The Broken Hill Hotel was originally owned and construction funded by Marion Frances Russell and her husband the 2nd Mayor of Victoria Park Alfred George Russell (1898-1903)
In 1897 the Russell’s contracted the architect Robert Thompson McMaster, who at that time was the then current, and first, Mayor of Victoria Park, to design and build a hotel on this land.
Robert Thompson McMaster, articled under Melbourne architect, Michael Egan for eight years before coming to Western Australia c. 1891. In Perth, McMaster briefly worked for the Public Works Department until 1892-93 when he established his own successful practice, initially in partnership with F.G. Renou although the partnership was short lived. McMaster was responsible for the design of a number of structures in and around Perth, including ‘Tukurua’ at 7 Rosendo Street, Cottesloe (P3454,) Forrest Farmhouse (fmr), 86 Mackie Street, Victoria Park (P3996), United Service Hotel at 43 St Georges Terrace (now demolished), Ozone Hotel at 1 Adelaide Terrace (now demolished, site of P16551 Ozone Reserve), Smith’s Chambers at 149 Barrack Street, and Broken Hill Hotel, Victoria Park.7 The Ozone Hotel and Broken Hill Hotel, Victoria Park were some of McMaster’s later works as an architect, as he appears to have had little involvement with the profession after returning from war service in South Africa in 1901 having attained the rank of Captain. He is credited with the design of Central Arcade in 1904 and maintained an office there for a period before the building was demolished in the 1920s for Forrest Place.8 McMaster Street (previously Hereford Street) in Victoria Park a short distance from Broken Hill Hotel, Victoria Park, is named in his honour, after he was killed in action at Gallipolli on 7th August 1915.
To the editor:
I was interested in your article “Local history awards aim to unearth gems’ (Southern Gazette, 26 March 2014, p. 5), and in particular the reference to Victoria Park’s first mayor, Captain Robert Thompson McMaster.
As Victoria Park’s local history co-ordinator Diana Wilson points out, Capt. McMaster served in the Boer War as head of the second contingent from Western Australia, and then, having volunteered again for the 10th Light Horse regiment in World War I, “fell fighting for King and Country at Gallipoli on August 7, 1915.” He would have been 50 years old later that year.
What the memorial plaque which gives this detail does not say, however, is that he was among seven officers and 73 men from the 10th Light Horse killed at the battle of The Nek, in circumstances portrayed graphically and accurately at the climax of Peter Weir’s 1981 film, Gallipoli.
The great historian of Australia’s part in the First World War, Dr Charles Bean, is never more eloquent than in describing the manner in which these men died.
In a hopeless situation after a failure in communications caused a supporting artillery bombardment to end seven minutes early, the men of the Victorian 8th Light Horse regiment had attacked first, only to be mown down by the massed Turkish rifles and machine guns which the communication breakdown had allowed to move back into defensive positions literally only a few metres from the Australian line.
What happened then according to Dr Bean was that:
The 10th went forward to meet death instantly, as the 8th had done, the men running as swiftly and as straight as they could at the Turkish rifles. With that regiment went the flower of the youth of Western Australia, sons of the old pioneering families, youngsters – in some cases two and three from the same home – who had flocked into Perth at the outbreak of war with their own horses and saddles in order to secure enlistment in a mounted regiment of the A.I.F. Men known and popular, the best loved leaders in sport and work in the West, then rushed straight to their death.
As the film movingly depicts, and Dr Bean describes, the men of the 10th had known full well what awaited them:
The saps were crowded with dead and wounded Victorians who had been shot straight back from the parapet and were being carried or helped to the rear. Among the Western Australians, who occasionally halted to let them pass, every man assumed that death was certain, and each in the secret places of his mind debated how he should go to it. Many seem to have simply determined that they would run forward as swiftly as possible, since that course was the simplest and most honourable, besides offering a far-off chance that, if everyone did the same, some at least might reach and create some effect upon the enemy. Mate having said goodbye to mate, the third line took up its position on the firestep.
The apparent uselessness of continuing the effort did not engender a second’s hesitation in the light horsemen. They knew that their operation was a small part of the crucial struggle in the campaign, and whatever their doubts, they could not feel sure that the whole structure of the plan might not depend upon their role in it. That they should falter, and so possibly “let down” their mates in the other columns at a critical moment, was unthinkable.
At the age of nearly 50, and having already seen active service in South Africa for which he was decorated, Capt. McMaster – an architect and family man with three sons and two daughters – could have avoided further service, particularly since he had been placed on the retired list after South Africa. It is to his eternal credit and that of Western Australia that he did not.
It would be fitting therefore, I think, for the Town of Victoria Park to honour both its first mayor and the 79 other Western Australians who died with him at The Nek, on the 100th anniversary next year of the battle. An appropriate venue within the town might be the Broken Hill Hotel, which he designed.
I leave this suggestion with you.
Dr Peter Gifford
PS: The references I have quoted are
Battye, J.S. (ed.), The Cyclopedia of Western Australia, Vol. I, Hesperian Press, Carlisle, WA, 1985 (orig. 1912), p. 410.
Bean, C.E.W., The Official History Of Australia In The War Of 1914-1918: Volume II, The Story Of Anzac: From 4 May, 1915 To The Evacuation, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1938, pp. 617-618, 616.
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