Percy Brookfield's killing reported by the Adelaide Advertiser, 23 March 1921. (Image via Trove Digitised Newspapers, National Library of Australia.)
When news came through in March, 1921, that Brookfield had been shot dead by a mad man, at the small town of Riverton, South Australia, the instant reaction of the labour movement was "he was no madman, the Government arranged to assassinate Brookfield." There are still some people to say it today, fifty years later.
Brookfield was of the stuff that heroes are made from—a big thick-set man who walked into Broken Hill with a swag on his back. He died, as a member of Parliament, representing the Sturt Electorate of Broken Hill in the NSW State Parliament.
When asked to contest the ballot, Brookie (as he was known) said it was a "ridiculous" suggestion, and after thinking it over decided to stand, and was elected early 1917.
He was a magnificent leader of Labor's Volunteer Army at the Barrier and in two years "paid in fines and estreated bonds £700, all because he has dared display in his statements a class-consciousness previously unheard of in Labor-in-Politics in this country." (George Dale). The Barrier Empire League was the main opposition in the anti conscription campaign and representatives at a combined meeting of the LVA and AMA interjected at Brookfield: "Come down off that table, you cold-footed, big bastard," and "You are rotten to the core, and have no manhood in you!"
This was the man who rushed in to disarm an individual, shooting wildly around the crowded platform, when no-one (not the policeman nor railway workers) made any move.
Those who claim it was deliberate assassination said anyone would know that Brookfield would be the man to rush in courageously, hence they claim he was "set up."
Four other people were injured but Brookfield was wounded four times, in the chest, stomach and feet, and soon succumbed.
The man who shot him was a Russian named Koorman Tomyaiff. He had lived with two other Russians at the Barrier, and on the walls of their room was a red streamer with "Long Live the Federated Industrial Socialist Republic of Russia" inscribed, and photographs of Lenin, Trotsky and the IWW twelve.
His friends said he was depressed over the recent death of a friend and was on his way to look for work grape picking.
After the shooting he is said to have made a statement, that he was sorry that he shot Brookfield but not sorry about shooting the other people.
In a question raised on behalf of M. Considine in Federal Parliament (May 26th, 1921) it was alleged that the Riverton policeman had made a sworn statement that Tomyaiff informed him that he had received £100 to assassinate Brookfield. An exhaustive enquiry was requested but this was shrugged off.
The coffin, draped in red flag, came into Broken Hill station where some thousand men, women and children waited. As the train drew up the Union Band played the Red Flag.
The workers stopped work. There were 5000 at the funeral, 150 vehicles, and floral tributes from all parts of the Commonwealth, 2,500 were in the funeral procession and thousands lined the two-mile route to the cemetery.
Each corner of the grave had a red flag in it. A choir of women and children sang, "Should I ever be a Soldier 'neath the Red Flag I would fight", said to be Brookfield's favorite song during the Labor Volunteer Army activities.
The red flag flew at half-mast on the Melbourne Trades Hall. Tributes came from unexpected quarters.
Sir Walter Davidson (NSW State Governor) said at a Show luncheon, "I very deeply mourn the loss of a man whom I greatly admired and respected, whose views were not exactly my views but were the views of a man who honestly attempted to make the world better than he found it."
The S.A. Trades Hall Council started a fund and there was some suggestion of a Brookfield Memorial hospital for miners' phthisis.
On April 4th it was announced that a Labor College would be established as a Brookfield Memorial College.
A committee of twelve was set up and a monument erected on his grave.
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