Copping It Sweet

Todd Russell and Brant Webb, the two Tasmanian miners who were trapped in the Beaconsfield mine, have been interviewed at length following their ordeal. I found this transcript. Both of them impressed me as the kind of working class Australia I’ve come to know over the past 30 year in Australia. Of particular interest were the things they went through before they were discovered alive. They didn’t even know if they were being searched for. One of the things that came out was that they while they were saved by a cage they stopped the falling rock from crushing them a lot of the rock fell on them through the cage and pinned then quite severely. Todd, the more outgoing of the two, was trapped so badly that the weight of the rock was beginning to crush him:

TODD RUSSELL: It got to the stage where I was down to getting towards my last breaths and the pressure was getting that bad around the chest and cavity area that it was starting to push fluids up and I was vomiting fluids up, and I was saying to Brant look, we’ve got to get me out, we’ve got to get me out.

In addition to the help from Brant it was Todd’s inner resolution that got him through:

TODD RUSSELL: I shut my eyes and I could just see the picture of the wife and the three children, and I said to myself, I’m not dying here.

Brant’s reaction was different:

BRANT WEBB: Mentally I don’t think I could’ve pulled through without Todd, because I just thought I was just going off my head. I just thought I was caged rat, you know, get me out of here, you know. I just did not want to be there, and

TODD RUSSELL: I basically come up with a little saying that I said to Brant, I said look mate, if you don’t settle down I’m going to have to give you a kiss. Upon saying that, Brant had settled down.

Once they had cleared up as much as they could one of the things they did to keep their sprits up was to sing. It was Kenny Rogers – specifically The Gambler and Coward of the County they belted out in total darkness. (Its not in the above transcript – I heard on the channel 10 interview. Wikipedia only mentions The Gambler)

Many Americans might think this means that these miners were somehow pro American. I don’t think so. Not particularly. Many urban Australians are actively anti American, in the way Europeans are. One friend I have is convinced that Bush took down the Twin Towers (As are some 40% of Germans by the way) and many others see no merit in America’s actions. But country people and working class people are often quietly supportive. They will say things like they think America is ‘too big for its boots’, but they are with us nonetheless.

So while I have no idea of where Todd and Brant’s stand on these issues, and that’s not my point here, I am pretty sure they have certain working class values that Kenny Rogers expresses so well. I’ve found those values not just in rural and small town America, Australia, and Canada but even in Zimbabwe where I have heard Kenny Rogers sung more than once. If anything Australians like Todd and Brant would give me a hard time about my accent and American identity if I met them socially. I remember the first time I had a beer in a country pub in 1976 that I immediately got the comment – “You’re a bit septic, eh mate?” I’d been in Australia long enough to know there was a hidden message and that it might be rhyming slang. A moments consideration of the obvious rhymes led to me to ‘septic tank’ – which rhymes with Yank…well, there you are.

One of the big questions of the night was whether the pair felt the mine’s operators were to blame for the accident that trapped them and killed their companion Larry Knight.

Todd Russell took a while to answer, but didn’t point the finger.

TODD RUSSELL: It doesn’t matter what job you go to, whether it’s driving a truck or working in a grocery store or working at a mine, you still go to work every day with the risk that something may happen.

I think Kenny Rogers would like that answer. I know I do.

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