False Accusations in Yetman

In the first week of Australia’s involvement in World War One, anyone of German or Austro-Hungarian descent who was in Australia, had to register with the Police. During the four years of war, 7,000 people were interned in camps throughout Australia. Most of the detainees were deported back to Germany after the war, regardless of whether or not they left behind Australian wives and children. Some had lived and worked here for many years; some were born here but had German ancestry. It made no difference.

Alfred had Anglicised his name from Adolf Bergman to Alfred Berg, but in the hype of war, anyone with a name that sounded German was at risk of being labelled an ‘enemy-alien’, and Australians were encouraged by the Government to report them.

Impact of World War One

From 1915 to 1919, Alfred and Edith Berg lived in Yetman, a small town about two-hours drive (by today’s standards) south of Tenterfield, in the Shire of Inverell.

Photo courtesy of Russell Davis

Perhaps it was because one of their own had been killed in action at Gallipoli on the 6th August 1915 that a Yetman citizen wrote to the Head of the Post Office in Sydney. The ‘unknown’ citizen claimed that Mr and Mrs Berg were disloyal citizens, with accusations of ‘favouring German goods over Australian‘ and that Mr Berg had not enlisted in the war (pages 275 & 276).

Regardless of the motivation for the complaint, a meeting was called and held in the community at 3pm on Saturday 8th December 1917. A Chairman was elected, and the nature of the complaint was reported to the large number of residents who attended. When asked to stand up if they thought Mr and Mrs Berg were loyal citizens, all but two stood in support of Alfred and Edith Berg. The matter was settled, and fortunately recorded in the Warialda Standard and Northern Districts’ Advertiser on Monday 31st December 1917 (accessed in Trove 20 Sep 2021), or we, the descendants of Alfred and Edith might not have known about this traumatic experience in our Parents / Grandparent’s lives.

The following is an account of the newspaper article cited above, taken from Trove.

From Trove – (accessed 20th Sep 2021).

“Public Meeting at Yetman.(From our correspondent) A communication having been received by the D.P.M. General, Sydney, to the effect that the residents of Yetman were complaining that the loyalty of Mr. and Mrs. Berg (our local Postmaster) was a matter of doubt, a special meeting was called by the residents to inquire into the matter on Saturday, 8th inst. at 3 p.m. The information being circulated throughout the town and district caused much comment and the feelings of the people ran high as to this false rumour. Long before the time appointed, the residents assembled, and this was one of the largest and most enthusiastic meetings ever held at Yetman. In opening the meeting Mr. R. C. Graham proposed, and Mr. J. Y. Sutton seconded, that Mr. Jim Callachor take the chair. Mr. H. Bax then proposed Mr.Hugh Fraser, which was seconded by Mrs. E. Cross. The question was then put to the meeting and resulted in favor of Mr. Callachor. Mr. Callachor heartily thanked those present for giving him the honor. In addressing the meeting the Chairman said :-

Ladies’ and gentlemen, you are all aware why we have assembled here to day. I am pleased to see such a representative meeting of citizens, willing to come forth to deny this false accusation, which has been laid against Mr. and. Mrs. Berg. I am a well known resident of this town, and I have never witnessed anything like this before. During Mr. and Mrs. Berg’s period here, I believe and find them to be very loyal citizens. Mr. Berg would have offered his services to enlist, but had to postpone it for some time owing to unforeseen circumstances. Mrs. Berg’s only eligible brother is invalided home from the front, after two years service, and she also has four cousins in the firing line. I now ask if there is any lady or gentleman present today in doubt as to the loyalty of Mr.and Mrs. Berg, to come forward and make a statement to that effect for now is the time and place to do so.(Nobody came forward). I now ask you ladies and gents are we, the citizens and residents of Yetman, going to stand by and allow our values to be axed by some person unknown without our actioning to destroy innocent people’s characters (No !) I don’t want to be ….. or thanked for the stand I’ve taken today. It is only a duty any man would do to protect an innocent man and woman. I now ask those who believe Mr. and Mrs. Berg to be loyal citizens, to stand up. The audience all rose but two. “Now this matter having been proved I have here a petition which l will read and ask you to sign.

THE PETITION

We, the undersigned residents of Yetman hereby protest against the communication that has been sent to the D.P.M General, to the effect that the residents are in doubt as to the loyalty of Mr. and Mrs. Berg. We believe this information to be false, and we find Mr. and Mrs. Berg during their period here, to be excellent types of citizens and loyal subjects. We also ask for the original copy to be sent to Mr. Berg. 52 names were signed on the petition.

Independent of this W. A. Varley, Postal Inspective, Armidale, held an inquiry at Yetman on Thursday, 6th inst. in this matter. The …. were :– Messrs G W Dight, M. J. Callachor, J. Callachor, T. Callachor, E. Freer, P. Sutton, Sergeant Elbel, A. Smith, J. Potts, W. Ryder All gave evidence as to the sterling qualities of Mr. and Mrs.Berg, and declared the communication to be false. Several letters were previously sent to Mr, Varley, Armidale, in support of Mr. Berg, including from Messrs James White, “Tucka Tucka” station ; G. W. Dight, Yetman station ; Callachor Bros, Emerald Vale ; W. O. Phillips, ” False Forest.””

Ref: Public Meeting at Yetman

Warialda Standard and Northern Districts’ Advertiser (NSW : 1900 – 1954), Monday 31 December 1917, page 2

Thesis

Not only was the Berg’s story recorded in the local newspaper, it was also told in a Doctoral Thesis by Ross Warwick McLachlan in 2009 (School of History and Philosophy Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences University of New South Wales – pages 275, 276):

A Marriage of Convenience: Women and the Post Office in New South Wales, 1838 to 1938:

Ross Warwick McLachlan.

To have endured the death of their six-month old baby (Norman Alfred) in 1915 was bad enough, but to be dragged through the trauma of a false accusation in 1917 must have been heart-breaking for Alfred and Edith. Even the documents in Alfred’s possession, proving his Swedish heritage and Australian Naturalisation, were not enough to satisfy the one resident who insisted on linking the Berg’s to Germany. Luckily justice prevailed and the Berg’s continued a close relationship with the Yetman community for another two years. One can only wonder how the complainant fared in that small, close-knit community after the successful meeting in Yetman.

Having learned about the internment and eventual deportation of German Descendants during and after the war, we should feel blessed that the outcome of that meeting in Yetman, based on false accusations in 1917, ended the way it did. Most of us would not be here now, if it hadn’t.

Photo from National Archives of Australia (with permission). Title: New South Wales Post Offices photo album – Yetman [black and white photograph]; Date range: 1901 – 1983; Series/Control symbol: B5919, 4/206; Item ID: 5951696; Item location: Melbourne
Photo from National Archives of Australia (with permission)
Title: Yetman Post Office [box 603]; Date range 1907 – 1907: Series/Control symbol: C4076, HN218; Item ID: 3024953; Item location: Sydney

These photos are probably what the Post Office looked like when Grandma and Grandfather were in Yetman.

Yetman Post Office 2020 (photo courtesy of, and with permission from, Russell Davis)

6 thoughts on “False Accusations in Yetman

  1. My father was born at Yetman. (1911). His father was the Postmaster (I believe). One of his brothers, Richard, drowned in the McIntyre River in 1914 (12 years old).

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    • Thank you for the interesting information, Roger. I’ve yet to visit there but it is definitely on my list of places to see, sooner rather than later. Do you have any photos or stories about your father’s time at Yetman?

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      • On Friday last Mr. C. O’C. Murray
        held an inquest at Yetman concern-
        ing the death of the youth, Richard
        Cordukes.
        Mr C. B. Cordukes, Postmaster,
        and father of the deceased lad, de-
        posed: I am the Postmaster in
        charge of the Yetman Post Office ;
        on 24th January I arrived in Yetman
        about 5 in the evening ; I was in-
        formed at the Post Office that there
        was trouble at the river and that I
        had better go down ; I went then to
        the river and met Mrs Cordukes
        practically in hysterics, and she told
        me that the boy had gone down the
        river and could not be found ; there
        were a number of men in the river
        swimming about, but nobody seemed
        to know the exact spot where the
        boy was last seen ; about 20 or 30
        minutes after I got there the body
        was recovered by Thomas Patrick
        Callachor ; we worked for three
        hours endeavoring to restore anima-
        tion but without success. I recog-
        nised the body as that of my son
        Richard Charles Cordukes ; he was
        born on 28th February, 1902, and so
        was aged 11 years and 11 months.
        Victor Graham deposed : I am a
        school-boy residing with my parents
        at Yetman ; I am 13 years of age ;
        on the 24th January I went to the
        river with my brother Raymond ;
        we found Richard Cordukes there
        and we all went in for a swim be-
        tween 4 and 5 o’clock : we were not
        in long and were splashing about in
        the river when Richard said “We’ll
        have the last race in the stream;”
        we went down too far and were swept
        off our feet ; Richard battled against
        the stream and we saw him taken
        under ; we tried to assist him with
        a long oak stick that was lying close
        by but could not reach him ; he
        called out to me to come and help
        him ; we ran home and told mother ;
        my father, Joe Wilkinson, Arthur
        Callaghan and my brother came back
        with me to the spot, and many others
        followed ; Constable Parkes and
        others went into the water and I
        saw the body brought out ; we were
        not skylarking and it was no fault of
        ours that he was drowned.
        T. P. Callachor deposed ; I am a
        grazier residing at Yetman ; I know
        Richard Cordukes ; on January 24th
        I was coming to town when I saw a
        crowd of people on the river bank ;
        I was told that the boy was drowned
        and I entered the water to assist in
        the search for the body ; after about
        30 minutes I found the body in about
        10 feet of back water at the bridge,
        about 200 yards from the Post Office ;
        I first touched the body with my foot
        when I was under water, and after
        making sure that it was deceased, I
        told the others and Arthur Holmes
        and Leonard Andrews brought the
        body to the surface ; I assisted in
        the effort to restore consciousness
        but failed ; this work was continued
        for four or five hours.
        The Coroner found that Richard
        Charles Cordukes was accidentally
        drowned whilst bathing in the waters
        of the McIntyre River at Yetman on
        the 24th January, 1914.

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  2. I have no other record of the Yetman time of the family. I did find a marker of the gravesite of Richard at the Yetman cemetery. I have located a photo of the Post Office.

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    • Roger, I have now visited Yetman and found the building that used to be the Post Office, around the corner from the current Post Office. It pays to chat to locals when you are searching for information, and that’s what I did. When I showed staff at the Post Office the photo of the old building, they directed me to a building around the corner which, despite a fire, still resembles the original building. I’ll edit this post soon and put the recent photos up, and tell the story about the pub being haunted, and that is worthy of another trip to Yetman.

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      • Hi Maureen,

        Thanks for the information. I will have a look next time I am at Yetman.

        Kind Regards,
        Roger Cordukes

        Like

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