Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Special Collections Fossickings 29: The Golden Link – Charters Towers and the Boer war.

Boer War memorial kiosk, Lissner Park, Charters Towers Albums, NQ Photographic Collection, ID 11096.
When did you last visit Charters Towers? Have you ever admired the unusual war memorial in Lissner Park, commemorating those who participated in the Boer War at the turn of the 19th century? Unlike later memorials relating to the two world wars that followed, memorials of the Boer War are few and this kiosk is unique.

Why Charters Towers? What made the Boer War in faraway South Africa a matter of such passion to residents of “the World”- as the town was sometimes called? Joan Neal’s honours thesis and her essay “Charters Towers and the Boer War” suggest that gold – a mineral vital to the economies of both Australia and South Africa – was a vital link. Most of the capital funding the deep reef mining so important to Charters Towers came from British companies, so it was likely that the industrial and commercial sector would be aware of shared interests. Even the wage-earning miner might have felt a certain indebtedness to the nation which had helped advance the prosperity of his town.

But gold also forged more personal links. Miners formed something of an international community at this period and many miners from the Charters Towers fields had already travelled to South Africa to try their luck in the Transvaal, often leaving families and friends behind. From their letters home the people of the Towers were kept well-informed about events and conditions and would have readily sympathised with the “Uitlanders” - as the expatriate miners were termed.
People walking past the new Boer War memorial kiosk in Lissner Park. Charters Towers Historical Photographs, NQ Photographic Collection, ID 11497.
Certainly enthusiasm for the British cause in South Africa seemed particularly passionate in the Towers and was encouraged by local newspapers, the Northern Miner and the Charters Towers Mining Standard. Both were eager to present their citizens as patriotic, adventurous and willing to do their bit. While virtually none of the volunteers had military experience, good riders and good shots were much sought after. Ms Neal estimates that at least 100 Charters Towers men went to South Africa, of which mercifully only 2 were killed. Elaborate farewells for the departing men became regular occurrences in the town, and knowing that some of their own were in the thick of it undoubtedly increased local interest in the war. News of each engagement was eagerly devoured and the relief of Mafeking was greeted with long and loud celebrations – followed by more sober thanksgiving in the churches the next day!
Farewell to volunteers about to depart for the war. Dunn Album, NQ Photographic Collection, ID 16463.
Perhaps because the Charters Towers memorial was erected in 1910, eight years after the conflict ended, its concept and design reflect more peaceable times, catering for the pleasure and recreation of the community as a whole. Sadly a more disastrous conflagration, to be marked by more sombre monuments, was only a few years away.

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