The temperature nudging 40 degrees and the work was hard. All the blokes were leaving and it sure beats getting into fights with shearers. Six shillings a day and a trip overseas. Twenty-eight-year-old horse breaker George McCarthy enlisted in the Australian Army for the First World War out there at Longreach, with the others from the Outback stations.
Back home at the Noccundra Hotel, 1,200 kilometres west of Brisbane, his mother Jane was married to the licensee. His younger sister Elise had just passed away. It was tough country, the local Aboriginals could still remember the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition passing that way just fifty years before.
George saw the world. He stopped at South Africa on the way over in 1916. Trained in England where he got in trouble for fighting. He was shot in the chest in the battle of Broodseinde Ridge in Belgium in 1917, and shot in the back through to his guts at Merris in France in 1918.
He died the next day, and is buried at St. Omer south-east of Calais in France. That’s why I came across George’s story.
I pulled up in the red stony desert by Noccundra and saw an isolated headstone. Kangaroo tracks were the only thing to keep me company. Listed on the memorial was George’s mother Jane, his sister Elsie, and George himself.
The burial place had been used for generations by descendants of a union between Europeans and the local Wangkumara people. When George enlisted, he was described as dark complexion, black eyes, black hair. He was one of around 1,000 First World War soldiers of Aboriginal descent.
His land is part of the Channel Country centred on Cooper Creek. George saw the green fields of France, but is forever remembered here in his Australian desert.