It was January 1, 1915, the Gallipoli landing lay ahead but the attack riveted the nation and soldiers overseas. The then attorney-general, Billy Hughes, agitated for the internment of enemy nationals. It became background noise to conscription campaigns. A young Victorian Anzac was to write to the people of Broken Hill: "I can tell you we will be letting the Turks know there will be more to shoot at than a picnic train."

But that New Year's Day, the war was a world away from Broken Hill.

Some 1200 residents had climbed into freshly swept ore trucks fitted with benches and set off on the Manchester Unity Order of Oddfellows Club annual picnic train ride to Silverton near the South Australian border.

Gool Mohamed and his older accomplice Mulla Abdulla waited to begin their two-man war on the dusty outskirts. There was little cover. Four decades of mining had cleared the saltbush and trees for firewood.

The passengers were sitting ducks. They hit 10 people. Three died. Adults threw themselves over children, some leapt off the slow-moving carriages and bolted.

The train drifted out of sight and the two assailants fled armed with an elderly Martini-Henry breech-loading rifle, a Snider-Enfield carbine, a revolver and home-made bandoliers. They headed for a quartz outcrop now known as White Rocks Reserve about two kilometres away.

The White Australia policy was in full bloom, a curious anomaly in a mining town founded on the camel's back. Dromedaries were cheaper to run than bullocks but the cameleers from the North-West Frontier, although British subjects, were hugely resented, denied union membership, confined with their smelly beasts to camel camps outside town and allowed only Aboriginal women. The Barrier Truth newspaper fulminated against "The Afghan Menace"; the opposition Barrier Miner newspaper ran a series demanding the cameleers be thrown out of town.

When bullets came for answers, they knew that they were close.
Patsy Adams Smith

The lead, zinc and silver from Broken Hill's line of lode was worth $100 billion. Profit vied with bitter strikes and lockouts and turned the town into a citadel of union power. Broken Hill gave the nation BHP, actor Chips Rafferty, soprano June Bronhill, comedian the Sandman and painter Pro Hart and its hard-drinking masculine culture provided the setting for the seminal 1971 film Wake in Fright. But in 1915, remorseless isolation made Broken Hill an inward-looking society whose 33,000 residents disliked outsiders and pigeon-holed the rest of the world with the question: "You come from Away?"