster.

Quarrymen-breaking-rocks-carting-drays-1880sThe recent 100th anniversary of the deadly explosion which occurred at Eureka Quarry, Minnamurra on 28th May, 1912 killing five men and seriously injuring three others. Several other workers escaped with slight injuries. Killed in the initial explosion were Mr James Nurse, Mr Nicholas Percival Abbott, Mr Frederick Cooke, Mr. James Lewis, and Mr James McDonald. Mr John Staffen died a week later from injuries sustained in the explosion.

Following is an excerpt from the ‘Barrier Miner’ published in Broken Hill between 1888 -1954.  This article was published on Friday, 31st May 1912.

“…it appears that the accident was caused through a top hole charge on the upper level exploding prematurely during the process of ramming.  Eight men were employed on this level, and it is remarkable that all escaped uninjured, with the exception of Ganger Eyles, who, through the force of the explosion, was hurled across the cutting, sustaining a few abrasions and bruises.  The men killed and seriously injured were working at the face of the cutting on the bottom level, and were shockingly mangled through the heavy fall of metal from above, which followed the explosion.  Abbott was drilling on the bottom level, and Thomas Wilson and Staffens were striking with him when the explosion occurred.  Abbott was killed instantly, being fearfully mutilated.  Staffens had a foot shattered, and was badly cut about the face and body.  Wilson, the other member of this group, escaped without a scratch, being sheltered behind a pillar of metal.  A tip dray and horse were backed into the face of the cutting.  Nurse, Lewis, Cooke, and McDonald being engaged in filling it.  These men were killed almost instantly, as was the horse….D. Campbell, who was in charge of the horse and cart, was another to have a narrow escape from death.  He was sitting on the cart when the explosion happened, and the concussion from the shot hurled him through space for about 20ft.  He escaped with a few cuts and bruises.

Kiama-stone-quarries1The bodies of the killed were brought to Kiama by a pick-up train, which arrived at about 11 o’clock, and they were taken to the Kiama Hospital morgue. The injured men, with the exception of Eyles, Campbell, and Robinson, who were treated at the scene of the accident, were also taken to Kiama by the same train and conveyed to the hospital.

On receiving news of the accident all the quarries in the district suspended working operations, and flags are flying at half-mast.  Many harrowing scenes were witnessed at the railway station when relatives and friends of the killed arrived.”

Gordon Streek, writer of ‘Quarry’ is quoted as saying that “Kiama quarries were some of the first industrialised sites in Australia, as a result of this tragic accident. After the accident they became the first organised, but not unionised, workforce because of the way people were treated after the disaster.”

quarrymen002In a tragic epilogue to the quarry disaster, Ganger Eyles was run over by a train at Minnamurra station about two weeks after the accident.  Eyles was one of the men who were ramming the charge at the Eureka quarry when the fatal explosion occurred.  Whether his death was an accident or suicide was never known.