Following World War I, large numbers of returned Diggers searched for work and a place to call home in the rich mineral fields of western Queensland.
Many had already traversed the spinifex covered rocky ranges to the mining towns of Cloncurry, Ballara, and Selwyn, in search of work.
They proved to be valued workers who not only accepted but thrived in the barren landscape, living in humpy and tent camps while working under the blazing hot sun.
And while Mount Isa may have been born out of the rich mineral field discovered by John Campbell Miles in 1923, it was built by the hands of many, including the Diggers whose incalculable value to mining and community spirit saw a few shabby dub-overs expand into a viable town.
Several of the early Diggers to find their way to Mount Isa, included, Capt. J E Stevenson, J P Mulholland, A Hodgett, R A Clarke, C Mortensen and ‘Johno’ Harold Ambrose Johnson who rode in the Light Horse Brigade of the ‘Fighting Fifth’.
Patrick McCarthy was another of the early returned soldiers to work on the Cloncurry field before he joined Mount Isa Mine in 1930.
Born in Johannesburg, Patrick who was better known as ‘Paddy’, came to Australia as a lad and worked in a coal mine in Victoria before joining the 5th Battalion, of the 2nd Brigade of Infantry in 1914.
He was at the landing of Gallipoli and the evacuation; he also served in Egypt and France.
And while he chose not to talk of his war experiences, he devoted his life to building the comradeship and advocating on the welfare of members of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League (forerunner of the Returned Services League).
While many of the Diggers were reticent about their war experiences so too were many women, all with their own memories of the impact war had on their families.
One such woman was Edie O’Hanlon who was a steadfast attendee each year, at Mount Isa’s Anzac Day and the Armistice Day commemorations.
Growing up in Exeter, Devonshire, England, she was only 14-years-old, when war was declared in August 1914.
And while she may have been too young to fully understand the consequences of war, she volunteered with the Land Army as a cook in the Army Officers’ Mess.
“It was a position coveted among the women in the army because the tucker was so good”, she said.
Innocently, she had expected the war to last a matter of months, but as the years dragged by, she became discouraged and more world weary.
Both Edie’s father and brother enlisted in the war, her father to return home injured while her brother was captured and became a prisoner of war in Germany.
Three of her cousins enlisted with the British army; one was killed, another a violinist had an arm blown off and the third cousin, who was a talented tap dancer, arrived back from the war with no legs.
For Edie, familial sadness was sidelined, in November 1918, when news arrived of the armistice signing at Compiegne in France.
When interviewed by Nadine Kuhn 70 years later, Edie was a frail but cognisant lady of 88 years who recalled vividly the jubilation at the news of the armistice signing at Compiegne in France.
“I was only 18-years-old when the war ended but by that time, I knew I wanted to leave England and all the sadness, to start a new life either in Canada or Australia.”
Australia won the coin toss and Edie arrived in Sydney two years after the war, in 1920, on the last ex servicewomen’s ship.
Sadly, Armistice Day and the significance of the signing of the agreement between the Allies and Germany did not deter Adolf Hitler and his Nazi army from instigating yet another war, World War II.
Once again, Edie, like thousands of mothers, had to face the prospects that one of her family would go to war, not to fight against Hitler but in another war in the highlands of New Guinea, this time against Australia’s new foe – Japan.
Edie’s concern for the safety of her son was compounded when she received word that her family home, in Exeter, which had withstood the bombings of World War I, had received a direct bomb hit and her entire family was killed in 1940. When questioned, she was reluctant to voice the nightmares of war and the consequences that followed each of them.
Instead like mothers of all nationalities including Aboriginal, she would allow a little self-indulgence, with a tear or two and her private memories of loved ones and hard times, as she stood reservedly amongst the crowd on Anzac Day and Armistice Day.
She said she took solace in the words of Capt Gilbert Dyett, federal president R.S.S.I.L.A. when he addressed the 20th anniversary of Gallipoli in 1938 and said,
“No nation likes war, but every nation has a just and an honourable pride in the achievements of their men who have been called upon to defend the mother country from an aggressor.”
Australia’s role in World War I may have consolidated her nationhood through the valour and self-sacrifice of the soldiers in creating the Anzac legend and who became known as Diggers, but it was also The Great War that destroyed a generation of men.
For Edie O’Hanlon who naively believed that the signing of the peace agreement would end all wars, she never missed a commemorative service in Mount Isa.
It was a time to join local Diggers and their families as they grieved in respectful silence for one minute, at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month every year on the anniversary of the Armistice of Compiegne in 1918.
Researched and written by Kim-Maree Burton www.kimmareeburton.com.
Information sourced from the Australian War Memorial archives, The Cloncurry Advocate and the North West Star.
Photographs courtesy of the North Queensland History Collection and the North West Star.