Preserving the Anzac legacy in the north west

ANZAC:Peter Craigie (back row second from the left) before leaving for France in 1916.
ANZAC:Peter Craigie (back row second from the left) before leaving for France in 1916.

The Cloncurry Shire Council will officially open a new Anzac memorial in Dajarra on Tuesday. 

The ceremony will take place at the  Dajarra caravan Park at 1pm April 17.

Currently there is no public place of memorial in Dajarra and the new memorial will ensure the lasting legacy of the Anzac is remembered and preserved.

A light lunch and community gathering with councillors will follow the ceremony at Jimberella Hall.

The memorial will help the community pay tribute to people like Private Peter Craigie, the forgotten Digger of the North West.

Peter Craigie was born on Roxburgh Station near Boulia in 1895 and died in Cloncurry Hospital of heart and kidney failure in 1946.

His father Jim Craigie was a stockman and his mother a Pitta Pitta woman known only as Bunny.

Peter Craigie suffered from the effects of being gassed on the Western Front in the First World War,  one of many Aboriginal soldiers who volunteered but who remained second class citizens on their return.

In 1915, aged 20, Peter was married to Daisy Cusack in Adelaide, and the following year he enlisted as a private, 32nd Battalion, and sent to Egypt then France.

“He was always a strong man, a very good boxer who could look after himself both in and out of the ring,” noted Olive Bohning, the oldest of Peter Craigie’s surviving daughters.

“But he was afraid of dying over there and all he could talk about was one day getting home to Dajarra”.

He arrived in Marseilles in June 1916 and was a battalion driver until invalided to England in 1918 after being gassed while with a 5th Division artillery detail near Etaple.

Discharged in 1919 – an ill man but with no pension – he came back to the North-West where he and Daisy had he first of 10 children while he worked as a drover.

He was tied to the rhythms of a timeless land; one trip nearly 800kms from Brunette Downs in the NT to Springvale, near Boulia, took six months, the cattle making their own pace so they could fatten along the way.

“It was great fattening country,” said grandson Joe ‘Grubby’ Rogers. ”Great seasonal grass all the way.”

During the 1930s Depression there wasn’t much work around so Craigie and a few mates in Dajarra decided to ride their bikes to Boulia to look for work.

With no bitumen, their tyres were full of punctures, so they stuffed them with spinifex and kept going.

He finally got stock work on Goodwood Station but it was taking its toll.

“He was crook then, and he would have good days and bad days,” Olive Bohning said. “According to the doctor he was supposed to eat green stuff, vegetables but out droving you couldn’t get them.”

Craigie was delivering a mob of bulls from Morstone station near Camooweal to what was then Vestey’s Wave Hill Station, NT when he suffered his final illness.

“He would get off his horse and sit in the shade under a bough,” Olive said.

“His stomach was all swollen with the gas.”

He made it back to Cloncurry where he died in hospital.

Researched by Kim-Maree Burton. Written by Ian Mackay, North West Star, April 23, 2001.