There was a sea of red in front of Parliament House in Brisbane this morning, with union flags waving and chants shouted loudly as workers fought for more action against Black Lung disease.
But the 2000 mine workers fell silent as Keith Stoddart stood at the podium to share his story.
Keith, 66, has worked in the coal mines for 30 years, and is one of six miners in Queensland to be diagnosed with coal workers pneumoconiosis.
The Middlemount coal miner has had several chest X-rays in the past ten years, none of which had detected the deadly disease caused by excessive inhalation of coal dust.
“I stopped smoking two years ago, after a year I was swimming 800m a day – I was feeling great,” Keith said.
“I got a pain in my right lung, and I thought I had pulled a muscle, than I struggled to breathe.”
Keith went straight to a doctor, who discovered fibrotic scarring after a chest X-ray, and sent him to a thoracic specialist in Brisbane.
More scans revealed nodules in his lungs, and Keith prepared himself for a cancer diagnosis. But his doctor told him it didn’t look like normal cancer.
After two biopsies, the doctor confirmed it was not cancer.
“I went back up to Middlemount, and he called me up and said something has showed up on the biopsy – it is not cancer, it is carbon.
“He said, what do you do for a living, and I said I’m a coal miner. So I said, no cancer, but Black Lung? He said yeah.”
But for reasons unknown, the doctor would not write down Keith’s diagnosis. It wasn’t until he saw another specialist and his X-rays sent to the US for analysis, that he was officially given the diagnosis: emphysema and pneumoconiosis.
“No one can tell me what my smoking caused, or what the coal dust caused, really it doesn’t matter to me that much. At the end of the day I’ve got black lung and i’m struggling to breathe, it just gets harder and harder,” Keith said.
“It is just going to be getting worse, I hope I am not going to end up like poor Percy (Verrall), he is one of the ones that I feel sorry for. Because if I had left the mines I would be in the same boat as him. It is only because I’m working, that we’ve got where we’re at.
“I want to fight for poor Percy and blokes like him. I got a lot of mates that have left the mines and they are struggling for breathe too.
“There are going to be a hell of a lots of miners out there that are not miners anymore who don’t know what they’re doing and no way to find out, so I don’t know how they are going to do that.”
Keith received a small victory this week as he became the first Queensland coal miner in more than thirty years to have a workers compensation claim approved for black lung disease.