Home' Tennant and District Times : 2015-0424 TDT Contents TENNANT AND DISTRICT TIMES FRIDAY 24 APRIL 2015 9
Barkly Electorate Office: 114 Paterson St, Tennant Creek NT 0860
Tel: 08 8962 4641 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
MLA Member for Barkly
World War I - ‘Powell Creek,
the Somme and Life Out-Back’
REFERENCE: Scarlett, Philipa. 2014. “Finding Frederick Prentice.” Indigenous Histories: Supporting Australian Indigenous history art and
culture. http://indigenoushistories.com/2014/09/05/finding-frederick-prentice-mm retrieved 14/03/2015.
RESEARCH ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Colin F Baker, RFD, Ed D.
Photo of Frederick Prentice sourced from the Australian War Memorial.
AS we stand at the centenary of ANZAC, conscious of the
Northern Territory’s part in World War I, it is timely to look
at the situation and contribution by Territorians of 1914.
In 1914, before the defeat of Germany in the Pacific and the
capture of German New Guinea by Australian expeditionary
forces, thought was given as to how close Darwin was to any
possible front line.
History now tells of what was not said at the time, that de-
fence planners wanted as many men as possible in the North-
ern Territory to remain close to the Overland Telegraph and
Naval Radio Stations.
There were simple but important reasons for needing lo-
cal labour. As the war progressed, meat produced by stations
turned into bully beef for our troops, representing a strategic
commodity and good reason for keeping scarce manpower on
Territorians have always been determined to contribute to
the national interest along with their fellow Australians but be-
cause of small numbers and isolation their departure left seri-
ous gaps in a society always stretched on the frontier.
We do know that in February 1915 the Army Chief of Staff
issued a statement that it was never intended to have recruiting
depots in the distant parts of the Commonwealth and those
wishing to enlist should ‘head south’.
However in March 1915, 16 recruits left Darwin for Towns-
ville to be sworn in. The first official contingent from the
Northern Territory sailed from Darwin on the Changsha on
25th April 1915 - a significant date indeed!
It is difficult for us to grasp the realities of Territorians as the
world marched to a war it thought would be over by Christmas
100 years ago.
As there are few letters and diaries from the front in the Aus-
tralian War Memorial from Northern Territory service person-
nel of WWI - I appeal to Territory families and station archives
discovering such material to contact the Australian War Me-
With the German threat in the Pacific over and the only con-
straint on recruiting remaining the need to staff communica-
tions facilities and the meat industry, the demand for recruits
following the Somme battles saw the establishment of a North-
ern Territory Recruiting Committee consisting of the mayor
and town councillors in February 1916.
By March that year, 200 men had left Darwin with another
100 preparing to go and many of their photographs can be
found in the Northern Territory Library.
When the time came to create a Roll of Honour on 11th Janu-
ary 1918, records showed that 283 men had enlisted from Dar-
We know they served in all theatres of war, all arms and ser-
vices of the Defence Forces, where the number of decorations
far exceeds what might be expected from an isolated frontier
When a memorial was being planned in 1920, it was decided
that because the Territory population was a floating one, any-
one who had been identified with Territory life for 12 months
prior to enlistment would be eligible to have their name in-
l Frederick Prentice 1915.
scribed and those names can be read today in Darwin’s Bicen-
It is fitting the footsteps of Albert Borella VC, who crossed the
Territory, walked and rode across the Barkly region en route to
Darwin to enlist, should have been re-enacted but World War I
affected the electorate I represent in many ways!
In 1915 the town of Tennant Creek did not yet exist, however
the Barkly had two very important Telegraph Stations and sig-
nificant cattle industry contributing to the war effort as well as
an Aboriginal population that was only beginning to adjust to
The irony was that a national defence effort, hungry for per-
sonnel, was officially prevented from recruiting from telegraph
stations, cattle stations and Aboriginal communities. Yet we
know despite this bureaucracy, some from these situations did
manage to enlist.
Essentially such Territorians were bending the rules to serve
‘King and Country’ and were not easy to trace however a boy
born at Powell Creek near modern day Elliott, Corporal Fred-
erick Prentice MM, proudly represents the legendary ANZAC
We know Corporal Prentice was born in 1894. His father was
Alfred Leslie Prentice, Justice of the Peace at Powell Creek Tel-
His mother was an Aboriginal woman (unknown), however
we do know there are Aboriginal people in Elliott with the sur-
name Prentice who may be able fill in some historical gaps.
We know that the Powell Creek Telegraph Station Master,
Walter Kell (known as Dan) and his wife Isabel, who had no
children adopted Frederick and an Aboriginal girl.
We know from the way the young Frederick Prentice is
dressed in old photographs that he was raised an Anglo rather
than an Aboriginal culture.
Walter Kell was promoted and moved to Unley, Adelaide, in
1905. Young Frederick was sent to Kyre College, the predeces-
sor of Scotch College in South Australia, where we know he
excelled in athletics and received a prize for music.
In 1914 when Frederick was 20 years of age, Walter Kell was
appointed Station Master at Wallaroo and Frederick was work-
ing at the nearby Manunda Station when he evaded rules that
prevented non-European enlistment. Nominating Isabel Kell
as next of kin, he enlisted and found himself posted to the 12th
In July 1916, he was awarded the Military Medal (MM) for ac-
tion at Mouquet Farm in France. Those unfamiliar with awards
for gallantry, the Military Medal, at that time, was a prestigious
award and considerable recognition for bravery where Mou-
quet Farm strategically was as far as Australians got in the first
battle of the Somme.
Corporal Prentice’s citation reads “here he showed great cour-
age, resource and ability in bringing machine guns and am-
munition through the enemy barrage in the dark and broken
From history we know Corporal Prentice survived the Great
War and received a hero’s welcome home to Wallaroo, docu-
mented in the Kadina and Wallaroo Times on 4th June 1919.
In honouring the distinguished service of Corporal Prentice
to his country, we must reflect on the ultimate tragedy of his
death in 1957 where he was to die alone in Katherine, with in-
juries consistent with having rolled into his campfire.
At that time described as “part Maori”, his contribution to his
country was unknown until the fact that Prentice had told a
fellow worker he had served in World War I. The Acting Super-
intendent of Police asked AIF base records for help in finding
his next of kin.
Thanks to their diligence, we know more about the life history
of Corporal Prentice.
We know that he was posted to an AIF pioneer battalion, was
the sole survivor of his seven-man machine gun section and
that he was at Manunda Station until Isabel’s death in 1926.
In the 1930s he was an active member of the Kalgoorlie com-
munity and featured in sport and trade union affairs, however
in the 1940s his life becomes less stable and his trail peters out
until his death.
Indigenous Histories, in an article titled “Finding Frederick
Prentice MM” (Scarlett 2014), argues the Prentice tragedy was
that although he was valued for his service at the time and for
a period after active service, the developments of post-World
War Australia saw Prentice and others like him isolated from
both Aboriginal and European societies.
The article emphasises:
‘The reports describing Frederick’s departure and return to Aus-
tralia show him as respected and part of the community he lived
in. Significantly they do not refer to his Aboriginality but do men-
tion his friends and adoptive parents. This situation is unlikely to
have continued as he worked his way around Western Australia
mixing with people who knew nothing of him and his white fami-
ly, despite the personal qualities which gave him some recognition
as a sportsman and in his union. Separated from both his Abo-
riginal and adopted family he would have been very much alone.’
Perhaps 100 years is enough time to give us the opportunity
to develop a valuable perspective on events, which for better
and worse, have made us what we are as the Northern Terri-
My appeal is that we look back a century for honouring the
heroic lives of the sons of the ANZACs whose deeds dominate
the second half of the 20th century while paying tribute to the
life experience of their fathers in the Great War, a world war
that claimed roughly twice as many Australian lives as World
War II. A brutal war in which one in seven of those who en-
listed never came home. A war that Territorians struggled for
the right in which to take part.
In conclusion, I respectfully ask you search your local records,
communicate with family and friends and consult the keepers
of the oral traditions to seek important information on the lives
of those courageous Northern Territory men and women who
marched with Borella VC and Corporal Prentice.
I am advised, before battles 1st AIF soldiers were often told
“Remember where you came from.”
Lest We Forget.
Centenary of ANZAC 1915 - 2015
Links Archive 2015-0417 TDT 2015-0501 TDT Navigation Previous Page Next Page