Jul 20, 2016

Pit ponies a beloved part of Collinsville coal story

Pit ponies a beloved part of Collinsville coal story A pit pony with miners at No.2 mine. Back - Adrian Morrissey, Theo Janssen-Groesbeek, Col King, Bob Cuff, Jeff Davies and Wally Nisbet. Front - Peter Fell, Brian McPherson and Robert Harding. Photo: courtesy of Wayne Munro

At the heart of Collinsville’s mining history is the story of the town’s beloved pit ponies who worked alongside the underground miners, were at the centre of a union strike and even saved the life of one of the town’s locals.

Former CFMEU Collinsville lodge president Mike Brunker tells of the day that his father ‘Sugar’ Ray Brunker escaped the 1954 mine disaster while he tended to one of the pit ponies.

“My father was taking supplies into the face and it’s only that the horse got jammed up and he was unhooking the horse when the explosion happened that he survived.  If it weren’t for that horse, he wouldn’t have survived and I wouldn’t be here today,” he said.

In later years Mr Brunker had personal experiences with the ponies through his role with the CFMEU.

Mr Brunker said the ponies were made honorary union members in an effort to protect their rights and keep them employed with the mine company for as long as possible.

“They actually even had five weeks’ annual leave at the end of the year and there were some strict rules surrounding the use of the ponies because they were such a precious commodity for the workers,” Mr Brunker said.

In the 1980’s this union membership gave power to a worker’s strike when Mount Isa Mines looked to retire the ponies.

“The boys went on strike, it was simply just them trying to hold on to the horses for as long as possible.  We all knew they had to go eventually, it was just so sad when they did because they were like a symbol of mining in Collinsville and how it was done,” Mr Brunker said.

  • February 2015 marked the 25th anniversary since the ponies were officially retired and the Collinsville community raised more than $150,000 to erect a bronze pit pony statue in their honour in November last year. More at http://pitponyexperience.com.au/