Miner critical, tributes to worker killed in collapse

Rachael Ward |

Investigations are continuing into a fatal underground collapse at a Victorian mine.
Investigations are continuing into a fatal underground collapse at a Victorian mine.

A miner rescued after surviving a rockfall in an underground collapse that killed his colleague is continuing to fight for life.

The 21-year-old Ballarat man was rushed to the Alfred Hospital in a critical condition hours after becoming pinned underneath fallen rocks at the Ballarat Gold Mine at Mount Clear on Wednesday.

The hospital said on Friday afternoon his condition remained critical.

Bruthen man Kurt Hourigan, 37, died in the incident.

Heartbroken friends and family took to social media to pay tribute to him and express grief.

“I still can’t believe you are gone,” Reece Hourigan posted to Facebook.

“Our brother, our best mate, our son Kurt Hourigan… we are so broken without you,” Stephanie Coleiro said.

His local football and netball club extended deep sympathy to the family of their past player.

Ballarat Gold Mine
The collapse happened 500m underground at the Ballarat Gold Mine. (Con Chronis/AAP PHOTOS)

“A dedicated father and friend of many, Kurt always pushed himself to give 110 per cent and will be missed by all,” the Bruthen Football Netball Club said.

The collapse happened 500m underground and 3km from the mine’s entrance, forcing 29 other miners to take refuge in a safety pod before being brought to the surface.

Victoria Police is preparing a report for the coroner while the workplace health and safety regulator is investigating the collapse.

It was described as a complex and tragic incident by WorkSafe’s executive director of health and safety Dr Narelle Beer.

She said access to the mine would be prohibited as the organisation examines what happened in the lead up to the collapse, safety systems and any possible regulation breaches.

“We’ll certainly try to understand if there’s anything that could have been prevented or avoided or if there’s any recklessness or negligence,” Dr Beer told reporters on Thursday.

Australian Workers Union Victoria state secretary Ronnie Hayden said the workers were performing a manual form of mining called air legging, which he claimed was not safe.

He called on WorkSafe to use Victoria’s workplace manslaughter laws and bring charges against any individuals responsible.

169 Victorians have died at work since the laws took effect in 2020, Mr Hayden said.

“We’ve had one prosecution and no jail time,” he said. 

“This is not acceptable. 

“There’s no point creating laws to protect workers if we don’t use those laws.”

Mr Hayden earlier claimed the mine’s senior safety manager had been made redundant, but mine owner Victory Minerals said the redundancy involved a corporate staffer.

“No safety professionals working underground in the mine were made redundant in the recent restructure,” a spokesperson said.

“In fact, we increased safety professional resources within the underground.”

The company took over the Ballarat gold mine in December 2023.

WorkSafe said there have been 10 confirmed workplace fatalities in 2024.