Broken Hill enjoys an international reputation for inspiring influential mining entrepreneurs and social advocates, but on 1 January, 1915, the Silver City grabbed unwanted headlines domestically and overseas as World War I arrived on Australia’s shores.
The Great War and the mud and blood of the Western Front seemed a very long way away to the citizens of Broken Hill that morning in January. World War I was less than five months old, but simmering passions and intolerance produced a potent mix which exploded into tragic violence for the people of the Silver City.
The day began with plenty of festive cheer as 1200 men, women and children boarded the Silverton Tramway Company open concentrate trucks for a short rail trip to Penrose Park for the Manchester Unity Lodge annual picnic.
Little did those people know they were about to be dragged into a war taking place half a world away when two Turkish patriots launched their own guerrilla-style military operation – believed to be the only enemy attack to take place on Australian soil during World War I.
Mullah Abdullah and Gool Mohammed raised the Turkish flag over their ice-cream cart and commenced their two-man war. The picnickers saw the men as their train pulled slowly up a hill and some even waved, thinking that the two Muslims touting rifles must have been rabbiting on their day off.
But as the distance between the ice-cream cart and the executioners closed to only 30 metres, the Afghans opened fire with their Snider and Martini Henry rifles. Bullets peppered the train and the wagon's low sides left the unsuspecting picnickers completely exposed.
Ten passengers were hit; three killed instantly, including 17-year-old Alma Cowie and Alf Millard, a pipeline inspector who was cycling beside the train.
Following the shooting the two men fled and were later holed up at a location known as White Rocks – where a replica ice-cream cart stands today.
Local militiamen, police and the rifle brigade closed in and after hundreds of rounds of ammunition had been exchanged, the stronghold was rushed where Mullah Abdullah was found dead and Gool Mohammed so severely injured that he died in hospital a few hours later.
One further victim fell during the fighting. Jim Craig was chopping wood in his backyard near White Rocks and was killed by a stray bullet.
The people of Broken Hill were so incensed at the needless slaughter they looked for some means of revenge and with the Germans and Turks at war with the Allies, The German Club building in Delamore Street (just off the main thoroughfare of Argent Street) was the target and by nightfall it was in flames.
Three days later a miner uncovered three statements hidden at White Rocks. Two of the documents revealed the motives for attacking the picnic train; the third was an application by Gool Mohammed to join the Turkish Army.
It was later established that Gool Mohammed was an Afridi tribesman who came to Australia as a cameleer some time after 1900. Prior to that, his religious convictions had taken him to Turkey, where he enlisted in the army of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire.
Gool had served in four campaigns with the Turks before returning to Australia to work in the mines of Broken Hill and on hearing news of the outbreak of the First World War (and Turkey’s declaration of war on Great Britain and its empire), Gool immediately wrote to the Minister of War in Istanbul, offering to re-enlist.
Gool’s hand-written suicide note read: “I hold the Sultan’s order, duly signed and sealed by him. It is in my waist belt now, and if it is not destroyed by cannon shot or rifle bullets, you will find it on me. I must kill your men and give my life for my faith by order of the Sultan (but) I have no enmity against anyone, nor have I consulted with anyone, nor informed anyone.”
Take the Broken Hill Silver Trail Drive and visit the Sulphide Street Railway and Historical Museum to find out more.