The Battle of the Margaret River
In 1880, Australia’s borders were open, with no quarantine restrictions, and few immigration controls. Chinese miners had been flooding into the Territory goldfields for years. The Margaret River goldfields, north of Pine Creek, were worked by two rival Chinese factions, one from Hong Kong and the other, Macao. When they weren’t attacking each other with muzzle-loaders and shovels, they united against the Australian miners.
In late August, 1880, a young digger by the name of Fred Stone asked a storekeeper called Ah See to look after a bag of his wash-dirt overnight to save him carrying it back to his claim. For some reason the request enraged the Chinese man, who responded by pushing the Australian out onto the track.
Punches were thrown, and the furious storekeeper shouted for help from his countrymen, who came running from all directions. Picking up stones, they pelted Fred from all sides until he broke and ran. His Australian comrades, up at the camp, were greeted with the sight of their mate running flat out towards them, pursued by a mob of two hundred rock-throwing Chinese.
What choice did the white diggers have? Filling their own pockets with rocks they rushed to their mate’s defence, pouring a highly accurate barrage of missiles down on the Chinese. Meanwhile, the only policeman within cooee, Constable Lucanus, ran back and forth trying to quell the riot. He eventually succeeded, but not before he too had been peppered with rocks in the body and legs.
An eyewitness to the fight, a reporter from the Northern Territory Times and Gazette wrote:
“Some of the incidents of the battle were amusing. One powerful young European came to the front and intended to throw stones in return, but he became a splendid object for the enemy; and instead of throwing, he found himself sufficiently occupied in avoiding the missiles. He admitted himself (that) it was a most unsatisfactory method of fighting.”
The smallest white man there was apparently the best rock chucker, being described as a human Gatling Gun, causing carnage amongst the “enemy.” Not every man was armed with rocks: two diggers with rifles, and a local Aboriginal man called Billy Muck with his tomahawk, stood by, watching in case things got out of hand.
In the end, five of the most violent of the Chinese were arrested, taken to the “shackle” and tried for affray. Within a few years the area was mainly worked out and abandoned. Interestingly, a portion of the Margaret River goldfields has recently been designated as a public fossicking area.
Researched and written by Greg Barron.
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