Battle of Broken Hill Battle of Broken Hill: Ron visits this Outback area of New South Wales

At the old Sulphide Street Railway Museum in Broken Hill you'll find plenty of tales about Australia's fascinating railway past. But hidden away among the rows of steam and diesel powered engines and the immense photo collection is another story which created headlines around Australia and the world.

It's the Battle of Broken Hill. A tale of simmering passions in war time and racial intolerance - a potent mix which exploded into violence on New Year's Day, 1915.

The day began with plenty of festive cheer. Hundreds clambered aboard railway trucks for the trip to Silverton for the New Year's Day Miners Picnic. It was an annual event which saw the townsfolk clamber aboard ore wagons and trundle along to Silverton just twenty kilometres away. Ron Carter, of the Broken Hill Railway Museum showed us some of the old wagon they used.

"These are old GX ore wagons built by the Silverton Tramway Company in their Broken Hill workshops in 1910," said Ron. "They were used extensively for taking ore to Port Pirie but for the picnic trains we used to wash them out and put forms in them. You'd pack twelve hundred people into thirty or forty of these and haul them to Silverton with the old "Y" class steam engine at the front there."

This was at the height of hostilities in World War One with allied troops drawing ever closer to conflict with Turkish and German forces in the Dardenelles. Two men, Gool Mahomet and Mulla Abdulla, first described as Turks but later found to be from what is now part of modern day Pakistan took off with rifles hidden in an icecream cart. Their exact reasons for what happened next are not clear.

"A lot of it is hearsay but the best that we can gather is for personal reasons these blokes had a grudge against society. And they saw Australia's involvement in Turkey in the Dardanelles as a good reason to have a go. Basically they opened fire on the local picnic train killing women and children.

"The young lad Gool Mahomet, I think his name was. The young lad was actually an icecream vendor and they decided to hide the rifles and ammunition in the ice cream truck and make their way across to where the train would pass on the way to the town."

On the outskirts of Broken Hill an ore truck stands at the place where Gool Mahomet and Mulla Abdulla opened fire with their Snider and Martini Henry rifles.

"Four people on the train were killed and the chappie inspecting the pipeline was also shot on his motorcycle. A total of seven people died that day because of the Turks attack on the picnic train. The train left Sulphide Street and travelled three miles to the outskirts of Broken Hill where they were fired on.

"It created national headlines. It created a lot of hostility towards Turkey and the Germans."

Following the shooting the two men fled and were later holed up at a placed called White Rocks. The Broken Hill militia had been despatched and what followed was a bloody gun battle. Both men were killed and their bodies brought back to the local police station. But the story of that mad day on January the first 1915 didn't end there.

"The mob that developed that night were in no mood for compromise."

On the fringe of town there sits a little tin shed - the Afghan Mosque. It's near here that Afghan cameleers had established their camel camp. Soon the mob descended on them with many innocent Afghan cameleers fearing for their lives before the militia was able to disperse the frenzied crowd.

"Later that night they descended on Argent Street and set fire to the German Club and burnt that to the ground."

It's frightening tale now told through the many interpretive signs established at key sites that were burnt into the memories of the people of Broken Hill. With battles raging elsewhere around the world in 1915, The Battle of Broken Hill would create a storm at home.

"As I understand it, it is the only act of aggression that we know of that took place on Australian soil against Australian people. It's quite an important part of our history."

For the story of the Battle of Broken Hill visit the town's Railway Museum in Sulphide Street. Maps will also guide you to other historic sites associated with the tale. If you have any further questions please email info@postcards-sa.com.au

The Battle of Broken Hill
Broken Hill Railway Museum
Sulphide St
Broken Hill
Maps available

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