I acknowledge the Traditional Owners on whose land I walk, I work and I live. I pay my respects to Elders past, present and future.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

But you’re gone, Digger, gone – all your troubles are o’er – May the soft winds of Ingham blow over your rest

Seeing the Celotto/ Sheahan family members proudly riding their horses in the ANZAC parade today reminds us that late in the nineteenth century an Ingham resident, Captain Alfred Henry, bred horses for use by the British Army in India for Australian horses were in high demand by the British military. Australian mounted units too were held in great esteem for their riding and shooting skills.
Further, as the parade files past the Mafeking Tree and turns eyes to the saluting officer it is a moment to reflect on the valour of local servicemen and women, and the heartache of families waiting at home for their return. The story of the Mafeking tree is the story of John (Jack) Simpson.
Jack Simpson volunteered for the Second Boer War which began on October 11 1899 and ended on May 31, 1902. The Boer War took place in what is now South Africa. The area was then divided between the British held territory of Cape Colony and Transvaaland Orange Free State held by the Boers who were descendants of Dutch settlers. The Boers declared war on Britain but the actual reasons for the discord between the two, the Boers and the British, and which of those reasons precipitated the war have been the subject of contention. Certainly, the Boers had reason to wonder about Britain’s interest in Transvaaland as they had already made a raid on the Boers in 1896 for the gold mines in Boer territory. Furthermore the Boers regarded the positioning of British troops on their borders as confrontational.
Jack arrived in Australia as a baby in 1878. His father, Stephen, took the position of Telegraph Master in Ingham in 1882. There was an Army tradition in the family with Stephen having served in the British Army. Along with the other Australian volunteers, Jack served in the Queensland Mounted Infantry and was reputed to be a fine horseman and a tough bushman. He was one of those troops besieged in the town of Mafeking for seven months from October 1899 to May 1900 and was wounded during the relief operations, His father planted the Mafeking Tree, a blackbean tree, on Palm Terrace, to commemorate the military relief of Mafeking. Celebrations of a similar sort were held right across Australia simultaneously.
Given his descendants’ annual presence in the Ingham ANZAC parade, with their horses and uniforms giving us all a real taste of the past, the last word on war here should rightfully be that of Dan Sheahan, our local bard, who’s pen never failed to nail the sentiment. In 1944 he poured out a poem ‘The Death of “Digger” Martin on the death of George “Digger” Martin of Long Pocket. Mourning the loss of a friend and reminiscing about their shared youth and hopes he ended his poem with these stanzas:
And we’ll saddle the ponies and solitude seek
Where the black bream were biting on Broadwater creek –
And there well away from the world’s mad strife
We’d smoke and we’d talk on the problems of life.

But you’re gone, Digger, gone – all your troubles are o’er
And the shade of Broadwater will know you no more –
May the soft winds of Ingham blow over your rest
In peace and in war, you were one of the best.

Soldiers of the Light Horse Brigade 1914, Hinchinbrook Shire Library Photograph Collection

Sheahan, Dan. “The Death of “Digger” Martin,” in Songs of the Canefields. Ingham: Josephine R. Sheahan, 1972.

Vidonja Balanzategui, The Herbert River Story. Ingham: Hinchinbrook Shire Council, 2011.

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