FROM THE NEWSPAPERS - 1939 A Lucky Escape - Power Station

A LUCKY ESCAPE - this news report was found in the ‘Barrier Miner,’ a newspaper which was published in Broken Hill from 1888-1954.

The article centres about the rescue of two workers at Yallourn in 1939. The workers named in the newspaper report were Les Kennedy and Syd Abbot. Both men had been pinned, for more than one hour, by an inadvertent coal fall from a bunker at the power station.

The details of the frantic efforts by fellow workers to rescue Les and Syd would have been of great interest to miners in Broken Hill who faced similar dangers each day in their work.

The accompanying footnotes attempt to give younger readers some insight into the dangers that miners meet ‘on the job’. The associated links are provided for those wishing to learn more about accidents in the Australian coal industry.

August 3rd 1939 ‘BARRIER MINER’ Page 6


YALLOURN, Thursday. Les Kennedy, aged 36 years, and Syd Abbot, aged 28 years, trimmers, were in peril for an hour and a quarter at the Yallourn power station.
Abbot, who was trimming the bunkers, was trapped by a fall of coal. Kennedy, who was standing by, immediately rang the fireman to stop the flow of coal to the fire. He then went to Abbot's assistance, and was also trapped.
Tragedy was averted by the arrival of other workers. One party shored up 200 tons of coal with planks of timber, and the other dug out the trapped men, who were buried to their necks.
A doctor and a first aid officer soon arrived, and after treatment the men were sent to their homes.
The bunkers, which are 40ft. deep, are V-shaped, and hold approximately 400 tons of coal. The men owe their lives to the fact that they were wearing safety lines and belts, which is a compulsory precaution for this type of work.

1. Thankfully, Les Kennedy and Syd Abbot escaped with their lives and were able to go home that day. Their ‘brush with death’ again underlined the perils that workers face in the coal industry in all eras.

2. Deaths in the coal industry were not uncommon in that period of Australia’s mining history. In 1902, 96 workers died in the Mount Kembla Coal Mine; and at the Mt Mulligan (North Queensland) in 1921, some seventy miners perished in a catastrophic explosion at the mine.

3. In 1927, two work gangs came close to calamity when several hundred tons of earth came crashing down near workers in the Yallourn Mine
“Two gangs were employed just beyond the steam navvy and were showered by earth and rubbish. The earth was cleared away in a few hours, and normal working was resumed.” ‘News’ (Adelaide) January 11th 1927 Page: 12.
Note: A steam navvy is/was another name for a steam driven shovel or excavator.

4. On the very same day (as the above footnote), Mr Matthew Pederson also had a ‘close shave’ with death when he fell some nine metres at the Yallourn mine…
“At another part of the brown coal excavations Mr. Matthew Pederson, an elderly man, fell 30 ft. He sustained several broken ribs and head and internal injuries. He was taken to Warragul Hospital.”
The story again underlines the fact that, in those days, seriously injured workers at the Yallourn works were transferred to the Warragul Hospital for treatment as the Yallourn Hospital was still on the ‘drawing board.’ The Yallourn Hospital did not open until January 1929.

5. Reports of industrial accidents in the SECV workplaces at Yallourn and the Brown Coal Mine over the decades can be found in local and metropolitan papers over the years. The explosions in 1931, 1938, 1945 and 1953 hit the headlines.

6. Mercifully, no one died in the explosion at the briquette factory in 1945, but three workers suffered serious burns. ‘The Argus’ report (March 20th 1945) regarding that explosion also refers to a spate of fires and explosions that had occurred at the factory during that year…
“Following an explosion at the briquette factory at Yallourn early |on Sunday morning, when three members of the FEDFA Union suffered burns, the union will meet this afternoon with the object of asking the State Electricity Commission to take precautions to minimise the risk of a repetition of such a mishap. Members expressed concern at the number of minor fires and explosions that have occurred recently.” Page: 3

Note: The FEDFA is the acronym for the Federated Engine Drivers and Firemen Association.

7. The explosion at the Yallourn Briquette Factory in 1953 received full national coverage; and a story, about that day in 1953, was written for this website by Kevin Brogan in 2014. Follow this link to read Kevin’s graphic article on the factory explosion in 1953…

8. For those readers interested in learning more about Australian mining disasters since 1882 the following link is an excellent starting point…

This story is part of an on-going project regarding the history of Yallourn. The story was researched and written by Roger Spaull and presented and posted by Julie George for the Virtual Yallourn website in June 2018.

The above article from the ‘Barrier Miner’ newspaper has been faithfully reproduced. The only amendments to the original copy are the font style, font size and spacing, so as to enhance the article for purposes of posting on the Virtual Yallourn website.