Dead Man Rocks:- the murder of Phil Mack:-

Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 – 1954), Thursday 16 December 1937, page 11


The Murder of Phil Mack
DEAR “Non-Com.”-I am indebted to an old-timer and friend of South Guildford, Mr. W. E. Routledge, for sending me “The Western Mai”, and I always read with interest the Dolly Pot. One sees some glaring inaccuracies of early day events, but this can be expected after the long lapse of years.

A recent item brought back memories of the first battery we put on the Imperial Reward, near Mt. Flora, and I think it was the first battery on the North Coolgardie Goldfield. It cost £280 and consisted of miniature rock breaker and rollers worked by two handles”man power”. It was soon discarded in favour of a sixteen-foot, stamper head, being sent up from Southern Cross, while a spring cart was broken up and the springs were set on edge in a cut out cavity framed in a log. We were dollying up to 150 ozs per ton and carted the sand to any waterhole we could find and using a six foot box lined with one of our blankets ran the water from a twenty gallon canvas bag through the box. We lost over ten ozs to the ton!


We finally purchased a proper retort from a storekeeper at Southern Cross, and later got splendid drinking water in a well two hundred yards north of Mt Flora. This well was sunk eighty feet through slate and was permanent.
My object in writing, however, is to draw attention to an article in your issue of May 13, contributed by “Materfamilias,” entitled

“The Murder of Phil Mack, 1894.”

Evidently your contributor was conversant with the movements of Phil Mack prior to the tragedy, and the description of the actual murder is near the mark, but the events following, as described by “Materfamilias” are not quite correct. Leading up to our party’s interest in Phil Mack’s death I will solicit your patience while I hearken back some months. At this time our party consisted of Oscar Oslander, better known as ‘Yank’, Gilbert Henry Swincer and myself, Norman K. Sligo.

Owing to a scarcity of water for our horses at Kurnalpi, we arranged that Yank and I would prospect E.N.E. of Kurnalpi, while Harry Swincer would remain on the patch. We travelled out about one hundred and fifty miles but got into desert waterless country and finally made it back to Kurnalpi. Hearing that gold had been found at Hawke’s Nest by Charlie the Goose, Harry and Yank started for the new rush with the pack horses, while I went to Coolgardie with two horses and a spring cart.

Returning to Kurnalpi with a load of tucker I scouted some miles until I cut Charlie the Goose’s tracks and followed them to Pindennie Soak, where Harry and Yank joined up, having left Hawke’s Nest. Harry and Yank in the meantime took Bill Street, generally known as ‘Liverpool Bill’ , into the party and we moved on to the Wallaby Rocks where we left Yank and Liverpool to mind the horses and pack water while Harry and I prospected the country towards Mt. Margaret. Within a short time we located gold and applied for a reward claim , to be known as the Red Castle.

George Mason tracked us down and we took him in as a partner on condition that he kept the find quiet until the reward claim was granted. At this time we located and shifted the horses to Brickey’s Soak and later Darcy Uhr and party were also camped at Brickey’s when Phil Mack’s mate, ‘Sunshine Fowler, from Western New South Wales, galloped into camp with news of his mate’s murderous attack by blacks at the Wallaby Rocks. He said how a tall black and his gin came into their camp and asked for tucker. While Phil and his mate were crouched down being shown a map drawn in the sand by the gin the other man struck Phil with a tomahawk in the back of the head, mortally wounding him. Sunshine only escaped a similar fate by raising his arm just in time, the blow almost severing his fingers.

In a very short time a party of prospectors, armed with rifles and revolvers, were in the saddle and, making their hacks do their best, soon reached the scene of the tragedy. Slowing up to leave a man in charge of the body, the remainder galloped hard to intercept about forty blacks making for the scrub to the south east of Wallaby Rocks. The prospectors surrounded the blacks and cutting out one previously described by Mack’s mate surrounded him. This black was known to the prospectors owing to being well over six feet in height. He was identified by Mack’s mate without hesitation. One of the men held out his rifle to Mack’s mate, and said,

“There’s the man who killed your mate. Shoot him.”

The mate, who had a deep tomahawk cut on one hand replied, “I cannot shoot the man in cold blood.” The man turned to his black boy, who I think was a North West black, handed him the rifle, and the boy, without the slightest hesitation, shot the murderer dead.

Phil Mack's Grave marker at Deadman's Soak Photo by Geoff Smith

Phil Mack’s Grave marker at Deadman’s Soak Photo by Geoff Smith

The above marker is today in the collection of the Eastern Goldfields Historical Society and a replica was placed on the grave on the 23.11.1991 by Ian Poole and Geoff Smith. Many graves were marked in this way – nail holes punched in a piece of tin.

Returning homeward the party buried Phil Mack. There were no white men within four or five miles of the scene of the murder. No police came up to investigate then or afterwards.  The donkey pad between the Wallaby and Black Gin rocks, from memory, about eighty miles, was grim, waterless desert dreaded by the early day prospectors.

A few months after Phil Mack’s death Harry Swincer and I located the water-hole which the black gin was trying to trace for Phil at the time of the murder. It was roughly half way to Black Gin Rocks and about three miles east of the donkey pad. It was a depression below the surrounding flats of about two and a half acres with a splendid well in the centre and it appeared to be an old crater. Its native name was Puerrelling.   The blacks made an attack on Harry and me the night we found it, but our boy gave the alarm. No casualties.  –     N. K. SLIGO, Dunedin, N.Z.

Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 – 1954), Thursday 12 September 1940
On July 18, 1894, Phil Mack, riding into a biting west wind, was gloriously alive. He and his mate, Sunshine Fowler, were coming into the 90-Mile (Goongarrie) in from Hawks Nest. Near some rocks beside Lake Abecca, about 18 miles from the 90-Mile and 40 from Broad Arrow, Mack made camp. Close by Wall-eye Joe, a native famed among his tribe for his cunning, and his two gins, also made camp.

Phil Mack, who was anxious about finding water at Yellow-water Creek, interrogated Walleye Joe. Craving tobacco and hungry for flour, the native pretended he knew where to locate water at the creek. His expressionless eyes on the damper Fowler was mixing, Walleye Joe gripped his tomahawk tighter. Mack squatted on bis haunches and with a twig drew directions on the ground. As Mack slowly scratched the hard soil, Walleye Joe, with the lightning suddenness of a taut spring released, sprang behind him and drove the tomahawk deep into the white man’s bent head. With a snarl Walleye Joe flashed around to confront Fowler. He slashed viciously, smashing Fowler’s hand. Shouting to the gins, Walleye Joe ran to the tent, looted it and laden with stores, the native and his gins streaked into the bush. Fowler reached the tent, grabbed his rifle and shot at the fleeing Walleye but the shot went wide.

It so happened that Jerry McAuliffe, pioneer prospector, and his black boy, Toby, who were on their way west to the 90 Mile, were camped further east along the lake. Fowler’s shot rolled down the lake to their ears. Sensing something was wrong they raced in the direction of the report. Moving out east from the 90 Mile, the “Singer” Frank Cavill, also heard the shot and hastened to the spot.

Gazing down at the dead body of Phil Mack, McAuliffe told Toby to follow Walleye Joe.  Early next day Toby caught up with Walleye Joe. He lifted, his rifle and with unerring aim brought the fugitive crashing to the ground. Toby brought the fatally wounded Walleye Joe back to the white men among whom he died.

The group of silent men, their parched, weathered faces barren of emotion, laid Phil Mack to rest in the shadow of the outcrop of rocks close by. Logs were placed around the grave and the words, “Phil Mack, killed by Blacks, July 18, 1894,” were hammered in the lid of a meat box.  From then on the rocks sheltering Phil Mack in his last sleep were called Dead Man’s Rocks.

Ref: ‘More Lonely Graves’ by Yvonne and Kevin Coate

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My name is Moya Sharp, I live in Kalgoorlie Western Australia and have worked most of my adult life in the history/museum industry. I have been passionate about history for as long as I can remember and in particular the history of my adopted home the Eastern Goldfields of Western Australia. Through my website I am committed to providing as many records and photographs free to any one who is interested in the family and local history of the region.

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