By Lynley Wallis and Heather Burke
Many of the locations of camps and barracks of the Native Mounted Police are not well known beyond small groups of—usually local—people. One exception to this is the NMP barracks about 25 km outside of Boulia in northwest Qld. Located on a picturesque waterhole, this site is promoted as a local tourist attraction and, in addition to picnic facilities, contains some interpretive signage about the site’s history. The extensive vehicle tracks in the vicinity are testimony to the site being well and truly on the ‘worth seeing radar’ of travellers to the region.
As best we can determine from the archival record, the Boulia barracks was first established in 1878 (though the interpretive signage at the site suggests it began in 1875). It was initially controlled by Sub-Inspector Henry Kaye, but the command was very soon thereafter handed over to Sub-Inspector Ernest Eglinton (who later became Police Magistrate at Boulia in 1884). In 1883 Sub-Inspector Marcus Beresford moved from Blackall to take charge at Boulia but was soon after murdered in the Selwyn Ranges north of Boulia whilst on patrol near Cloncurry (The Western Champion 9 February 1883). It’s not clear who took over the Boulia barracks after his death but they remained operational until 1892, making it one of the longer-lived NMP camps in Qld.
The residents of the barracks fluctuated through time, with four Aboriginal troopers being posted there in 1879, 10 in 1880, 6 during the period 1881–1883 and 4 in the period 1884–1885; beyond those dates we’ve not been able to ascertain how many troopers may have been present. In a typical NMP camp, in addition to the troopers, there was usually a white Sub-Inspector, and often a white Constable who typically served as the ‘camp keeper’ and/or farrier. Given this, it seems likely that there was at one time numerous domestic structures at the Boulia NMP site to accommodate the staff, in addition to buildings for equipment such as a saddlery room and storehouse. Noting the deep waterhole at the site, an 1882 account of the site in The Queenslander noted that:
… By-the-bye this is the most respectable looking native police camp I have seen in Queensland, there seems to be a place for everything and everything in its place (The Queenslander 6 May 1882)
suggesting it was a well ordered and neat little community.
Sadly, today little remains of the site but a few dilapidated stone structures and a dispersed scatter of artefacts, mostly fragments of glass, ceramics and rusting metal.
However, a visit to the local Stone House Museum in Boulia revealed two photographs of the stone structures at the site from earlier days when they were much more substantial. These photographs are apparently held by the Qld Police Museum in Brisbane, but appear to be undated.
Given its promotion as a tourist attraction (complete with picnic table and rubbish bin) and the well-known fishing hole at the site, we imagine there must be – stashed away in dusty cupboards and sheds – quite a few old photographs of the barracks from days gone by, taken by locals or by tourists from further afield. If by chance you yourself have such old photographs of the site, or you know of someone else who might have some, we’d love to hear from you. It would be particularly good if you have some idea of when the photographs were taken. Dated photographs help us gain an idea of the speed at which the stone structures have deteriorated and what they originally looked like.
Of course, we’ll acknowledge the assistance of anyone who can help us out, along with including you on the acknowledgements page of this blog.
Evans, R. 2010 The country has another past: Queensland and the History Wars. In F. Peters-Little, A. Curthoys and J. Docker (eds), Passionate Histories: Myth, Memory and Indigenous Australia, pp.48–105. Canberra: ANU E Press.