Remembering Australia’s 1st. Jihadist Attack – 1 January 1915


The Department of Veteran’s Affairs announced last March that the centenary of the Battle of Broken Hill on 1 January 2014 would not be formally commemorated by the Australian Government.

That decision will now be seen in hindsight by many as a wise one indeed – following the fallout resulting from the horrific Martin Place siege perpetrated by self-styled Islamic cleric Man Haron Monis just two weeks ago – that claimed his life and those of two innocent civilians.

However Nicholas Shakespeare has written a novella – “Oddfellows” – based on this little known event – to be published by Random House in January – ensuring this centenary will not pass unnoticed.

Shakespeare has written a poignant article“Outback Jihad” – in which he graphically describes what the locals call “The New Year’s Day Tragedy”:

“The tragedy was a desperate response, in the least likely spot, to a jihad announced on the other side of the world. On 11 November 1914 – 100 years ago this month – the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed V, and caliph of all Muslims, who had earlier signed a treaty with Germany, declared a holy war against Great Britain and her allies, “the mortal enemies of Islam”. The Turkish sultan’s call overlooked the Christianity of his own allies in Germany and Austria-Hungary, and was virtually ignored by Muslims, save for some small-scale mutinies in Egypt and Mesopotamia, and in Broken Hill where two disaffected “Turks” decided to launch a suicide mission under a homemade Turkish flag. Their target: a train of 40 open ore wagons carrying more than 1200 holiday-makers…

At 10 am on 1 January 1915, the long and crowded train pulled away from the Broken Hill platform. It had been a town ritual since 1901: on New Year’s Day, the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows, a friendly society founded to embrace education and social advancement, held a picnic 25 kilometres away at a shady creek in Silverton…

Passengers on the Broken Hill picnic train, c. 1915. Image courtesy of the State Library of South Australia.

Less than ten minutes after leaving the station, the train slowed down, the driver having been warned that sand had drifted across the line. The engine stoker was standing out on the footplate when he noticed a red cloth fluttering above a white cart. His first thought: someone’s exploding defective ammunition. But he dismissed it. No one would be venturing out with a powder magazine on New Year’s Day…

… They chugged past. The driver noticed what looked like an insignia on the red cloth. What this was, he couldn’t make out. Then a breeze sprang up, the cloth unfolded, and the driver saw a yellow crescent, like a banana, and a star.

At that moment, a pair of white turbans bobbed up from the trench – dark faces, the tips of rifles – and the driver heard two gunshots. One bullet hit the sand, spitting dust against the engine. The second bullet struck the brake van, embedding itself in the woodwork…”

In the ensuing melee and mayhem that followed for the next three hours – six people (including the attackers) were killed and seven injured.

Shakespeare records:

“The two soldiers of Allah were not Turks, but British passport-holders from India’s north-west frontier, a region now divided between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

One was Badsha Mahomed Gül:

“Born in the mountainous Tirah region, Gül had come to Australia as a cameleer. When the camel business declined, he had worked in a silver mine until the outbreak of war, and was laid off after all contracts with the German smelters were cancelled…

Three days after the tragedy, a confession was discovered, tucked under a rock and written in a mixture of Urdu and Dari, in which, astoundingly, Gül claimed to have visited Turkey four times – and even to have enlisted in the sultan’s army…

Gül’s accomplice was Mullah Abdullah :

“.. a disgruntled old cameleer with a limp. Aged 60, he had lived in Broken Hill for 15 years. Different skin colour, strange clothes, not Anglo-Saxon – boys laughed when he hobbled by and chased him down the street, throwing stones. He never retaliated, but several times complained to the police, who failed to act.”

Eerily reminiscent of Man Haron Monis and his brushes with the legal system:

“He (Abdullah) was not trained as a priest, but he had priests in his family. In the absence of a religious leader, he had begun to take on that role in “Ghantown”, as the North Broken Hill camel camp was known.

As well as acting as imam, he served as the butcher of his community, slaughtering animals in the manner stipulated by Islamic law. The fact that he was not a member of the butchers’ union in the most unionist town in the country brought him into conflict with those who needed little excuse to treat a Pathan from north-west India as an enemy alien. The most aggressive of his persecutors was the local sanitary inspector, a short, mournful-looking Irishman called Cornelius Brosnan.”

Broken Hill’s current mayor – Winston Cuy – acknowledges there are sensitive issues in the incident such as religion and civilian deaths.

“Broken Hill will be recognising it. What are the words you use and how do you commemorate it?”

Christine Adams – Curator of the Broken Hill Sulphide St Railway and Historical Museum – provides a sensible pointer:

“We think that it needs to be treated with a certain amount of tact. It was two people, what they did was a terrible terrible thing, it wasn’t a nation”. The Turkish flag flown, and rifles used, by Gool Mohammed and Mullah Abdullah during the Battle of Broken Hill, January 1, 1915.

David Singer is a Sydney Lawyer and Foundation Member of the International Analysts Network.

He blogs at Jordan is Palestine and publishes at Canada Free Press and The Jerusalem Post

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  1. Hmmmm, the more things change, the more they stay the same…

  2. Rita, you are right that nothing has changed. The usual suspects deny that it has anything to do with Islam, and that the perpetrators were lone wolves (there’s a whole lot of them in that pack!) or else deranged (an insult to the mentally ill, who rarely commit acts of violence). For one example of a politically correct response, read Negus at the end of this ABC transcript:

    • Why am I not surprised re Negus? Call me pre-judiced (I have stopped fighting my prejudices, because in quite a few things my grandma was right) but, until otherwise proven I see the “default position” like so: Left –> Islamophile —>anti-“Zionist”—>anti-“Israel”<—aka Jew-hater.

      • PS: Pam, in the ABC Negus transcript you linked to he says:

        “…given that killing non-combatants is against Islamic law. Don’t ask me how I know. I just do…”

        I now know how he knew: the ABC told him so, and they still do. 😉

  3. Pam

    Thanks for the Negus transcript which dates back to 2004.

    Wonder what Negus would say now about Islam forbidding the killing of non-combatants after the horror killings of millions of non – combatants – including Moslem non-combatants living in Islamic States – during the last 10 years?

    • I would speculate that he would be like, for example, Green Senator Lee-Rhiannon who still loves Stalin, and he surely would sneer at people like my self, when we speak of the “Islamic Association of Lone wolves”.

  4. Rita and David, I was quite surprised to find that even 10 years ago, political correctness reigned supreme, at least at ‘our’ ABC. Negus’ remarks show an arrogance, common to the PC brigade, who never let facts get in the way of their opinions, and sneer at those who dare to challenge them.

    • Pam

      Problem is that those who challenge the PC brigade are the ones who have to pick up the pieces.

      Just look at the current nonsense being spouted about the fictitious and non- existent “State of Palestine”

      • Yes, David, we’re in a no-win situation. Ever optimistic though, I keep hoping that common sense will prevail and people will realise that political correctness is simply telling lies out of cowardice.

  5. this is not even taught in schools, how deliberate.

    • Perhaps it might soon start appearing in school curricula – given what is happening with Islamic State and the horrendous terror being perpetrated by a bewildering array of other Islamist terror groups around the world before our very eyes.