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Railway

This text is from "A Force Apart?" by Dr Bill Wilson


Railways had a small impact upon policing. During the building of the Darwin to Pine Creek line from 1886 to 1889, the influence of the Chinese workers and an increase in liquor consumption amongst the workers increased policing duties.165 During the extension of the line from Pine Creek to Emungalen between 1914 and 1917, police were stationed, for a short time during 1917, at the Emungalen railhead.

Police from Katherine and Emungalen found that sly-grogging, drunkenness and disorderly behaviour increased as the railhead reached the area.166 This was true of other towns along the railway. In Xavier Herbert’s novel Capricornia, the railway looms large in the lives of the police officers Sergeant Towcatchwon and Troopers O’Crimnell, O’Theef, McCrook and Robbrey.167 Whilst acknowledging that this book is a novel, it has been accepted that Capricornia is based upon the Northern Territory and its inhabitants. No doubt, actual police officers in the Northern Territory were as influenced by the events along the railway as were Herbert’s characters. Queensland police were also required to maintain order as railways were built. Johnston describes how a station was established at Dulbydilla in 1865 to maintain order among the 500 or 600 rough navvies.168 Sly-grogging and drunkenness were also a problem during railway construction near Maryborough during the first decade of the twentieth century.169 The Canadian Pacific Railway played a more crucial role in developing the direction of the North-West Mounted Police and Canada as a whole, than any railway in the Northern Territory, or indeed Australia. The railway was built across Canada between 1881 and 1885. It was only after the Canadian Pacific Railway reached the prairies that substantial settlement began. The railway supplied the crucial transportation link between the frontier and eastern metropolitan centres. Its influence extended into virtually every stage of the settlement process.170 The North-West Mounted Police had responsibility during the construction phase of the railway to ensure there was no disruption to its rapid completion.171 Small numbers of police were based at construction camps and patrolled the line between the camps. Thereafter, the police established posts in the construction camps as the branch lines were built. Offenders seeking to circumvent liquor restrictions in the North-West Territories used the railway. Large amounts of liquor were smuggled by rail, often defeating police surveillance. In one instance in 1886, three men found on a train near the town of Langdon with 300 gallons of whisky in their possession were arrested.172 Breaches of liquor restrictions were one of the reasons the Commissioner of the North-West Mounted Police experimented with a separate detective force during 1888.173 Despite some success, the force lasted only some six months.174 162 McLaren. The Northern Territory and its Police Forces, p.268. 163 McLaren. The Northern Territory and its Police Forces, p.268. 164 Reid. Picnic with the Natives, pp. 59-60. 165 The South Australian House of Assembly approved the Darwin – Pine Creek Railway in December 1877 but the contract to build the line was not awarded to C and E Millar until May 1886. 166 Northern Territory of Australia: Report of the Administrator for the year ended 30 June 1917, See also M. Canavan, Emungalen: The Place of Stone. (Katherine: Katherine Historical Society, 1991), p. 14. 167 Xavier Herbert. Capricornia. (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1989). 168 Johnston. The Long Blue Line, p. 49. 169 Johnston. The Long Blue Line, p. 164. 170 University of Calgary. ‘The Peopling of Canada 1921’http://www. ucalgary.ca/HIST/tutor/canada1891 /2frame. html. August 1999. 171 Beahen and Horrall. Red Coats on the Prairies, p.14. 172 Beahen and Horrall. Red Coats on the Prairies, p. 34. 173 Manitoba Police Chief to Commissioner Herchmer, 14 August 1887, NAC, RG 18, Volume 22, file 383. 174 Beahen and Horrall. Red Coats on the Prairies, p. 34.

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