Story: Coal and coal mining

Mervyn Thompson performs Coaltown blues

Mervyn Thompson was born at Kaitangata in 1936 and spent most of his early years on the West Coast. He worked for five years as a miner, and later he became a distinguished actor, playwright and director. In the play Coaltown blues, he relived the poverty and struggles of his boyhood. The words of the title song, heard here, recall the hard days during the Second World War:

Turn the wireless on, find out what’s the score
In all the magic places where the world’s at war.
As we are.
Coaltown blues. I’ve got the coaltown blues.

Hoppers full of coal go runnin’ down that line
Headin’ for those tunnels and the faraway sunshine.
I’m not on one.
Coaltown blues. I’ve got the coaltown blues.

Boy just down the road tried to kill his dad,
Shot his baby sister ’cos his aim was bad.
He got life.
Coaltown blues. He’s got those coaltown blues.

Drink up little children all the teachers say
School milk is your proof the Depression’s gone away.
But if that’s so
Why is Mrs Murdoch’s face in such a mess?
And why does Mrs Waters never change her dress?
She’s got those coaltown blues. She’s got the coaltown blues.

When the war is over maybe then we’ll see
That there was a purpose in this black history.
In the meantime
Coaltown blues. I’ve got the coaltown blues.
Coaltown blues. I’ve got the coaltown blues.

Sound file from Radio New Zealand Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero. Any re-use of this audio is a breach of copyright. To request a copy of the recording, contact Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero (Recording session – Mervyn Thompson and Kay Arnold/Reference number CDR143).

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How to cite this page:

Alan Sherwood and Jock Phillips, 'Coal and coal mining - Mining community', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 March 2023)

Story by Alan Sherwood and Jock Phillips, published 12 Jun 2006, reviewed & revised 14 Apr 2021