Death of a hero
Saturday, 10th June, 2017
By Craig Brealey
Broken Hill’s most famous political leader, Percy Brookfield, was murdered at a train station 96 years ago and to this day no-one can say for certain that he was not assassinated.
Now a doctor in Adelaide who has been researching the history of train lines in South Australia has come across new evidence about the sensational death of the Socialist firebrand and local hero.
On Monday night John Wilson will be in the city to present his findings to the public at the Broken Hill Historical Society’s offices.
Dr Wilson is writing a book about the history of the Riverton to Clare and Spalding railway for its centenary next year. Brookfield was killed at Riverton station in March 1921.
The union leader had been elected by the people of Broken Hill in 1917 as a Labor Party member but his Socialist beliefs brought him into conflict with the party.
Brookfield supported not only the mineworkers but the Russian revolution and was among the leaders of the campaign against Conscription in World War One.
In 1919, he resigned from the ALP but the next year he stood for parliament again and was re-elected with an even greater majority as a member of the Industrial Socialist Labor Party.
Brookfield now held the balance of power in the NSW Parliament and was taking the train from Broken Hill to Sydney to resume his seat when he was shot dead at Riverton by a Russian immigrant called Koorman Tomayeff.
The immediate suspicion that he had been assassinated gained credence when Tomayeff was quickly declared insane and locked away in a mental asylum. He was never put on trial.
The evidence in the case has slowly been revealed over the years, the latest being in Broken Hill-born author Paul Robert Adams’ excellent biography “Australia’s Best Hated Man: The Life and Death of Percy Brookfield” published in 2010.
Dr Wilson’s talk on Monday night promises to add more detail to the intriguing case that includes information about a woman who might have been a prostitute.
“Hitherto there has been no mention of the identity of the young woman that Tomayeff was associated with, whose death the week before the shooting had left him despondent,” he said.
But the killer might also have had a grievance against the Broken Hill unions, which Dr Wilson will explain.
His talk will also touch on other matters relevant to the Silver City where he worked at the hospital in 1972 as a young medico, and his wife, Patricia, worked in general practice with Dr Graham Fisk.
So if you want to know about a train called “The Cabbage” that brought fresh produce to Broken Hill in the early days, and another, “The Broken Hill Express” get to the BH Historical Society in the old Synagogue in Wolfram Street on Monday at 7.30pm.