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Victims remembered 100 years on

Friday, 2nd January, 2015

By Michael Murphy

More than 300 people - most of them Cowies - commemorated the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of Broken Hill at the Sulphide Street Railway Museum yesterday morning.

Shade was at a premium.  The crowd fought off a harsh summer sun by spreading out around the front of the Sulphide Street Railway Museum and into the carpark of the adjacent City Council administration building.

The smart people brought umbrellas to escape the blazing sun while the speakers during the event took shelter underneath a small marquee.

A large portion of the crowd were in some way related to the Cowie family, descendants or relatives of 17-year-old Alma Cowie, one of four killed during the attack.

The family, led by Joy Sanderson, had organised a reunion to coincide with yesterday’s event. More than 100 Cowies are expected at the reunion’s finale at the Democratic Club today.

Fran McKinnon OAM, National Trust Broken Hill Chairman, was the MC for the commemoration event at the Sulphide Street Railway Museum, and just after 10am, the time the picnic train left the station 100 years before, she introduced Padre Ross Mawby for the opening prayer.

The padre read out the names of those killed and injured during the attack.

“These were the innocent, these were the unsuspecting, these were the unprepared,” the padre said.

He told the crowd that the perpetrators were also casualties, men who were marginalised, wore different clothing, and observed different customs during a time when discrimination was rife.

He spoke of other “Afghans” who were able to overcome “these continual pressures” and provided cover and water for police during the siege.

“We hear little about their heroism,” the padre said. “Many lessons should have been learned from the events of January 1, 1915, the Battle of Broken Hill, but I doubt they have been.”

Broken Hill Mayor Wincen Cuy welcomed the descendants and relatives of those killed and injured in the attack, and he told the crowd he was amazed at how well the events of that day were known around the world.

“I was lucky enough to be in Gallipoli in June,” the Mayor told the crowd. “I had a Turkish guide who asked me where I was from and I said Broken Hill, and they said ‘We know about the attack’,” he said.

“So there is recognition around the world.”

He said it was not only a momentous day for Broken Hill, but for all Australia. 

“We all should be proud to be Broken Hillites.”

Simon Molesworth AO QC, the executive chair of the International National Trusts Organisation, then told the crowd that people around the world shared a common vision for respecting the past.

“When you build a nation there are milestone events that occur and some of them are sad, and you wish they didn’t happen,” he said.

“But when they do happen, we learn from them and that’s the essence of heritage.”

He said the Picnic Train attack “established Broken Hill as being part of the Australian community that stood up for the values that we all shared in those days, and that we all hopefully still share today.”

The Minister for Western NSW Kevin Humphries unveiled the plaque that commemorates the tragedy. The plaque adorns a two-tonne slab of granite at the foot of the old railway station in Blende Street, supplied by Mawson’s Concrete and laid by Gary Radford OAM.

The names of those killed are inscribed on it: Alma Cowie (aged 17), William Shaw (aged 46) Alfred Millard (aged 31), and James Greig (aged 69).

“We are still a young country,” the Minister said. “If we do not recognise milestones, if we do not recognise people that have gone before us, in this case, not that long ago, the sacrifices they made in building this community, we will lose our identity.

“We live in a free country, and unfortunately the events 100 years ago are tragic, there is no doubt about that.

“But there will always be a group of people or someone that wants something that we have got.

“And what we have got in this country is something fundamentally special.

“It’s freedom.

“We still live with a pioneering spirit, where people can have a go.”

The public was invited to lay wreaths and tributes at the foot of the monument and Sulphide Street Railway Museum curator Christine Adams then thanked all those involved in making the day a success.

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