Michael Lester says he has had some difficult jobs before
but trying to coordinate public relations for the Beaconsfield mine is shaping
up as the most demanding. Lester, a former political correspondent and later a
political advisor to Jim Bacon, now works for CPR Communications.

He said the Port Arthur massacre was the only news
event with a similar level of media interest that he had ever contended with. “I was involved with that as a journalist but this is
probably bigger, not that you can compare a tragedy by size.”

He said a majority of the assembled media was well behaved
but that some media activities had the potential to slow rescue efforts. “I have had reports of media listening in on radio
communications, that means they have to be relayed using phones and that takes
extra time. The choppers are also reeking havoc when they fly past the
command centre. It’s a metal building, often with 20 people in it, and when
the choppers flyover you can’t hear each other and that costs man hours too.”

Lester said he understood that the media was only trying
to do their job but asked for respect. “I heard of one case where a mine supervisor came off a
12-hour shift and went home to sleep only to be woken by the media. In addition locals
participating in the rescue can’t sleep because of the choppers.”

He said all involved were working together and keeping the
miners’ families informed. “What we are trying to do is brief stake-holders and they
are disseminating the information. I now have the bonus of an assistant who just arrived from
Sydney. We are trying to brief the media twice per day in addition
to any new developments.”

Every morning at Beaconsfield a small band of locals is
supporting each other through the arduous waiting and also making the media
more comfortable. The small band shuns public recognition and is reluctant to
talk to the myriad media outlets that have besieged the town.
Wishing to be described only as a “local volunteer” one
woman said there was no single reason why they “do the rounds” every morning. “We just want to be there for people, I think that’s what
it is. My involvement is with the recovery centre and doing the
rounds with the media.”

Doing the rounds involves removing rubbish, supplying hot
soup and boiled lollies to the media centre from as early as 6.30am. Volunteers manning the community recovery centre were
originally operating on a three shift rotational basis but as the rescue
continues an extra shift has been added.

The community recovery centre, which is off limits to the
media, also offers a social worker for those who need someone to talk to. “The resources are
there for anybody who needs them. That’s where some of the miners’ families were initially
as they waited for news.”
“All of my time has been spent at the recovery centre, the
only time I have been to the council chambers based command centre was last
Friday to pay my rates.” This kind of light-hearted response in the town’s moment of
need typifies Beaconsfield residents.

Other locals are contributing in their own special way. A local supermarket proprietor is helping the cavalcade
of cameramen around the mine: I don’t have any pallets anymore as I have lent them all
to those guys because their tripods are sinking into the mud. I sure hope they will bring them all back afterwards as it
will be one hell of a job to go and get them.”