Pat Mackie and the Mount Isa Mines dispute

Union leaders Pat Mackie (in his usual red baseball cap) and John McMahon (right) are interviewed by Albert Asbury of the ABC

The dispute that rocked Mount Isa Mines for nine months in 1964-65 was the most tumultuous time in the city’s history. At the centre of the story was the workers’ leader Pat Mackie. Mackie has written two books about his life, the first about his life leading up to the dispute called Many Ships to Mount Isa, the second was called The Story of a Dispute.

Mackie was painted out to be the devil incarnate during the strike and his colourful background and petty criminal history on two continents was used against him by the media, the company and the government. He was a committed unionist from his work in Canada and the US but this dispute pitted him and the workers against the unions as much as their employers. At the time Mount Isa Mines was owned by the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) and its management was driving drive down costs by cutting contract pay and increasing efficiency though that had its own price – 1300 miners watched by 750 “supervisors”.

The workers had to be members of the Australian Workers Union and the company compulsorily deducted union dues from pay. Though many workers felt they would be better off in a purely miners’ union, the rightwing AWU jealously protected its rights and refused to let any other union muscle in.

There were many grumbles in the staff not least in the poor quality of the shower rooms where the water often cut out, leaving miners to head home dirty potentially carrying poisonous lead. The problem festered for eight years before Mackie complained in May 1964. When he threatened to quit over it, other workers asked him to fight it and many other problems they had on site.

At a union meeting workers wanted to hold a 24-hour stoppage against the advice of the union leader, who didn’t want to stir up trouble. Mackie also spoke against it, but for different reasons. He said a day-long strike would only lose them money and gain nothing. They needed to prepare properly for a strike and raise funds. The meeting agreed to give the company a week to fix the showers before taking further action.

The threat worked and the showers were fixed that week. Miners began to look at other issues such as the chiselling away of contract rights which the AWU had done nothing about. Workers elected Mackie as local chairman and he used his union skills to organise delegates in all areas of the mine. In August 1964 the Queensland Industrial Commission turned down a wage increase as a ‘camouflaged bonus’ which it said it was prevented from awarding. Next a peeved AWU management decided Mackie could not be chair as he wasn’t a six-year financial member of the union.

The workers sidestepped the union, electing a six-man committee including Mackie, to negotiate with the company. Mines manager James Foots said they were losing money and unable to offer wage increases. The workers countered that contract men would use their award right to revert to wages losing productivity for the company. In two weeks production dropped 40,000 tons as many workers left Mount Isa. The company reported the dispute to the Industrial Commission but they found the miners were not on strike, so the company applied again calling it a “go slow”.

The AWU hierarchy sided with the company in wanting their workers to return to contract and a meeting was called on October 11. The official rep Kevin Costello from Townsville sought approval of return to contracts which was rejected by jeering workers. Union boss Edgar Williams told Brisbane media the decision was due to “Mackie’s standover tactics”. This was the start of the personal campaign against Mackie. Liberal Minister for Labour JD Herbert told Brisbane parliament Mackie was “doing the dictates of sinister international masters”.

The judge deferred the case until further notice. The AWU told the industrial court the workers agreed to return to contract but were prevented by “confusion in the hall” and they intended to take action against “Mount Isa chairman Mackie”. The action came just days later. When Mackie took a day off on union business to sort out a threat by the boilermakers to stop work, he was sacked the following day for taking a day off without permission. Unknown to him the AWU had changed its by-laws stripping him of union representation and therefore his legal entitlement to take time off on union business. News spread through the mine in a flash, but Mackie could see the outcome – the company wanted to goad the workers into a walkout.

The following Sunday Costello chaired an even angrier meeting. As he rose to speak he was drowned out by shouts of “we want Mackie”. Sitting at the back, miners shoved a reluctant Mackie up to the stage. Costello shouted “I declare the meeting closed!” and he left the building. Those that remained passed a vote of no confidence in the union leadership and vowed to remain on wages. Ten weeks into the dispute, Mackie began to organise his men, helped by support from local businesses who paid him a wage of £24 and he filed for wrongful dismissal in the Mount Isa Magistrates Court.

At the next meeting on November 1 the AWU tried to brand the action as “lawless” only for the local rep to be shouted down again in a call for Mackie. Again the meeting was closed. Again the workers held an unofficial meeting with Mackie as chair. Their demands were threefold, the original £4 wage increase, recognition of locally elected reps, and a 25pc rise in contract prices. Without official union support, the company would not meet to discuss these demands.

Instead they upped the ante shutting down the copper smelter on November 13. Manager Foots claimed it was too dangerous to continue. They did nothing to counter the media impression the shutdown was because of a “strike” led by “dangerous insurgents”. Even though the court found on November 23 there was no evidence of a go slow, the company appealed again on a point of law. On December 3 the company got its way, the court overturning the original decision, and ordered the AWU and its members to stop “taking part in an authorised strike” with onerous penalties for non-compliance. All workers could take up the offer, unless they were sacked for “misconduct”. But the only worker sacked for misconduct was Mackie.

A day later Mackie’s case for wrongful dismissal was dismissed as the onus of proof was on him. The following Sunday 1100 workers packed the Star Theatre for a miners’ meeting. Again the union official was howled down and closed the meeting, again Mackie chaired the unofficial meeting. The meeting voted to disregard the court order and reiterated the three original demands with a fourth added – the reinstatement of Pat Mackie. Mackie said at this point the dispute was no longer about pay and conditions but “a struggle for self-rule and industrial legality”. That week the AWU formally expelled him from the union for “misconduct”.

On December 11 Foots stopped all underground copper mining due to the “go slow” and cancelled coal orders from Collinsville and Scottsville. They were supported by the Nicklin government which introduced a state of emergency forcing workers to go back to work on contract or be fined or face jail with no possibility of fighting the action in court. Nicklin laid the blame on “one irresponsible individual…misleading them into foolish action.”

Mackie and the miners needed friends and got them in the Barrier Industrial Council which helped mobilise the Broken Hill mine workforce against similar threats. With the Broken Hill group set to attend that Sunday’s meeting the AWU sent state president Gerry Goding. The meeting took the usual course of boos and calls for Mackie perplexing Goding who believed the media hype that it was a one man show. The town would not be browbeaten by the company, the courts, or the union.

The following week when the new shift reported for work, supervisors asked them to accept contracts and when almost all said no, they were handed a “pinkie” (termination slip). That day (December 15) Foots announced all work at Mount Isa Mines would cease having sacked the entire 5000-strong workforce costing Australia a million pounds a week in lost exports. Four thousand people attended a public meeting where the Labour Council attacked the company and there were many pledges of financial support from town and outside. Mackie remained the de facto leader of the fight against the government, the company and the union, despite neither being an employee nor a union member any more.

On Christmas Eve the Industrial commission granted a surprising £3 prosperity payment to the workers though the now embittered workers agreed to hold out for £4. It wasn’t until early January that the AWU allowed a local Mount Isa miner address a compulsory meeting with union and management ordered by court. Though it was miner Barry Baker not Mackie, he focused attention for the first time on underground working conditions. The company refused to discussed money matters preferring instead to discuss the new draft contract. They also threatened to withdraw the annual bonus if financial results were bad.

Pat Mackie “wields” a chair at the January meeting

On January 16 there was a special meeting of all union men designed to get a local democratic representative body in the field. Court Commissioner Harvey who had denied their claims turned up and was heckled as was union boss Edgar Williams. Again the men shouted for Mackie to move up from the back. Someone pressed a chair into his hands which he took up to the platform amid cheers. The officials closed the meeting and Mackie called for a Labour Council meeting the following day. The press reported that a “howling mob” had shut down the meeting and published photos of him “wielding a chair” with the inference that it was for violent purposes (belied by the smiling men cheering him as he did the “wielding”). Back in Brisbane Williams blamed Communist infiltration which the press took up wholesale.

The town dug in for a long fight. Mackie and John McMahon, President of the Labour Council, were elected to travel interstate to raise funds. On TV’s Meet the Press Mackie was set up, being asked his real name, criminal convictions and communist history. When sneeringly asked did he get others to script his speeches, he replied “No I don’t, but it looks like you do.” A reviewer reckoned Mackie had more supporters at the end than he started with. They also addressed crowds in Broken Hill and Adelaide. Meanwhile the Queensland government enacted new laws giving police the power to keep strike-breakers out of Mount Isa.

When McMahon boarded a plane to Mount Isa from Sydney he was ordered off in Brisbane. Mackie hid in Sydney and the union organised a car to drive home the back way via Bourke non-stop for 2300km. With road blocks on all roads around the city, Mackie took a miners track via Duchess and snuck home. With no sign of police Mackie entered his house before he was moved in hiding to a safe house. McMahon took another flight from Brisbane to Darwin (intending to get off at Isa) but was ordered off at Longreach.

By end January national media was becoming aware of the Mount Isa dispute as the public mood shifted in the miners’ favour. The company decided to reopen the mine on February 1 reemploying all miners who were on the payroll a day before the shutdown but threatened to shut down the entire operation if miners did not return. Workers refused to go back until the government ended its emergency regulations and began picketing on February 1 – the first time there was an actual picket in the dispute.

Faced with the prospect of a general strike, the Nicklin government rescinded their legislation the same day. At a Labor Council meeting in the Bull Ring of the Isa Hotel, Mackie finally materialised to a hero’s welcome. The following day masses of police flew out, while McMahon flew back to cheering unionists who carried a banner with the Irish greeting “Céad míle fáilte”.

There was another compulsory conference on February 4 but Mackie and the miners’ delegation were not invited as “unaccredited”. McMahon stayed and negotiations foundered over the reinstatement of Mackie. Mackie himself flew to Melbourne to do more TV. Again he survived intimidation this time from Norman Banks with TV critic Frank Thring writing “this muscle-bound free-speaking gorilla brought fresh air into the stagnant swamp of television.” He stayed two weeks in Melbourne gaining popularity while Foots again threatened to close the mine.

With Prime Minister Menzies threatening to intervene (despite harsh words for “this curious character Mackie, not even an Australian”) and federal parliament looking at the possibility ASARCO started the dispute to deliberately lower the price of its share it wanted to buy back, Foots backed off. Mount Isa Mines reopened on February 17, 1965 offering work for all on the books on December 14. It didn’t hurt that copper prices were much higher.

When the mine reopened, the picketing resumed and would stay for the next seven weeks. The AWU and the Catholic Church urged miners to return to work. When a young boy, Bernard Kelly aged 15, died in a shooting accident while showing off his father’s gun, the father reported it was loaded “because of the trouble in town”. Media seized on this to blame the death on the strike with some families saying it was Mackie’s fault.

Nicklin brought in new laws banning picketing within half a mile of the mine gates while called Mackie a “nomadic thief, swindler, dope peddlar, gangster and gunman”. On March 18 police moved the pickets away from the mine over to the town side according to the new law with 100 police guarding the river crossings. McMahon, who lived on the mine side, was placed under house arrest during picketing hours. Mackie, who lived within a mile of the mine, faced similar conditions.

Having failed to get support for a national dispute, Mackie knew his situation was holding up resolution. On March 28 he advised workers to return to the job on guarantee of no victimisation. He quietened shocked workers saying they were beaten by overwhelming force. Most returned to work on April 2 and the AWU voted by a small majority to return six days later. As academic Raymond O’Dea wrote “the Mount Isa dispute had not been settled. It merely jolted to a sullen stop.”

The company made a comfortable profit in 1964-65 and the share price easily rebounded. There was an improvement in relations between management and workers with ASARCO finally accepting new arrangements for wage bargaining. There would not be another major work stoppage for 25 years, Mackie wrote.

Now a household name, Mackie moved to Sydney where he embarked on successful defamation acts against media who maligned his reputation. He had no regrets about the dispute which he said stirred the Australian Trade Union movement into supportive action – a revelation he said, a whole community could unite behind a cause. “It was a triumph of the human spirit,” he concluded.

When Bert Hinkler flew solo from England to Australia

Bert Hinkler

Bert Hinkler is a mostly forgotten early Australian aviator but there was a time when he was idolised as the country’s foremost flier. Born in Bundaberg, Queensland in 1892, his unfinished autobiography said “flight ever fascinated me” and like most of the early pioneers of flight he did not live to be an old man. Hinkler died aged 40 after crashing his plane into the mountains of Tuscany in Italy. Il Duce Benito Mussolini, himself fascinated with flying, buried Hinkler with full military honours and he was mourned across Australia and the world. Grantlea Kieza tell his story with gusto in Bert Hinkler: The Most Daring Man in the World.

Hinkler got into aviation as a young man in Bundaberg after hearing of the stories of the Wright Bros early flights in America and Frenchman Bleriot’s first dash across the Channel. In 1910 Harry Houdini became the first man to fly a plane in Australia at Digger’s Rest near Melbourne. After Lindsay Campbell exhibited a glider at a Longreach show Hinkler was inspired to create his own which he built from models in The Aero magazine. He build his Glider 1 in the backyard which aged 19 he tested successfully at nearby Mon Repos beach.

When American aviator Arthur Burr “Wizard” Stone visited Bundaberg in 1913, Hinkler told him he knew the problem with his plane and after the American expressed disbelief, Hinkler told him about his gliders. Stone took his advice and it worked leading to a job offer as a mechanic for the American on his tour of Australia. After this experience Hinkler decided to travel to England with an endorsement from Stone. He got a job with Sopwith Aviation in London where he helped build planes and nurtured his dream of becoming a pilot.

When war broke out in 1914 Hinkler joined the new Royal Naval Air Service as a mechanic. At Whitley Bay he flew as a passenger in a two-seat Gnome-powered Bristol hunting German Zeppelins. He was eventually moved to Air Wing and trained as a gunner. Assigned to France he sat behind the pilot in a tandem cockpit and did battle with enemy planes and bombed German positions in the Saar. When the RAF was formed in 1918 he was made a Second Lieutenant (Technical) and trained as a pilot in Marske-by-the-Sea, Yorkshire.

After graduation he was assigned to the Italian front at the controls of a Sopwith Camel. The RAF supported the Italian assault on Vittorio Veneto in October 1918 and Hinkler led an attack on Austrian troops fleeing the front. He flew 50 operations in the final months of the war. He came back to Britain deciding he wanted to fly all the way home to Bundaberg. In 1919 Prime Minister Billy Hughes offered £10,000 to the first Australian or British crew that could fly London-Darwin and Hinkler was keen, becoming the first official entrant.

But when the rules were released he was unable to fly needing a navigator and a plane with 3000km range due to the scarcity of airfields in India. In the end there were six official entrants and brothers Ross and Keith Smith were first across the line in 27 days. A disappointed Hinkler stepped up the search for a plane that would make the dangerous journey alone. That plane would be an Avro Baby.

Avro was Alliot Verdun-Roe who made planes at Southampton. His Baby was a tiny plane with a 35hp engine and importantly it needed just 45m to take off. In 1920 Hinkler’s first attempt to fly to Australia ended in Turin over fears of getting stuck in a war in Syria and a year later he sailed back to Australia with the Baby as cargo.

Arriving in Sydney he unpacked the plane and beat his solo distance London-Turin with a flight to Bundaberg to great local acclaim. He went back to England where he raced planes in competition but kept alive his dream to fly to Australia. It wasn’t until February 7, 1928 that the timing was right and he set off from Croydon in his Avro 581 Avian plane, as usual without fanfare. He loaded the narrow cockpit with Ovaltine chocolate, a few biscuits and a flask of hot coffee. He also had a bottle of port, 400 cigarettes and official letters to take home.

Aided by pages from a Times Atlas map, he set off over the Channel and down through France crossing the Alps and wondered where he would stop as it approached nightfall. In the dark he made it to Rome where he flashed a feeble SOS with his torch. But with no-one to send up flares, he risked a dark landing and after a long wait to get through customs, he caught a tram into the city centre at 11pm, getting to bed in a hotel by 1am.

Four hours later he was up and went back to the airport where he saw in daylight the radio masts and wires he somehow missed while landing. Day 2 was a flight to Valletta in Malta, 900km away and Hinkler risked the sulphur fumes of Vesuvius and passed the snow-capped peak of Etna before arriving at the Malta RAF base at 3pm. He enjoyed dinner at the mess knowing that it would be the last of familiar pleasures.

The following morning he set off over the Mediterranean and made it to Benghazi, then on another 400km to Tobruk but with darkness falling he was forced to land 60km short. After a sandwich and coffee he took out the cockpit seat to use as a pillow, removed the inflatable boat and pumped it up. Upturned it was 2m long and a perfect bed. He set an alarm for an hour before dawn and fell asleep.

In the morning he was approached by two Arabs who had never seen a plane before. They helped Hinkler clear the rocks and camel thorn off an uneven runway. He flew quickly to Tobruk, refuelled and set off towards Ramla in Palestine, having no authority to land in Egypt. Again he fell short and needed another rough desert landing. In exchange for cigarettes, a bunch of locals helped him drag the plane to harder ground for take off. Day 5 he followed the railway line 100km to Ramla RAF base where he did an engine check.

The RAF persuaded him to stay the night and he ended up carousing in Jaffa till 1.30am. The following day he flew over the Biblical towns of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jericho over the Dead Sea and eventually on to Basra at the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates. There he landed at the air base run by Imperial Airways and worked on his plane till after midnight.

On Day 7, February 13 he had a 1400km run to Jask on a Persian peninsula opposite the Emirates. Jask was a desolate outpost for the Indo-European telegraph line and transit point for Europe-India flights. Hinkler took a bicycle into town and rode back to the Avian before dawn where he was shocked to find a dripping leak in the main fuel tank. He reckoned his fuel loss would still get him to Karachi, 1000km away though it was a race against time as the fuel loss was worse than he calculated. He just made it, again landing at a RAF base and now the talk of the world as “Hustling Hinkler” having broken the record for the longest flight in a small plane.

The RAF men gave Hinkler a pith helmet to cope with the sun but it didn’t allow him to plug his ears the way his helmet did and on the next leg the ringing in his ears gave him a massive headache. Almost dizzy and stone deaf, he landed at Cawnpore (Kanpur), 1200km away and went straight to bed at 5pm. Refreshed at daybreak he set off again to Calcutta (Kolkata), wearing his helmet and a big crowd greeted him at the airport. Locals helped him work on the plane till midnight and he went into the city to sleep.

Day 11, February 17 Hinkler was bound for Rangoon (Yangon) in poor visibility, flying by compass. He arrived on Rangoon racecourse at 2.30pm and local Shell reps put on a dinner for him while his flying suit was washed. Australian papers were now predicting he would obliterate the 27 day record of the Smiths though the Australian government was less impressed with foolish flyers killing themselves and said they would not provide facilities or forecasts.

Uncaring, Hinkler left Rangoon 6.30am the following morning and set off for Victoria Point (Kawthaung) on the Malay peninsula. He was chased by a rain storm all day ending his hope of seeing a tiger from the air and got in at 2pm. That left a 1300km trip to Singapore the following day which saw him caught in a tropical storm before landing in the wrong spot. The drenched pilot was redirected to Singapore’s racecourse.

There Hinkler met fellow aviators Bill Lancaster and Chubbie Miller who were also flying from England to Australia and survived almost crashing into the Arabian Sea, being shot at by Arabs and having a snake aboard at Rangoon. They were awaiting repairs now at Singapore – Bert left after them and would arrive before them. Lancaster gave Hinkler strip maps for the Darwin to Camooweal route that would be easier to use than the Times atlas.

The following morning was a difficult takeoff on soggy ground and he just cleared the fence. Hinkler dodged the rain all the way to Kalidjati on the island of Java, annoying the official welcoming party waiting in the rain at Jakarta, 125km back. He also annoyed Dutch officials by failing to notify them of his arrival in advance. Again uncaring Hinkler set off on Day 15 1400km to Bima on the island of Sumbawa where he relaxed in the Dutch commissioner’s Roman bath. Sleeping on the veranda he was kept awake all night by mosquitoes.

Day 16 was the difficult final 1450km leg to Darwin, more than 10 hours of flying with half of that across the desolate Timor Sea and no ships in sight. Hinkler hoped there would be a few people to shake his hand on arrival but had no idea of the anticipation. Darwin expected him at 2pm but it wasn’t until almost four anxious hours later that Hinkler finally dropped out of the skies, circling the Ross Smith memorial twice before ending his 17,710km journey in under 16 days in front of a huge crowd. It was the longest solo flight made and he was now the most celebrated aviator in the world.

After three days basking in the Darwin glory which included a telegram from King George V, Hinkler took off again at 7am bound 1600km for Cloncurry. He was expected at Brunette Downs on the Tablelands mid afternoon but when there was no sign of him by 5.40pm the alarm was raised. At Cloncurry 20 cars were waiting with their lights on ready for a night landing but Hinkler never showed. The next morning he was still missing and authorities hoped at best he was forced into a bush landing.

The pilot of the Qantas plane from Cloncurry to Camooweal kept a close eye out as did another Qantas pilot on his own search but there was nothing. At Camooweal they heard Hinkler had landed in the Territory yesterday but had not checked in at Cloncurry. Finally just after midday Hinkler touched down at Camooweal saying he’d slept the night in the desert. He had become lost and landed near a windmill where an astonished stockman was pumping bore water for his cattle. He gave the stockman a note to take to Brunette Downs and camped with the herd for the night.

In Camooweal he fueled up then went for a beer at Reilly’s Hotel and stayed the night there at a party in his honour. The following morning the two Qantas pilots gave him an honour guard to Cloncurry where there was a welcome by 100 people. But he soon took off again to Longreach with stops at McKinlay and Winton and arrived at 4.50pm to a band playing See The Conquering Hero comes. There he had dinner with Qantas managers and rang his mother with the promise he would be home in Bundaberg the following day.

He left Longreach at 6.30am on February 27, 1928 and followed the railway east towards Rockhampton. Rumours spread he was going to land there but he didn’t leaving hundreds disappointed. Finally at 4.15pm he arrived at Bundaberg where the entire town and even the Premier of Queensland was waiting at the landing area which was marked by oil fires and a white calico cross. Police could not control the crowd which risked their own lives rushing to the plane. Among them all there was one person he wanted to see and he greeted her with “hello, mum.”

Hinkler told the press it was the proudest moment of his life to fly home to Bundaberg and praised “British workmanship and British organisation” for getting him there. Australians could now “look Lindbergh in the eye”, a year after the American flown from New York to Paris. Hinkler was cheap too, he had used just 2000 litres of petrol at a cost of just £45 and another £10 for oil.

With his reputation assured he went on a triumphant tour of Australia before returning to England. He was named the most outstanding aviator of 1928, following Lindbergh a year earlier. He continued to race planes in England and North America. In 1931 he flew south to Brazil and became the first to fly the South Atlantic crossing from Natal, Brazil to Bathurst, The Gambia in a dangerous 22 hour journey through ocean storms.

But in 1933, aged 40, he pushed his luck once too often. Setting off on another solo flight to Australia in a Puss Moth to beat the new record of 8 days 20 hours, he went missing in Italy. His body was found four months later next to his crashed plane in the Tuscan mountains. Mussolini, who aspired to be an aviator himself, buried Hinkler in Florence with full military honours with 100,000 mourners filing past his coffin. Among the many honours for him in Australia in the coming years was the Bundaberg federal seat renamed in his honour in 1984. The Hinkler Hall of Aviation, complete with his house Mon Repos, taken brick by brick from Southampton, remains one of Bundaberg’s major attractions.

Six Keys: the 1932 Cloncurry bank robberies

The Bank of New South Wales in Cloncurry 1932. Illustration from the book Six Keys.

The Daily Mercury of Wednesday June 15, 1932 reported a daring robbery in Cloncurry the weekend before. Around £14,000 was stolen from two banks, so much cash it was “extremely difficult to carry on ordinary business” in the town. On state election night in 1932, thieves breached the strong room of the National Bank and made off with £11,000. Much to their surprise, the burglars also found the keys to the nearby Bank of NSW, where they helped themselves to another £3000. The culprits were never caught, despite a £500 reward.

The double robbery was the talk of the town and despite their confidence police ran into a wall of silence and could finger no-one despite strong suspicions, suspicions that last to this day. In 2010 Author John Joseph Williamson put together his version of events in 6 Keys: The Cloncurry Bank Robberies. Williamson says his account was a fictional account of proceedings. Luckily for him, he could accuse at will without risk of defamation: all the characters involved are now dead. As well as testimony from Roy Martell of Cloncurry, Williamson accessed the archives of the Queensland National Bank (now NAB) and Bank of New South Wales (now Westpac).

While he also sourced newspaper articles most of what he wrote was hearsay and a compilation of “apocryphal stories and anecdotes”. Yet Williamson does not apologise for naming the robbers in his account, which he said were common knowledge in Cloncurry and their exploits were “already folklore”. He said recording the names was in the interest of Cloncurry and Queensland.

The year 1932 was the middle of the depression and Cloncurry was not spared, with many local mines closed down. It was a small town where everyone knew everyone and people were kept informed by the Cloncurry Advocate which came out every Saturday. The QN and the Wales were the only two bank branches in town. QN branch manager Lewis Holland and his wife lived in the bank’s residence on the corner of Ramsay and Sheaffe St until Mrs Holland was disillusioned with remote living and left. Holland invited teller Stanley Spilsbury to move in. Spilsbury was fond of gambling and had a financial relationship with local identity and gambler Cyril Chaplain who gave him racing information and also probably, racing debts.

To make life easier at the bank they employed a full-time live-in housekeeper and widow Folly Faithful who liked and looked after them both. Faithful was good looking and attracted the attentions of Eric Guerin, owner of His Majesty’s Hotel in Scarr St and occasionally accompanying violinist to the silent movies that played in the Bio Talkies local cinema. Guerin and Faithful struck up a relationship and after a movie, they would go back to the bank for a pot of tea where she introduced him to Holland and Spilsbury.

Guerin became aware they were careless about the custody of their bank keys which they left lying around. After reading in the North Queensland Register about a robbery in Townsville with duplicate keys made from impressions while the holders were at the town baths, Guerin began to think of something similar. He studied the bank employees’ habits and noted they both went out every Saturday night. From Faithful he found out the money was kept in a strongroom which needed two keys to open, one with Holland, the other with accountant Justin Cosgrove. There were also two keys to the treasury safe, held by Holland and Cosgrove. Inside the safe were two locked drawers which held the money. Holland had the key to one of the drawers, Spilsbury had the other. To extract the money there were six keys in all, held by three men.

Guerin found out the best time to rob the bank was Saturday night when the employees were out drinking and also when the safe was most full with money from the Townsville train for the week ahead. Guerin believed it would be easy to get hold of the four keys held by Holland and Spilsbury. Cosgrove would be more difficult. He paid attention to Cosgrove’s movements but noted he never strayed far from his keys. He would have to be lured away. Guerin considered how to make duplicates of the keys and needing allies he took Tom Anderson into his confidence.

Anderson was the owner of the Bio and a dodgy friend, well known in Cloncurry as a cattle thief. Anderson thought Guerin was joking when he mentioned his plan and pointed out problems like where to get the keys copied and who exactly would carry out the robbery. It was risky but Anderson was excited and they decided to talk to George Duffy the key cutter who worked for the railways. Anderson pointed out Duffy was Cyril Chaplain’s man. They decided to go to Chaplain to discuss the plan.

Cyril Chaplain was called the Little King in Cloncurry. He grew up on a cattle property and eventually managed the property. By 1932 the Chaplains owned two stations and the town slaughterhouse and stockyards as well as the iceworks and a butchers shop. They also owned the Big House, the grandest house in Cloncurry on the corner of McIlwraith and Seymour Sts. He trained racehorses which his brother Boomarra Chaplain would ride and kept good relations with local police who turned a blind eye to illegal betting activities.

Guerin and Anderson met Chaplain and told them their plans. As well as getting his opinion on Duffy, they asked him to carry out the actual robbery. Chaplain considered it and said he would need to bring his brother Boomarra on board as well as Duffy. They agreed to split the takings, half to Guerin and Anderson, the other half to the Chaplain gang.

Boomarra and Duffy were best mates though Duffy had been distracted by his affair with Peach O’Callaghan, the wife of the new shire clerk from Townsville. Duffy was doing odd jobs at the house when the pair became infatuated while the husband was away.

The five would-be robbers got together to work out a plan. Duffy arranged for overtime work to make impressions of the keys while they worked out a plan to get Cosgrove’s keys. The plan was to convince him to go bathing at the Two Mile waterhole where they could take impressions while he swam. After they got the six impressions it would then be a matter of choosing the best time to do the robbery.

The Two Mile was the most popular waterhole on the Cloncurry River with gullies where there was privacy to dress and undress. Chaplain invited Holland for a swim ostensibly to discuss a cattle deal. He also invited Cosgrove who was standing nearby. Chaplain and Duffy collected the bank men and drove them to the waterhole. While swimming Duffy checked Cosgrove’s pants to ensure the keys were there but they needed a second outing to steal them to make the impressions. On that occasion Duffy invited Peach and her girlfriends to make the trip more appealing to the bankers. Peach was reluctant but Duffy said it would be worth her while which piqued her curiosity.

Duffy carried beeswax blocks to the river which he put in a case so they wouldn’t melt. Peach wanted to know what the beeswax was for but Duffy claimed it was polish for the car. On the day of the outing Duffy claimed to have a migraine so remained in the car while the others went swimming. Duffy grabbed Cosgrove’s seven keys and had to make impressions of them all, not knowing which ones were for the bank. When the job was done he returned Cosgrove’s keys to his pocket.

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The next task was to remove Holland and Spilsbury’s keys on a Saturday night. Guerin did this after the men returned from their drinking and slept on the verandah. Faithful discovered Guerin in Spilsbury’s room and he told her he was putting the keys back. He took them to the waiting Duffy who made copies and he told him Faithful had caught him. Chaplain was furious. Guerin assured him Faithful would not spill the beans. Chaplain decided Guerin would have to give her a job to get her away from the bank.

After getting the impressions Duffy had to make the duplicates. He chose seven keys as two looked similar and then made an eighth key for the front door. Chaplain worked on alibis for Duffy and Boomarra to carry out the robbery. He wanted them to get into a routine at the Prince of Wales pub and park their car in the same visible spot. On a Saturday night they would invade the bank to see if the keys work, but not actually rob it. Duffy did the break-in using Guerin’s plan of the house with Boomarra on lookout. Inside Duffy had trouble with the strongroom key and played with it for over an hour, filing the web until it finally worked. He had the same problem with the second key.

Outside Boomarra was holed up by a friend who started chatting. Boomarra was concerned but eventually Duffy arrived on the scene and they went to the pub. Duffy told him he had successfully worked two keys. But because of the noise Boomarra’s friend was making Duffy had no time to do the rest. They would have to repeat the test three weeks later to try the other four keys. The second time they got them all to work and found a surprise inside the safe – duplicate keys for the nearby bank of NSW.

When the gang next met they quickly decided to do both banks and decided to take a bag of silver coins also in the safe, which they would bury in a gully near the slaughterhouse. They set a date for the robbery of the following Saturday after finding out the bank manager of the Wales was away that weekend.

Saturday, June 11 was Queensland state election day and there was an election night party at the Katter house which the conspirators used as an alibi. The pubs were supposed to close on election day but police usually turned a blind eye. It would be a busy day in town with people expected to throng from the stations. On the night, Boomarra was assigned “cockatoo” (watch) while Chaplain and Duffy went to the banks first to the National where they emptied the safe and took the Wales key. They were done in 20 minutes but when they went out they found two drunks at Boomarra’s ute. Eventually they left and the robbers loaded the ute before the trio drove to the Wales. Again Duffy and Chaplain went in by forcing a latch. They quickly opened the safe and took the notes and silver in six heavy calico bags.

Duffy met Folly and they went to the Katter party while Boomarra and Chaplain drove the ute to their house where they transferred the notes to another car before driving the ute back to town. At 3am Boomarra and Duffy drove to the slaughterhouse to bury the barrels containing the coins. Their car light was spotted by a slaughterhouse worker who resolved to investigate in daylight. Chaplain took the other car to an unoccupied outstation two hours away where he hid a metal trunk containing the money. The following morning slaughterhouse worker George Park found the site of the first overnight dig and uncovered six drums which contained the silver coins. He stole two of the drums and buried them elsewhere. He never reported his find to police and eventually claimed £500 from all six drums when the robbers failed to return.

No other suspicions were aroused until Monday when the Wales manager opened the safe to discover it was empty. Wondering where the thieves got the keys he rang the QN where Cosgrove had made a similar discovery. When he remarked that Holland had shown the strongroom to Cyril Chaplain earlier on the Saturday, Spilsbury told him to be quiet about it, making Cosgrove suspect it might have been an inside job.

Police had similar suspicions when they were alerted especially when they realised the six keys were involved. Police also found a tyre imprint outside the bank, a Goodyear which the local tyre dealer reckoned he sold to six people. A similar tyre mark was found outside the Wales. Boomarra’s ute fitted the description.

Duffy discovered two coin barrels were missing and blamed Anderson, whom he felt didn’t deserve any of the takings. He punched Anderson who had no idea why he was attacked. Cyril told him it wasn’t Anderson as the silver he took to the bank on Monday was takings from the Bio on the weekend.

Most townspeople were in awe of the robbery and unwilling to communicate much to police frustration. Criminal Investigation Branch assigned sub-inspector Alfred Jesson who found out local police suspected Boomarra’s ute was involved and therefore Cyril Chaplain’s gang. Tyre shop owner Barney Long’s premises were soon torched and it had the desired effect, Long was no longer sure whose tyre tracks were involved in the robbery.

Police believed the robbery needed inside bank knowledge and concentrated on Spilsbury who bet on the horses and owed money to Chaplain. Spilsbury denied all knowledge under hostile questioning, as did Holland. Both suffered with the bank for their cavalier attitude in leaving keys lying around. Police interviewed Boomarra who said he was at the pub. Faithful vouched for Duffy who was at the party. Finally they spoke to Chaplain who also provided alibis for him at the pub. Convinced the money was still in Cloncurry police kept up road blocks for two weeks. Investigations came to nothing and bank rewards went unclaimed.

Chaplain paid off the others who were impatient to get money immediately. Then he bided his time and laundered the money through Townsville and Brisbane bookmakers at a 50percent discount. Though Guerin took no part in the robbery, Chaplain remained grateful to him for the “fantastic idea”. Williamson in his book said Guerin later told Roy Martell the truth, saying “if you tell anyone, I’ll deny it”. Martell died around the time of publication. All the other participants were long dead. The Cloncurry robbery had descended into myth.

Contemplating history at Toowong Cemetery

Cemeteries are both ineffably sad and poignantly beautiful places. Brisbane’s Toowong Cemetery is in the rolling hills beneath Mt Coot-tha and much of the city’s history and memories are buried here. The heritage-listed cemetery, the largest in Queensland, came into being as Brisbane grew rapidly westward in the 19th century. After the council set aside land in the 1860s, Queensland’s second governor Samuel Blackall was the first person to be buried here and he selected the highest spot on the land for his grave.

Blackall was an Irish soldier appointed governor in 1868 to popular acclaim but had been plunged into a constitutional crisis. After a deadlock in parliament the Liberals lost the election but petitioned Blackall to dissolve the assembly saying it did not properly represent the colony. Blackall refused to intervene and the crisis rolled on through his tenure. The kindly and soft-spoken Blackall was popular but by 1870 his health declined rapidly and he died on January 2, 1871, aged 62. Parliament voted £500 for the erection of a monument over his remains designed by Colonial Architect Francis Stanley. It remains the tallest spire at Toowong.

The second person to be buried in Toowong was 21-year-old Ann Hill. Ann was the only child of Walter and Jane Hill. Born in 1850 Hill died of a lung complaint on November 3, 1871. Her father Walter was trained as a botanist in his native Scotland and appointed superintendent of Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens in 1855. He introduced the jacaranda and poinciana trees to Australia and helped popularise the mango and pawpaw trees. The Walter Hill fountain was named for him in the city botanic gardens.

Near Blackall’s monument is another to an administrator involved in the Queensland constitutional crisis at the end of the 1860s. Maurice O’Connell was born in Sydney in 1812, the grandson of William Bligh. He formed an Irish regiment in the British Auxiliary Legion which fought in Spain’s Carlist Wars in the 1830s and then came back to New South Wales where he was elected to parliament. He was a founder member of Queensland’s separatist parliament in 1859 and president of the council for two decades until his death in 1879.

Also in the same area is the grave of Arthur Palmer, Queensland’s seventh premier. Born in Ireland in 1819, Palmer moved to NSW as a young man and worked his way up to become general manager for Henry Dangar’s properties. He moved to Queensland in 1861 to become a squatter and entered parliament in 1866, serving as a minister before Blackall, in one of his final acts, appointed him premier in 1870. Palmer wanted to bring in free education but that lost him support from Protestants and Catholics who benefited from existing state aid system and he was defeated at election in 1874. His later years were shrouded in controversy over his directorship of the failed Queensland National Bank. He died in 1898 before the Supreme Court cleared him and the other directors of blame.

Another of Queensland’s early governors is Sir Anthony Musgrave. Born in 1828 in Antigua, Musgrave was a true servant of global empire and held colonial positions in Antigua, governor of Nevis and Kitts, then Newfoundland, Natal, British Columbia, South Australia and Jamaica. He was appointed governor of Queensland in 1883 and clashed with premier Thomas MacIlwraith over Musgrave’s power to issue pardons. He died in office on October 9, 1888.

This grave commemorates James Forsyth Thallon, Commissioner of Railways. Thallon was born in Scotland in 1847 and moved to Queensland as a young man for health reasons. He joined the railways and worked his way up. He became Commissioner in 1902 and led Queensland Railways through a period of rapid expansion. He was a strong supporter of Queensland’s narrow gauge which he said was appropriate for a “young country”. A popular manager, his staff were devastated when he died in office in 1911 of dengue fever and they launched a subscription to erect this monument a year later.

This unusual monument marks the grave of Edward McGregor, another Scotsman, born in Edinburgh in 1862. He worked for fellow Scot Thallon in Queensland Railways for 20 years before buying the Grosvenor Hotel. He then built the Lyceum Theatre which he ran until his death in 1939. His wife Mary Jane died 18 years earlier and the sculpture is of McGregor mourning her death in 1921.

Brisbane was a multi-cultural entrepot in the 19th and early 20th century. On the western side of the cemetery is the Russian Orthodox plot. Brisbane was the first place in Australia to establish a parish of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1925, as many fled the Russian Revolution. That church was later rebuilt as St Nicholas Cathedral Church in Vulture St. It is one of four parishes in Brisbane with another at at Tweed Heads and a mission in Toowoomba. The Russian cross has three horizontal crossbeams, with the lowest one slanted downwards. The top crossbeams represents Pilate’s inscription INRI. The middle crossbeam is the main bar where the hands are fixed, while the bottom crossbeam represents the footrest which prolongs the torture.

Nearby is the Greek Orthodox section. Greeks are the seventh largest ethnic group in Australia with almost 400,000 people in the 2011 census of Greek ethnicity. While most lived in Melbourne or Sydney, some came to work the cane fields in Northern Queensland. Paul Patty was the youngest of three Patty brothers who came to Brisbane to open up two cafes on Queen St. Brisbane’s most famous Greek resident was Corfu-born Lady Diamantina Roma, wife of first governor George Bowen.

The Jewish portion on the eastern side of the cemetery has 800 graves. The first Brisbane Jewish community began in 1865, and its synagogue, Sha’arei Emunah (now Brisbane’s main synagogue in Spring Hill), was consecrated in 1886. There were then 446 Jews in Brisbane with 724 in Queensland. A second congregation opened in South Brisbane for Russian immigrant in 1928 and another opened at Surfers’ Paradise in 1961. Few immigrants settled in Brisbane after World War II, and the growth of the community has been slow with less than 2000 Jews in Queensland today.

Dr Harry Lightoller was born in Manchester in 1876 and came to Queensland where he was a well-known doctor in Ipswich. After a long trip to Europe where he studied “diseases of women” he returned to Queensland and retired to Brisbane with wife Minnie. They died within three years of each other in the 1920s.

Almost 8000 Australians died in the Gallipoli campaign of the First World War. They included Lt Leslie Norman Collin of the 15th Australian Infantry Battalion. He died two weeks into the conflict which had already descended into stalemate. A party from the 15th Battalion crept out the night of May 8 and captured the Turkish trench in front of Quinn’s Post, a key position at Anzac Cove. Next morning, they were driven back with many men killed or wounded as they ran for the Australian line. Leslie’s cousin Stanley Collin Larkin fought in Palestine with the 2nd Light Horse and would have almost certainly taken part in the charge at Beersheba. Stanley was tragically killed barely days before the armistice after “four year’s hard service” at Gaza on October 28, 1918.

The lives of all those who died in that war are commemorated in another monument at Toowong and the cemetery had a crucial role in making Anzac Day a national day of commemoration. When army chaplain Canon David Garland returned from the war he met many people at the graveyard honouring newly dead relatives. For 20 years Garland organised an annual Anzac Day service at Toowong. He helped form an Anzac Day committee and in 1923 the stone of remembrance and cross were laid in time for 1924’s Anzac Day. The “Evermore” inscription is from the Book of Ecclesiasticus as recommended by Rudyard Kipling for each Stone of Remembrance across the Commonwealth.

Brisbane racked up the dead again in the Second World War including Flight Lt Duncan Matheson. Matheson died in an air crash near Alice Springs aged 36. He was a passenger on a Douglas C-39 heading for an appointment at Birdum. The plane of the 21st Troop Carrier Squadron of the 374th Transport Carrier Group crashed after takeoff. The aircraft was overloaded and was a complete loss. It had arrived at Alice Springs the day before after a forced landing during bad weather after flying from Batchelor. After taking off it was seen to bank to the north east of the airfield whereupon it crashed and exploded in flames. Matheson was one of 11 men dead.

After all the war deaths it was a relief to see the Temple of Peace, though it too was a sad story. The heritage-listed memorial is a cross between mausoleum and Indian temple built in 1924 by Brisbane dissident and Wobbly, Richard Ramo. Its dedication took the form of a pacifist rally. Ramo was grieving for three sons killed in World War I, and an adopted son who committed suicide. “All my hope lies buried here,” Ramo wrote. He interred the recovered ashes of three of his sons in a red flagged coffin. “There is no Heaven! We Shall not meet again. Make thy Heaven here and thou shalt not have lived in vain,” is written near the ornate temple’s door.

My final stop was a pilgrimage of my own. I knew about boxer Peter Jackson from my Roma days as he died there in 1901. Jackson was a black boxer from the Caribbean who learned his ringcraft after moving to Sydney aged 16. He had success in the ring in Australia and Britain and moved to America where he drew after 61 rounds with Jim Corbett but world champion John L Sullivan would not fight a black man. After an injury he gradually went downhill and was advised to move to the drier air of Roma to treat TB where he died. He was buried in an unmarked grave at Toowong. After a public subscription, Sydney mason Lewis Page carved a dazzling white Carrara marble monument over Jackson’s grave with an image that looks nothing like Jackson. The inscription repeats what Shakespeare’s Antony said about Julius Caesar: “This was a man”. When Jack Johnson won a fight in Sydney in 1908 to become the world’s first black heavyweight champion, he too took a pilgrimage to see Jackson. A.E.Austin of the Brisbane Courier said Johnson spent a quiet few moments in silent contemplation at the grave of his brother-in-arms. “It was an impressive sight to see the living gladiator kneeling for a moment over the tomb of he who was Australia’s fistic idol”, Austin wrote.