Who Are We

Life was hard in the Welsh mining towns and villages in the 1960’s. The work had always been hard, and dangerous. Determined to improve the working conditions, miners took industrial action. Striking miners had no pay. Families went hungry and even electricity was restricted to four hours a day, sometimes, none at all.

In Llareggyb, the miners and their families were particularly hard hit. The mine owners were the meanest, most intractable in all of Wales. Rather than pay a fair wage, the owners planned to close the mine. The only solace for the miners could take, was their choir, renowned as one of the best in Wales.

Fortuitously, in the depths of the despair, Vic, one of the miners received a letter from his aunt. She was part of Y Wladfa, in Puerto Madryn, the Welsh settlement in Patagonia, Argentina. Uranium had been discovered and the settlement needed experienced miners to develop its extraction. They were offering good wages, a warmer climate and even better, steaks. When Vic showed the offer to his fellow miners, to a man they agreed to go.

A little steamship, an old coal carrier, was rescued from the scrapyards and fitted out by the miners to transport them on the long ocean voyage. The ship was provisioned only with leeks and Brains Ale. Hammocks were slung in the coal holds and the only additional item was a piano, “borrowed” from the Llareggyb Arms. Music would not only fill their hearts, but would compensate for the lack of food and space.

The journey was terrible. A number of the crew fell ill, some wanted to mutiny, but the Llareggyb Miners sang on. Compared to the conditions in their mine, this was sheer luxury. After a month, and only when they discovered that the Captain had drunk most of their supply of Brains beer, they stopped singing and demanded to know why they had not yet arrived in Patagonia. They discovered that the captain and the navigator, both perpetually drunk since the start of the journey, had used the wrong compass co-ordinates and they were somewhere in the southern Pacific, having missed South America completely.

The miners sailed on, until they bumped into land at Dunedin, Aotearoa New Zealand. Desperate for good food and money to organise a return home, they asked two truck drivers, who were bringing coal to be an adjacent wharf, for work. Being told that miners were desperately required at a mine at Cambria in Central Otago, they hitched a ride. The mine owner quickly put them to work and soon the mines were filled with Welsh songs.

The Llareggyb Miners settled into Central Otago and, as all beautiful legends go, this has a happy ending. After “joining” with locals, resulting in a number of Welsh/Kiwis, they were responsible for the growth of many choirs(and families) in Aotearoa. When the Cambria mines closed, they all moved to Auckland where they continue to sing (and dress) today, as they have always done. Maybe one day they will return to Wales.