Monday, June 24, 2024

The freedom of the press still furnishes that check upon government which no constitution has ever been able to provide – Chicago Tribune.

HomeVolume 28From little things horrendous things can grow

From little things horrendous things can grow

“For over a year a group of five to six Indigenous children, aged between 10 and 12, have allegedly terrorised, abused, vandalised and intimidated the 200 men, women and children who worship at the Alice Springs Mosque, Australia’s oldest.

“Despite constant pleas by leaders of the Muslim community for action from the NT Police and the NT Child Protection authority, Territory Families, the assaults have continued unabated, according to Muslim leaders,” reports Member for Araluen Robyn Lambley.

She describes the attacks as racially targeted.

“The former Imam of the Mosque left Alice Springs after his wife was struck by a rock in the face, allegedly thrown by one of these child perpetrators,” Ms Lambley says.

The new Imam, Abdul Mutalib, has been reluctant to bring his family to Alice Springs from Pakistan because of safety concerns.

It can’t happen here? Let’s hope, not. But in Broken Hill, behaviour such as this led to a horrendous event in 1915.

Alice Springs musician and writer JON ROSE based a dramatic composition on this tragedy.


Unlike the book and film Picnic at Hanging Rock, Picnic at Broken Hill is a true story – except that the picnic didn’t happen there either.

On New Year’s Day 1915 at 10 am in Broken Hill, 1200 miners and families scrambled on board 40 open Iron ore carriages fitted with benches and set off to Silverton for what was supposed to be a picnic.

About three miles out of town, parallel with a grave yard, the picnic train was attacked by two former cameleers (“Afghans”) from the North East “Ghan town” of Broken Hill.
Their names were Mullah Abdullah and Badsha Mahommed Gool.

The week before, Abdullah had been convicted for slaughtering sheep by the traditional halal method in an unlicensed building. He saw this as continuing racial and religious based harassment.

Previously he had been on the receiving end of racist name calling and stone throwing by local children.

Mahommed Gool was well known as the local ice-cream man, and the idea of shooting up some of his opposing British imperial customers, under the auspices of the Sultan of The Ottoman Empire, appealed.

The two men, flying a home-made Turkish flag (neither of them were Turkish), used the horse-drawn ice-cream cart from which to launch their offensive.

Australia was rife with pro-British war fever and anti Turkish and German sentiment; the two ex-cameleers clearly felt they were in the wrong place and on the wrong side, so they joined together to start their own war.

Knowing how it would end they both wrote suicide letters. My composition Picnic at Broken Hill is a musical transcription of those suicide letters.

The attack ended in a shoot out at White Rocks to the north of Broken Hill. Three people were killed (two while sitting in the train), seven wounded, before armed police and citizens were able to overcome the Afghans’ position; Abdullah was already dead, Gool Mahomed was still alive despite having been shot 16 times. He was taken to a hospital and died there.

A 69 year old resident, living in a house behind the local pub was hit by a stray bullet while the 90 minute gun battle lasted, and died.

Some town’s people viewed the proceedings from a polite distance; others grabbed a gun and joined in. The dead “Turks” were buried at night by the police in unmarked graves. No one knows to this day where the last resting place of these two men is.

This is a bizarre and unlikely story. But I would argue that sending 60,000 young men (8,000 of whom would die) to the other side of the world to invade a country (Turkey) that had never done any harm to any Australian state, and then to turn the resulting defeat and fiasco into an annual “nation building” celebration (Anzac Day), is not just bizarre, it’s hideous.

The exact location of the ditch from where the attack took place is now overgrown and used by local boys as a route for their track bikes.

Recent acknowledgement of the value of tourism has encouraged an official commemoration. It is placed a few hundred meters from the actual location where the opening shots were fired, and takes the form of one of the ore wagons which may or may not have been used in the actual picnic train of January 1915.

A glaring white replica of the ice cream cart, on which the “Afghans” ran up a hurriedly stitched Turkish flag, can now be found situated three miles away at White Rocks on the northern outskirts of Broken Hill where the final shoot out took place.

It is assumed Mullah Abdullah and Gool were intending to get back to the “Ghan Town” or camel camp, their place of abode on the north-eastern side of town.

On this site today stands a modest tin shed Mosque, the last remaining artefact of Moslem and cameleer culture in Broken Hill.

As with most unlikely stories, the “Battle of Broken Hill” has had conspiracy theories added to it from anybody with an axe to grind. One has the “Turks” drugged out of their heads.
Others at the time blamed the Germans (who else?) and the fateful day ended with the burning down of the Broken Hill German Club.

As Jean Cocteau put it: History is facts that become lies in the end; legends are lies which become history in the end.


  1. @ Jon Rose. Thank you for this fascinating story and your insightful linkages. Truly a case of Chaos Theory’s butterfly. Maybe you could do a number on the Kalgoorlie anti Yugoslav(?) riots.
    Just a pedantic question. Are you sure they were iron ore carriages? Broken Hill is not exactly known for its iron ore.

  2. ANZAC DAY – A day to remember those who fell, fought, returned and those who are enlisted today.
    IF those above didn’t go abroad, then those abroad would have come to our shores with “grave” consequences. LEST WE FORGET . . . 🇦🇺

  3. Interesting piece, but the author probably does not understand the compulsion many felt in 1914 to join up.
    The Gallipoli campaign was part of a strategy to relieve the Western Front.
    Turkey was was receiving German support and investment and its army was being trained by German advisers including general Liman von Sanders.


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