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Australia's first terrorist victim was 17 years old

An annual picnic organised on the first day of the year by the Manchester Unity Order of Oddfellows started out with all the excitement such an event brings. But by the end of the day six people would be dead and seven injured. It would be considered the first terrorist attack on Australian soil.

Seventeen year old Alma Cowie was one of the excited 1200 people who crowded onto the train made up of 40 open ore trucks, ready for a day out from Broken Hill to Silverton. Only three kilometres out of town, Alma noticed a lonely ice cream truck standing by the tracks.

Alma Cowie was on her way to a picnic when the unthinkable happened.

"Look," she cried, "that's an ice cream cart standing beside the railway line. There is no one near it. What on earth is it doing there?"

As they got nearer to the cart, another passenger pointed out the fact they could see a little red flag with a crescent and star. The Turkish flag.

It was 1915 and Turkey had entered into the new war, later to be known as the Great War, on Germany's side. The little Turkish flag on the lonely ice cream truck was a declaration of war by two Turkish men, Mulla Abdulla and Gool Mahomed. Both men, proud of their home country, felt they had to strike a blow on 'enemy' territory.

The enemy territory was Australia and the enemy they chose to strike were happy picnickers on their way to Silverton. With a rifle each, the men, one a camel driver and the other, the owner of the ice-cream stand, hid behind the bank that marked the line of the Umberumberka-Broken Hill water line and waited for a train.

As the train full of picnickers began to pass where the two men were set up, the dead and wounded began to fall. Their first victim was young Alma. When her friend Clarrie O'Brien realised they were shooting at the train it was too late. He had turned to warn her, but Alma was lying on the floor of the train with a bullet in her head. Others killed that day included William John Shaw, Alfred Elton Millard and James Craig.

The grave of Australia's first terrorist victim, Alma Cowie in Broken Hill cemetery. Courtesy Findagrave.

The two men made their escape, but were hunted down and cornered by local police. They were eventually shot dead. Alma was buried in Broken Hill cemetery in a family plot.


  • 'Battle of Broken Hill', Wikipedia, accessed 28th February, 2023, Battle of Broken Hill - Wikipedia

  • 'Famous Disasters', The Mail, Saturday 14 April, 1951, Page 1

  • 'Broken Hill Tragedy', Daily Herald, Friday 8 Jan, 1915, Page 7

  • 'Picnic Train Disaster', Noosa News, Thursday 15 March, 1973, Page 10

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