Diamantina Police Station

Diamantina Police Station

The Diamantina Police station was the most northerly police post ever operated in South Australia. Situated about twenty-four kilometres south of the Queensland border near the Birdsville track its Mounted Constables had to keep the peace among the Aborigines, between the Aborigines and the white settlers, collect tax, prevent sly-grog selling and generally look after the well being of the people in this sparsely settled country which was subject to prolonged heat and regular devastating floods.

Opened in 1884 its officers served under almost impossible conditions and were housed, even for that time, in unbearable quarters and the most unsuitable location possible. Some of them brought their wives along who would not see another white woman for months on end.

In 1883 Inspector of Police Brian Besley at Port Augusta suggested that a police station should be opened on the Birdsville Track in the vicinity of Cowarie station. However the police at Innamincka preferred a station at or near Birdsville on the Diamantina. A year later Besley asked permission to open a police post at Warrawarrawampaninna. As the northern railway had reached Hergott Springs traffic along the Birdsville Track had increased a great deal.

When finally opened, Besley changed its name to Diamantina Station after the river next to it. Before long Besley was asked to give advice to the police there about the treatment of Aborigines killing, or suspected of killing, each other.

From the regular reports we learn that, 'It has long been known that they believe that none of them die a natural death, but their superstition leads them to believe that another native has taken their fat from them while asleep, or have pointed a bone at them causing them to pine away and die. We have now fourteen natives under committal for murder in a case of this kind where a native shepherd was murdered as he was suspected of having pointed the bone at the man who had stolen his Lubra'. Besley's main concern was the cost to the government when bringing a case like this to trial which could amount to well over $400.

Later that year Constable Edward Napoleon Bonaparte Catchlove reported that, 'at about 10.30 pm a number of the Pandie Pandie natives sneaked up on the native camp and frightened an old native who ran to the stockyard where he was murdered in a brutal manner. It was done so quietly that none of us or the mailman heard anything of it until the next morning when a Lubra asked me if I had heard a blackfellow was killed by the Pandie Pandie blacks'. Once again it turned out that 'bone pointing had been the reason for the killing. Eventually it was George Aiston, Mounted Constable at Mungerannie, who was able to stop this practice some thirty years later.

Conditions were often harsh, not just for the troopers but also for the men on the surrounding stations where they were often very lonely. On 11 August 1886, Mounted Constable Reid, after having been informed by David Scandan, overseer at Berlino, charged John Needham with feloniously attempting to kill himself by stabbing at Wichawichinna. He was fined twenty Pounds. With very few signs in the area and shifting sand covering the tracks, it was easy to get lost in the sparsely settled country. In January 1893, John Moussa, an Afghan cameleer lost his way between the policepost and Goyder's Lagoon and died of thirst. He was only twenty-six years old. At about the same time, thirty-five years old A.R. Engman suffered the same fate. His body was found six months later at Ten Mile Creek.

Isolation certainly had its problems. When one Constable fell from his horse and broke his leg, it had to be amputated by the time he got to a doctor. After having tried to put up with the atrocious conditions at the police post, its usefulness and position were questioned when during the 1894 floods the station was completely surrounded by the waters from the Diamantina and Herbert rivers. Pandie Pandie station was suggested but the station manager objected to that plan.

Just as today the wheels of government turn slow, particularly if no political milage can be made from it. Therefore the police camp remained where it was. In 1895 constable Dittmer informed his superiors that, 'the buildings at this camp are now in a very dilapidated condition, quite unfit for human habitation and badly in want of some repair. During the recent rain water poured through the roof in all directions and we were almost forced to leave the building altogether, a great portion of the walls also being washed away. I further respectfully beg to ask that a very large size tarpaulin be forwarded in order to keep the government property dry during heavy falls of rain'.

Two years later nothing had been done to improve conditions at the police camp apart from delivering two tents. When closed some years later another police station was opened further south on the track at Mungerannie.


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