At quarter to four in the afternoon eight years ago today something happened deep in a coal mine on the West Coast that most of us had never heard of.

The explosion at the Pike River mine sent reverberations around the world and over the next few days media from here and abroad converged on Greymouth, leaving a sour taste in the mouths of Coasters.

Police district commander Garry Knowles became a familiar face of the tragedy which left 16 miners and 13 contractors dead. He held it together admirably, particularly when a buffoon from the Australian media asked him why a country cop was heading the operation.


Knowles referred to the reporter as "Sir" and told him he had responsibility for three-quarters of the South Island.

The boss of Pike River Coal, Peter Whittall, also became a familiar face, dealing compassionately with the families of the men who died - only to have them turn on him when the mine's woeful safety record was put under the microscope.

Whittall was to face 12 charges, but they were dropped after the company paid the families almost $3.5 million - which the Supreme Court found was unlawful, effectively making a payment to avoid prosecution.

The trade union leader who had several of his members killed in the mine, Andrew Little, will be back there today at memorial services, but this time as the minister in charge of re-entering the mine, which will occur early next year.

The decision to go into the mine, but not behind the rockfall which was the working part of it, hasn't been welcomed by everyone affected by that ghastly day.

Marion Curtin, the mother of 41-year-old Richard Holling who was killed, said of the decision that she couldn't believe the lack of common sense and even sanity that was behind it. She's embarrassed by the $36m being spent, which she said in a touching interview could have been spent more wisely on the living rather than the dead.

Curtin says it's a futile exercise and she's baffled by what they expect to find. She said it's inappropriate and abhorrent that they'll be poking around in the mine, picking up a bag of ash to give to the families.

It's sacrilege, she says, to be disturbing the dead miners' graves; they should be allowed to rest in peace.


Curtin believes some other families feel the same way but choose not to speak up.

The elderly mother says she thinks of Richard with love every day - a good day for her, she says, is when she doesn't hear anything about Pike River.

Today is going to be a tough one for her.