Imagine, it is August 1914. The war in Europe has just been declared. Thousands of Australian men have flocked to the big cities and towns to enlist. Enlist not to defend our country from a ravaging horde of Germans wearing Pickelhaubs (pointy helmets) and long waxed moustaches storming across the border from German New Guinea, their only colony in the Pacific, into the endless deserts of northern Australia. Most enlisted for the following reasons……loyalty to England the ‘Motherland’ for one. The first contingent to sail from Albany was reported to be 60% of British descent. They were going home as part of their responsibilities to protect their birthplace, their family back home. The rest of them enlisted for a combination of reasons, they wanted an adventure, a break from the doldrums, wear a uniform, show the world what the new nation could (and would) do. A lot of them thought that it would be over by Christmas and they would’ve had a bit of a lark. As we all know now, it wasn’t to be.
At this time Turkey was still holding onto a neutral stance in the conflict. However behind the scenes there were other players on both sides vying for the Ottoman support or to maintain neutrality. Enver Pasa admired the Germans, afterall the new army of the Young Turk government was trained and supplied by them. The navy however relied on support from the world’s naval superpower the British. The Turks entered WW1 on 31st October 1914.
Meanwhile back in Australia in the mining town of Broken Hill there were two Afghans. A younger chap Badsha Mahommed Gool, who couldn’t find work so became a successful entrepeneur by selling ice cream around town. The second assailant was a local Imam and also a Halal butcher, Mullah Abdullah. The latter had a series of run-ins with the local Health Inspector, so thought if he staged holy jihad, then the inspector would be the first in his sights.
So 31st Decmber sees the world is slowly going to war. Our troops are sitting in troopships ready to make the journey of their lifetime. Meanwhile the people of Broken Hill will celebrate the New Year the next day with a picnic train ride to Silverton. As the train departs Broken Hill it passes a mound of rocks about 30 yards from the tracks. At first the 1200 people sitting in the open ore wagons applaud, they think its a part of the picnic festivities. Then a 17 year old girl Alma Cowie dies instantly from the gunfire. Next is a foreman from the mines and trade union leader William Shaw, he dies and his daughter seated next to him is seriously injured. Six other innocents were seriously wounded as the assailants fired their 20 or 30 rounds.
As the two rushed from the scene they shot another man in his hut poor Alfred Millard. The last to fall was James Craig who scoffed at his daughter’s suggestion that chopping wood in the backyard during a gunfight was probably a bad idea.
Gool and Abdullah fought their way to a quartz outcrop and 90 minutes later it was all over. The assailants, the terrorists lie dead. Thus was the first terrorist attack by Muslim extremists in Australian history. The next Islam-inspired attack took place in, wait for it, 2014, over one hundred years since the Broken Hill attack.
THE AFTERMATH, THE REASONS AND THE COMPLETE RUBBISH
The two assailants had different reasons for attacking that train that day. The younger man did so as he felt that the Ottoman Sultan had personally commanded him to perform jihad. The Ottomans through their German war buddies had decided that jihad against the West wod turn millions of Indian Muslims against the British Raj. The older guy, could not perform his duties as a butcher or an imam, so thought that an attack on Australian soil during a recently declared war with the Caliphate would ensure his place for eternity. There were reports of letters from the Sultan and an improvised Turkish flag. The Germans had released news of the attack stating that a troop train was ambushed by a band of men loyal to the German and Ottoman cause and that 40 Australian troops were killed and 70 wounded compared to the deaths of 2 assailants. The story as such was carried worldwide and published as a parody in Sydney, but as with these days Fake News sounds more sensational than the truth.
Like all attacks there are those who like to compare them to some geopolitical conspiracy or sensationalist propaganda. The first, a book written by a Turkish author Omer Ertur explores the possibility that the attack was staged by Indians loyal to the British Empire, who needed to stem flagging recruitment for the cause. Also to encourage the then PM Billy Hughes to bring in Conscription. At the same time BHP was going through a protracted union dispute at the mine and the second person to die was indeed one of the leading union officials on the site. The book does offer up some worthwhile theories though.
Then there was the Erdogan government funded classic of complete drivel ‘Türk Isi Dondurma” or Turkish Ice Cream. The movie was released in 2019 around Anzac time and in the middle of a flawed election for an Executive Presidency. The story was as sensationalist as an epsode of Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. Instead of two disenfranchised Afghans in the middle of Australia’s Outback heart, it was two Turks, living in a town where boy-soldiers were ripped from their Mother’s arms and snatched from their beds and shipped off, forced to fight the Turks on the beaches of Gallipoli, (which by the way didn’t take place for another 5 months) Where heartless Australian soldiers were massacring Muslims and caring Australians, led by evil officers. So what else could they do in all decency? These two men raided the local armoury and stole hundreds of Lee-Enfields and a few Lewis Guns and took on an army of troops aboard a train. The battle raged and thousands of evil Australian troops died at the hands of these sharpshooting ice-cream sellers. Eventually to die in their holy quest for eternity. I was actually asked to audition for the role as the local Governor in the movie, if I’d won the part successfully I would have given it up once I’d read the script.
So, that’s all about the Battle of Broken Hill on the 1st of January 1915. True events to come would shape our place in the world.
sources – Several including Wikipedia, Australian War Memorial and author Omer Ertur