MACKAY HISTORY: Story behind the Rat of Tobruk memorial

MACKAY HISTORY: Story behind the Rat of Tobruk memorial

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NEXT March marks 20 years since the community-fundraised Rats of Tobruk Memorial was unveiled at Queens Park.

The memorial is situated near the park’s Goldsmith St entrance.

The memorial – a replica of the one in the Tobruk Cemetery in Libya – is the venue where twice a year in April and September a Rats of Tobruk commemoration service is run by students of the four Mackay Rats of Tobruk Schools: Victoria Park State School, St Patrick’s College, Whitsunday Anglican School and North Mackay Primary State School.

A map of Libya and Egypt featuring Tobruk, featured in Peter FitzSimons's book

A map of Libya and Egypt featuring Tobruk, featured in Peter FitzSimons’s book “Tobruk”. Picture: Contributed

The services are attended by the families and friends of the Rats of Tobruk and are open to the Mackay public.

The memorial precinct includes three flag poles for the British, Australian and Polish flags, the memorial itself, and a garden bed planted with four palms which symbolise the living commitment of the four Rats of Tobruk Schools to honour and remember the deeds of the defenders of Tobruk.

The memorial is dedicated to the courage, tenacity and sacrifice of the Mackay men of the Australian 9th Division Australian Imperial Force who withstood the eight-month siege.

The memorial commemorates the historic Siege of Tobruk which occurred between April 1941 and December 1941 during World War II.

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The Siege of Tobruk was the first Allied defeat against the German Nazis, and was a “beacon of hope for the millions of people under Nazi Domination”.

About 15,000 Australian soldiers fought in the battle, 1236 were injured, 941 became prisoners of war and sadly, 832 were killed.

One of the earliest mentions of the memorial in the Daily Mercury was published on April 16, 1999.

The Mackay Rats of Tobruk Association president Len Hansen, who was the driving force behind the construction of the memorial, was quoted as saying “a monument should be erected in Mackay to commemorate the Tobruk Siege”.

Bundaberg, Cairns, Rockhampton and Townsville all had Rats of Tobruk Memorials in existence at the time.

At a meeting of the Mackay City Council’s Community Services Committee on July 7, 1999, a resolution was carried recommending approval be granted for the development of a memorial.

Albert Bound, Mackay City Council Councillor Julie Boyd and Rats of Tobruk veteran Len Hansen at the launch of the fundraising appeal. Picture: Contributed

Albert Bound, Mackay City Council Councillor Julie Boyd and Rats of Tobruk veteran Len Hansen at the launch of the fundraising appeal. Picture: Contributed

The monument had been discussed at a meeting by MCC Councillor Julie Boyd, MCC chief parks and recreation officer Graham Burgdorf and Len Hansen.

A resolution also moved at the meeting was to apply for funding from the ‘Regional War Memorials Project’.

On May 10, 2000, the council decided to apply for funding of $26,500 from the Department of Veteran Affairs for the proposed monument.

The site for the monument was to be the former Queensland Rail-owned land on the corner of Gordon and Tennyson St.

An appeal for public support – backed by the Mackay City Council for the proposed monument – was later launched by Cr Boyd by November 11, 1999.

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By February 12, 2000, the Rats of Tobruk Association had secured financial support from the council.

The Mercury later reported on May 12, 2000 that Cr Don Walls suggested at a council meeting that the “nearby Queen’s Park should also be considered” as a site for the proposed memorial.

The current Queens Park site was finally chosen by August 1, 2000.

The Rats of Tobruk Memorial at Queens Park, Mackay. Picture: Contributed

The Rats of Tobruk Memorial at Queens Park, Mackay. Picture: Contributed

A six-week fundraising appeal for the proposed monument was launched by Cr Boyd on August 1, 2000, with a target of $25,000.

The chairman of the fundraising appeal committee was Cr Don Rolls.

The collection agency for the appeal was the Mackay Permanent Building Society.

Federal Government funding of $4,000 had been granted for the monument project by May 25, 2000 through the Federal Government’s “Their Service – Our Heritage” program.

Among the donations was $500 from St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School student, Piran Scott. Piran’s grandfather was George David Gallan, a Rat of Tobruk.

Excavation works at the Queens Park site was occurring by September 12, 2000.

By September 24, 2000 foundation works had been prepared for the memorial.

The construction firm MBC Builders was commissioned to build the memorial.

Construction of the memorial was under way at the Queens Park site by November 15, 2000.

The finalising of the list of names for the memorial in Mackay was occurring by May 31, 2001.

The memorial and surrounding paths was later unveiled by the Governor of Queensland, Major General Peter Arnison AO on March 4, 2001.

The memorial was dedicated by the Reverend Fred Black, a Rat of Tobruk, and about 450 people attended the ceremony including students of the Rats of Tobruk Schools.

The five plaques carrying 120 names of the defenders of Tobruk, painstakingly collected, were later unveiled on the memorial in a special ceremony on 19 October, 2001 and dedicated by the Reverend Lindsay Howie.

A special history feature written by Len Hansen on the siege, coinciding with the unveiling of the plaques, was later published in the Mercury on October 20, 2001.

Len Hansen later became an Order of Australia Medal recipient in the Australia Day Honours’ List on January 26, 2004.

He passed away on July 2, 2007, aged 89 while in residence at the Good Shepherd Lodge at East Mackay.

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A funeral was later held for him at St Paul’s Uniting Church in Macalister Street on July 6, 2007.

At the time of his death, his sister Joan Smith told the Mercury her brother “was most proud of his persistent efforts in the establishment of a Rats of Tobruk memorial at Queen’s Park”. “He did everything he ever wanted to do but it was his lasting desire to create that memorial and he was so happy when he achieved that,” Ms Smith said.

The Mackay Historical Society would like to thank Judy Stewart and Terry Abbott for their assistance with this feature.



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