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Writing Pike River mine story hardest task author ever had

30 September 2013

Writing the Pike River mine story the hardest task she’s ever undertaken, says author

Journalist Rebecca Macfie says that researching and writing her book Tragedy at Pike River Mine: How and why 29 men died was the hardest task she’s ever undertaken in her 25-year career. “It was the sort of experience you might have only once in a lifetime –interesting, moving, harrowing, and at the same time utterly enraging,” she says. “This was a disaster that should never have happened.”

Macfie began covering the story for the New Zealand Listener in the days following November 19, 2010 – when news broke of a massive explosion at the underground coal mine in the Paparoa Range near Greymouth. That day, two men had made it to safety.

By the time the stories written by Macfie and her New Zealand Listener colleagues appeared several days later, the mine had exploded for a second time and there was no doubt that all 29 men still inside were dead.

In researching the book, Macfie interviewed more than 100 people involved with the mine, from management to miners, geologists and contractors, Mines Rescue workers for whom Pike remains an open wound, and families of men who died.

Business writer Rod Oram describes Macfie’s book as “investigative journalism at its very best”. Readers will learn of an appalling string of mistakes, from consent being given for the mine in the first place, to lack of proper monitoring equipment, pressure to ignore safety requirements, and effectively only a single exit.

Although much of this has been revealed through the Royal Commission that investigated the disaster, Macfie also discovered new material, and in her hands the complete story becomes a page-turning if horrifying read. She says her aim was “to make the Pike story understandable to a wide audience – for the families, friends and colleagues who grieve for the 29 men, for New Zealanders who want to understand how such an avoidable disaster occurred in their midst in the 21st century, and for the leaders of businesses and organisations who must learn from it.”

At its heart, Pike is a story of corporate failure and delusion, accompanied by lax government supervision – but it is the human stories that will linger longest in the mind.

Rebecca Macfie is a senior writer with New Zealand Listener. She was previously a deputy editor and senior writer for The Business in the New Zealand Herald and deputy editor and editor of Unlimited magazine. Earlier in her career she worked for the National Business Review and wrote extensively for the Independent Business Weekly. She has 25 years' experience in journalism and has won many awards including her latest, the 2013 Canon Media Awards magazine feature writer (business and science) for her feature in the New Zealand Listener on whistle-blower Hayley Bryan (“The inside story”).

Tragedy at Pike River Mine: How and why 29 men died (Awa Press, $40) will be launched in Greymouth on Friday 15 November and there is an embargo in place until 16 November. The third anniversary of the Pike River mine disaster is Tuesday 19 November.


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