Mount Isa History Column

A huge crowd gathered to pay their respects to our diggers on Anzac Day in Mount Isa in 1956.
A huge crowd gathered to pay their respects to our diggers on Anzac Day in Mount Isa in 1956.

In 1923, nearly eight years after the Anzacs landed on Gallipoli Peninsula, the emergent camp of prospectors and miners grew in the new mining field of Mount Isa.

World War 1 veterans had already traversed the spinifex covered rocky ranges of the western Queensland mineral fields, in search of work, and when the word spread that men were needed on the new Mount Isa mine site, those that ventured forth proved to be valued workers who not only accepted but thrived in the barren tent camp under the blazing hot sun.

It was amongst these few men that the first informal Anzac Day in 1925 was remembered and honoured, in Mount Isa, with a simple meal of boiled beef and spuds at Mrs Boyd’s tin and hessian boarding house.

By 1928, the veteran numbers had increased and plans were discussed to form a sub branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia.

Capt. J. E. Stevenson was elected the first president and after 18 months the new R.S.S.& A.I.L.A. sub branch (much later to be rebirthed as the R.S.L. – Returned Servicemen’s League) was offered an old hut, at the top of Isa Street, in which to hold their regular meetings.

From these humble but invariably proud gatherings, 89 years ago, the local diggers grew Anzac Day commemorations in Mount Isa.

But it was in 1931, eighty veterans gathered for lunch in Boyd’s Hall, West Street, (next to what today is called the Icon on Isa) to reminisce the Great War, which they were led to believe was the war to end all wars, and their fallen comrades.

This was also the first year, of many, that the ladies of the newly formed local branch of the Country Women’s Association catered for the men.

By 1933, Boyd’s Hall was no longer big enough to cater for Anzac Day lunch so a move was made to Smith’s Picture Theatre where along with the traditional lunch, badges were sold and a collection taken up which would to go towards a memorial over the graves of the fallen at the local cemetery.

Many of the early miners such as R A Clarke who at the young age of 16 years, joined the navy as a diver and went on to serve on H.M.A.S. Australia during the end of the war. 

In later years with the introduction of the Anzac Day Parade, he led the Parade. 

A respected citizen, he who went on to serve the community as Chairman of the Ambulance Board, Chairman of the Cloncurry Shire Council, and was a member of the first Fire Brigade Board.

The first Dawn Service, in 1941, was conducted at the flag pole in front of the R.S.S.&A.I.L.A. building in Isa Street. 

In 1945 the three local schools were invited to march in the parade which moved from Kruttschnitt Park to the Star Picture Theatre in Marian Street. 

But it wasn’t until 1949 after the end of the Second World War that the veterans were able to march in three contingents; World War One,  World War Two and the Air Force. 

It was also the year where a slight change to the traditional lunch gave way to a buffet dinner under the stars at Spear Creek.

After the Second World War, Australia and indeed Mount Isa welcomed many former Europeans. 

One such emigrant was Charles Fryc, a former professional Army Officer in the Horse Artillery section of the Czechoslovakian Army who embraced his new life in Mount Isa during 1950.

While he didn’t march in the Anzac Day Parades, he was always an enthusiastic supporter and spectator.

Mount Isa continued to welcome World War One and World War Two veterans, including ‘Bluey’ King who arrived in 1948 straight from the Army. 

He was with the 7th Division in New Guinea and later spent two years in Japan.

Nick Alexi, a former soldier with the Cyprus Army which fought alongside the British Army, arrived in Mount Isa and soon was employed at Mount Isa Mines as a plat man on the Man and Supply cage.

It was several years before Nick and his fellow Cypriots marched under the Cyprus banner.

Another notable veteran and MIM shift boss was ‘Curly’ Irwin who as the ex-commando R.S.M. led many Anzac Day Parades.  He saw service for his country in the Middle East, Crete, Greece, New Guinea and Solomon Islands.

Anzac Day in Mount Isa was soon becoming a melting pot of nationalities with not only World War One, World War Two and the Boer Wars represented but now Korean War veterans were invited to march.

From 1958 through to 1964, the Anzac Parade continued to quietly grow in attendance before the 50th Anniversary of that fateful landing on Gallipoli Peninsula was honoured in 1965.

But it was the Anzac Day Parade in 1966 which broke all participant numbers in 25 years with the Parade attracting close to 1,000 marchers who kept in step to the marching tunes of the Mount Isa Silver Band, the Scottish Pipe Band and the various school fife bands.

The pride and respect of the veterans was closely followed by the enthusiasm of the children representing the eight local schools, Girl Guides, Boy Scouts and various youth clubs.

This enthusiasm continues today as one lad from Saint Joseph’s Primary School attested through his search to learn more about the grave of a World War Two veteran, at Mount Isa Cemetery.

Ryan Philp, 10, was given this project, during the recent school holidays, and with the guidance of the ladies in the Historical Room at Mount Isa Library, he was able to learn more of Pte. Robert Skelly who served during World War Two, fought in Papua New Guinea, and who died in Mount Isa in 1964.

With this knowledge, Ryan will continue the plea of fallen soldiers, not to forget past sacrifices – Lest We Forget!

Researched and written by Kim-Maree Burton

Information sourced from the archives of the Cloncurry Advocate, Mt Isa Mail, Australian War Museum, the Courier Mail, Mount Isa Library and the North West Star.

The Anzac Parade of 1958 as it left the marshalling area of Kruttschnitt Park, down Church Street, right along Station Street, across Isa Street Bridge to the R.S.S.I.L.A. Hall.

The Anzac Parade of 1958 as it left the marshalling area of Kruttschnitt Park, down Church Street, right along Station Street, across Isa Street Bridge to the R.S.S.I.L.A. Hall.

St Joseph's School children marching in the Anzac Day Parade of 1996.

St Joseph's School children marching in the Anzac Day Parade of 1996.