Ipswich coal miner dedicated his life to Marburg

Gary Rohl worked in the Ipswich coal mines most of his life and almost lost an arm in one accident.
Gary Rohl worked in the Ipswich coal mines most of his life and almost lost an arm in one accident.

EVERYONE in Marburg knows the name Gary Rohl.

He was the man constantly hanging around the cricket club, the coal miner and activist who made the papers more than once and the loving father who regularly made sandwiches for other people's children.

Gary was a stalwart of the Marburg community and even after moving to Ipswich, he made the trip back to Marburg every day to look after the club.

His commitment was so fierce his children recall having to 'book an appointment' just to get him around for a Sunday afternoon family barbecue.

Gary grew up on a farm in Marburg and his mornings were spent picking beans for his mother before grabbing his lunch while running out the door on the way to Marburg State School - he was often late.

As a young man Gary began working in the coal mines around Ipswich, a job he loved, but one that almost cost him his life - twice.

In 1963 Gary was working at Cornwall Colliery when he noticed something stuck in the conveyer belt.

Using a hammer as a hook, he reached in to dislodge whatever had become stuck and his arm was sucked into the conveyor belt and forced over the rollers.

His injuries were horrific, his arm left hanging by a thread and doctors warned his wife Noela that Gary may die from the severe blood loss.

Gary and Noela Rohl married just a year after meeting.
Gary and Noela Rohl married just a year after meeting.

"The police came to the door and I knew,” Noela said.

"When I saw him, I remember thinking just how bad it was. I was thinking that I would be left with two small children.”

For three days Gary's arm was in a sling as doctors worked slowly and carefully to stitch his arm back on.

Gary suffers from dementia and while he can't fully remember the incident, the scars are still clearly visible on his arm.

"There was a fair bit of blood out of it,” Gary said.

"The only thing he said to me that night was, 'the ceiling seems a long way away', because he was so feint from the blood loss,” Noela said.

"He also asked me to go home and bring up the kids to see him. He just wanted to see the kids.”

Gary Rohl, who is wearing his favourite cricket hat that never leaves his head, with his wife Noela.
Gary Rohl, who is wearing his favourite cricket hat that never leaves his head, with his wife Noela. Helen Spelitis

It was two years before Gary could go back to work after his accident and not long after that tragedy struck at the mine where he was working.

On the morning of July 31, Gary headed into work like it was any other day.

Only when he arrived he was confronted with the tragic scene we now refer to as the Box Flat mine disaster.

That day 17 men lost their lives after an underground explosion in what has been remembered as the worst mining disaster in Ipswich's history.

The first Noela heard about it was when her husband Gary came home and she could breathe a sigh of relief that it wasn't him trapped underground.

The mine was closed off and several of the victim's bodies never recovered.

Throughout his career Noela worried her husband wouldn't come home. The pair met one Friday night at a dance. Noela remembers a pleasant and polite man who was easy on the eyes.

"We sat and talked for hours,” Noela said.

"Then the next night we organised to go back to the same dance again to spend more time together.”

About a year after they met, they were married and together had a son and daughter.

"I was often worried about him,” Noela said.

"I worried he would be hurt or that he would be in danger, but he always came home.”

When Gary retired from working as a miner he began dedicating most of his time to the Marburg cricket club.

His love of the sport and his hometown was so widely recognised he was even given a special award signed by the Prime Minister.

Even today, Gary will never be seen without his cricket hat - he sleeps with it and has done for years.

Today Gary and Noela have five grandchildren and Gary lives at Cabanda Care, Rosewood where he receives at least one visitor every day.

Topics:  community ipswich mylifemystory

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