Strongman Tragedy documentary – calls for involvement

Journey into Darkness – The Strongman Tragedy, a documentary currently in production about  the Strongman Mine explosion that claimed the lives of 19 men, and the subsequent Commission of Inquiry.

The 90 minute telefeature is being produced for TV3 by Paula McTaggart from A Bigger Picture Ltd in association with Gaylene Preston Productions, with funding from the prestigious New Zealand On Air Platinum Fund.

Acclaimed filmmaker Gaylene Preston will direct the dramatic content of the feature-length programme, which will blend dramatisation with interviews filmed by McTaggart along with archive gathered over the past four years.

“I am humbled by the stories of lives completely thrown into chaos by that explosion in 1967,” says Preston.  “It is an honour to be involved in bringing the story of this terrible mine tragedy and inquiry to the screen.

Opened in 1939, the state owned Strongman Mine (11 kilometres north-east of Greymouth) was the pride and flagship of NZ’s coal industry and the largest underground coal mine in the country.  On 19 January, 1967, an explosion blew through the section of the mine known as Green’s No 2.

The telefeature is a labour of love for Runanga-born and raised Paula McTaggart, who comes from a long line of coal miners.  McTaggart has been developing the project since 2007, when a visit to her uncle, the late Ron Gibb, sparked her interest in this largely untold New Zealand tragedy.  Gibb was one of five men from Mines Rescue who received the British Empire Medal for their actions during the tragedy.

“The more he spoke, the more I felt that this was a critical piece of NZ history that had been largely overlooked outside of the West Coast”, McTaggart explains.

“My Uncle and I talked about the possibility of a documentary and he shared with me his knowledge of the tragedy along with the material to go forward.  Ron had a strong desire that the truth be told.”

McTaggart began filming interviews for the project in 2008.  TV3’s Head of Factual, Sue Woodfield, says the documentary’s gripping story of bravery and human resilience in the face of disaster will resonate with all New Zealanders.

“Although this project has been in development for several years, there’s a terrible sense of history repeating itself with the recent tragic events at Pike River, and the current Royal Commission.

“This is a very important film.”

McTaggart says the production team is interested in hearing from anyone who would like to be part of the documentary, at the email address enquries@biggerpicture.co.nz.

“It is important that those involved have the opportunity to contribute to the project,” she says.  “I hope that more people will come forward to tell their individual stories, or to share photos, film footage or other materials.”

Journey into Darkness – The Strongman Tragedy is being produced for TV3 with funding from New Zealand On Air’s Platinum fund which is reserved for high quality programs of historical and cultural importance with a significant relevance to New Zealand and New Zealanders.

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