Downtown Greymouth came to a standstill at lunchtime today as at least 1000 people filled the entire main street in a last ditch bid to save the Spring Creek Mine.
High school students, preschoolers, babies in prams and staunch coalminers wearing black marched to the beat of a drum at the front of the long protest rally, while at the rear they marched in near silence.
The procession filled the length of Mackay Street, and shops emptied as staff crowded the windows and footpaths in a show of solidarity.
Many miners wore T-shirts emblazoned with 'Save Our Mine'. Children, some riding on their dad's shoulders, carried signs saying 'Save My Daddy's Job'.
Others called for Development West Coast to step in and help.
Spring Creek miner Adam Smith and 11-year-old daughter Charmaine led the procession, carrying their sign 'We Want To Live and Work Here'.
The coalminers are on tenterhooks awaiting the outcome of Solid Energy's review of all operations at the underground mine, at Dunollie, as the state-owned enterprise tries to manage an expected $200 million fall in revenue.
Most work has ceased at the pit and the miners are on full pay waiting for management and the board to decide their future.
Ged O'Connell from the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union said it was "about saving Greymouth as we know it".
"And we're not going to sit back and let it happen without a fight," Mr O'Connell said.
"We're going to organise and we're going to save these jobs and this community."
It was not just a technical issue about the vagaries of international coal prices: "This is real flesh and blood. We have kids who need feeding. We have mortgages that need paying. We have a community worth saving."
Solid Energy was proposing to throw a whole community on the scrap heap because coal prices had taken a short term dip. "I think that's disgraceful."
Mayor Tony Kokshoorn told the crowd that poor boardroom decisions had been made and cash reserves were gone, despite Solid Energy being a "billion dollar turnover business".
"We need the Government to inject cash, but we do not need a handout or subsidy."
Miners had stayed on the West Coast but if the mine closed "they will raise the GDP of Australia".
But the Government was staying staunch ahead of the march, reminding people it did not get involved in State-owned enterprises' operational matters.
State-owned Enterprise Minister Tony Ryall said he shared the community's concern, "and also with the speed with which the situation has changed".
Meanwhile, Solid Energy says a "miscommunication" allowed one of its contractors to advertise for new staff at the Spring Creek Mine, the day after the coal company had suspended all the workers at the pit indefinitely.
Solid Energy dropped the bad news on the miners last Wednesday but Career Mine, an international recruitment company, was still advertising on Thursday for five positions at the Greymouth underground mine.
Solid Energy spokeswoman Vicki Blyth said the advertisement had been placed by one of its contractors, Diversified Mining Ltd (DML), not Solid Energy.
Ms Blyth said Solid Energy had "pulled" all its advertising and directed its contractors to do the same, but the DML advertisement managed to get past the censors.
A recruitment company offering nervous Spring Creek miners the promise of work overseas has predicted an exodus of young West Coast men to Australia in the near future.
Christchurch-based Phil Neville, of One World Resourcing, said he had been inundated with queries from desperate miners after posting an advertisement in the Greymouth Star on Saturday.
"I'd say that there are more CVs being prepared on the West Coast now than at any other time," he said.
"They key thing here is that we are offering jobs to guys with families and mortgages who can't afford to hang around and hope that it will be all right in the long run."
Mr Neville said there had been an easing off in demand for open-cast miners but the need for experienced underground personnel in Australia was as strong as ever.
"The underground miners have specialised skills and will always be in demand across the Tasman."
- Greymouth Star