Documenting Mt Mulligan Mine Disaster 1921 for Aus Geographic …

How do you illustrate, in the middle of a pandemic, a story of a tragedy that happened one hundred years ago in a remote part of Australia ? That was the delightful challenge that I was set by Australian Geographic for their story in the just published March/April ’22 edition on the September 1921 Mt Mulligan mine disaster on Cape York Peninsula that took the lives of seventy five miners. 

Journalist Denise Cullen initially came up with the names of several people who had strong connections to Mt Mulligan both before and after Australia’s second largest mine tragedy in 1921. A couple were in then Covid Delta locked in New South Wales so ‘out of bounds’. 

However, most were fortunately in Queensland and so began a several weeks quest around the Sunshine State to find and photograph these fascinating individuals. I found and made portraits … and listened fascinated … as they sat and told me their stories in Cairns, Mackay and the Atherton Tablelands.

Ken Best worked in the mine up until it’s final closure in 1957 and told of older miners stories of ‘ghosts’ in the mine. Pam Millett’s grandfather had a contract to cart logs to the mine to shore up the ceilings and roof, and he was delivering logs at the time of the deadly explosion. Helen Scott and her family were the last to leave the mine settlement when it was finally closed and  ‘removed’. Desley Brkic’s grandfather was the first to witness the smoke from the mine explosion. 

Arguably, though, the most emotional image for me was found at the end of a journey to Mackay to photograph an object.

Stephen Smyth of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) is the ‘keeper’ of an inanimate object that, for me, summed up the story of the disaster perfectly in a simple single frame … a battered ‘Waltham’ pocket watch that was on the person of miner George Doran James when he was killed in the explosion. The watch ‘stopped’ at the moment George, along with his son and seventy three others died at nine twenty five that morning. 

It was a pleasure to be afforded the time to portray and meet these fascinating people over a time frame that is rare these days … (Thanks AG and Editor Chrissie Goldrick) and to be involved in this story that is a part of Australia’s history.

Check out Denise’s story and my images (including two whole page pics) spanning ten pages of Australian Geographic print journal 167 March/April edition … on sale now.

Images – top – Desley Brkic reflects on the disaster at her home in Tinaroo, centre – the ‘Waltham’ watch, worn by a blast victim, that stopped at the moment of the explosion, bottom – ex miner Ken Best of Mackay.   © Brian Cassey, Magazine © Australian Geographic

Up The Mekong …

Very very pleasant to visit Vietnam even if it was just for ten days! Worked on a few stories … some more successfully than others.

Made a great trip into the Mekong Delta and travelled as far as Châu Đốc in An Giang Province adjoining the Cambodian border collecting images for a larger story in Australian Geographic magazine. Met some wonderful people on the way but the one that made the most impression was the serene and remarkable 65 year old Nguyen Thi Luy. She has been rowing boats on the Mekong tributaries out of Châu Đốc for 35 years – originally working boats but now more frequently tourists are her bread and butter (or rice bowl).

Nguyen Thi Luy took me on a personal tour through the floating villages that are scattered along the river banks neighbouring Châu Đốc … and also just up river to visit a village populated by the picturesque Muslim Cham ethnic minority.

She performed her task with amazing grace and dignity … and an apparent ease (although I’m sure that I couldn’t have lasted five minutes let alone the two hours plus that she was at the helm and the driving force of our tiny craft).

I made these two images as she quietly moved us along the the Hâu River – a branch of the Mekong.

Thank You Nguyen Thi Luy … you are a treasure …

Images © Brian Cassey 2014

Ex Cairns Australia pic by Brian CasseyPic by Brian Cassey