Easter Sunday 1923: fck or fight in Broken Hill

broken hill

One hundred years ago today, Edward Plummer went in search of companionship in Broken Hill. His night ended badly. 

In 1923, 30-year-old Edward still lived in the family home with his dad and younger brothers. His mum died two years before. Like their Broken Hill South neighbours, the Plummer men worked in the town’s famous mines.

A mountain of mining rubble called the Line of the Lode dominated the townscape and separated Broken Hill South from the town proper. On Easter Sunday, Edward made the 45-minute trek around the hill of tailings and into town, arriving at the Adelaide Club Hotel about 8 pm.

The Adelaide Club was a shithole, described by local cops as “badly conducted, badly furnished, and in need of repair.” But it was open for business on a night when most local establishments chose to respect the licencing laws and keep their doors closed.

Edward drank shandies, diluting his beer with lemonade. He was the only customer until three other men slipped in the door and introduced themselves as recently arrived South Australians.

broken hill edward plummer
Adelaide Club Hotel after a storm in December 22. The roof had been repaired by Easter 23.

The South Australians

22-year-old Norman Wallis was a sturdy little fella with dark hair and complexion, while 24-year-old Leslie Mounce was of similar stature but blond. Palmer Pedersen, at 28, was the oldest.

Wallis immediately latched onto Edward Plummer, leaving Mounce and Pedersen to their own devices.

All four left the Adelaide Club Hotel sometime after eleven and wandered the empty streets of Broken Hill. Unwilling to call it a night, they pounded on the closed door of the Crystal Hotel. A sleeping barman rose from the dead and agreed to serve them. Wallis shouted. Mounce, less able to handle the grog than his mates, squatted on the floor for a while and dry-retched.

The group left about three, stopping for a yak on the corner of Crystal Lane, a notoriously wretched back street. Locals complained that pedestrians sunk knee-deep in the muddy lane. Mud? In that scorched desert? Who knows! Perhaps the nightly arrests of drunks for pissing in the squalid thoroughfare explained the sludge. Passers-by did also grumble about the stench.

Edward started to say his goodbyes, aware he had a long walk home ahead of him.

broken hill edward plummer
Crystal Lane seems little changed since 1923 aside from the bitumen.

Come to our place

“You can come down to our place if you like,” offered the chummy Wallis, “You can sleep in my bedroom. There is a spare bed there.”

Wallis and Edward then crossed the street while Mounce and Pedersen went on ahead. In their police statements and at later court hearings, the four participants agreed on everything until that point. However, recollections differed regarding subsequent events. But, an hour later, a battered Edward Plummer staggered into the local police yard, bleeding from the nose and mouth with his eyes and face swollen.

Constable Duckworth accompanied the injured man to the hospital. Plummer alleged that Wallis sexually assaulted him, after which Mounce and Wallis bashed him. Edward Plummer’s story remained consistent from his first contact with the police, throughout a magisterial hearing and finally, at a Circuit Court trial.

“There were a few empty humpies. Wallis said to me, ‘Are you coming in?’

“I said, ‘No, I’m going home.’

“Wallis forcibly dragged me into the humpy. I tried to get away, but he was too strong and tried to touch my private parts. Wallis wanted to fck me.

“He undone my trousers and my braces — undone them front and back — ripping my fly open, then lifted my shirt up over my back and made me stoop with my head against the wall. My trousers were right down. He said to me, ‘What is it, knock you or fck you?’

“Wallis took out his penis and tried to put it in my back passage. He also caught hold of my penis and started rubbing it up and down. I was kept in that position for about five minutes.”

You had better cut that game out

Meanwhile, Mounce began to wonder what had befallen Wallis.

“We walked back to the humpies. I crept up alongside to see what they were doing. Looking through a hole in the wall, I saw Plummer in a stooping position. His trousers were around his knees, his shirt thrown up over his back with the back portion of his body naked.

“Wallis was standing close up behind him, with his hand on the other man’s back.

“I called Pedersen, ‘You grab Wallis, and I will grab the other snoozer.'”

Mounce charged into the humpy.

“I said to Wallis, ‘White men don’t do that sort of thing. You had better cut that game out.’

“Wallis said, ‘I’ll fck him or knock him.’

“Plummer said, ‘Wait till I get my trousers up, Digger. Don’t hit me.’

“I struck him a couple of times.”

Pedersen had ignored Mounce’s instruction to follow him, but Mounce then hauled Plummer into the street and began punching him.

“Wallis was standing near the man who had his trousers down [Plummer],” said Pedersen, “I did not look to see if Wallis’s trousers were unbuttoned. I caught hold of Wallis then and took him away to the middle of the street, but he pulled away from me and returned to the humpy.”

Wallis joined in pummeling Plummer.

Wallis later characterised his invitation to Plummer to stay the night as innocent, even naive. He portrayed himself as the unwitting prey of a sexual predator.

“I invited Plummer to share my room. However, he went into the humpy. Thinking he meant to sleep there, I went in to see what sort of place it was, but Plummer made a certain suggestion. I was just about to strike him when Mounce came in.”

He’s a queen

Wallis told Detective Sergeant Gibson the assault occurred because “Plummer’s a queen and wanted me to fck him. I said, ‘I will fck you or knock you.'”

Gibson didn’t buy it. He asked if Wallis agreed with Mounce’s description of what he saw through the spyhole.


“What were your reasons for having Plummer stand in that position?”

“I thought that the best way to get him so I could knock him.”

Wallis was a fcking wally!

Edward Plummer was bent over with his bare arse in the air. Wallis stood immediately behind him, resting his only visible hand on Plummer’s back. The victim’s evidence provides the best explanation for the whereabouts of the other hand — pumping Plummer’s dick. The position in which his mate spied Wallis was not, is not, and never will be, a fighting stance. No warrior ever charged into battle dick first shouting ‘Fck you or knock you!’

Wallis insisted, “I was just about to strike Plummer for wanting me to indecently conduct myself with him when Mounce came in.”

An infuriated Edward Plummer argued that Wallis made no effort to bash him until sprung in flagrante delicto.

“You tried to fck me!”

Mounce, however, after initially considering Wallis equally culpable, later changed his mind and apportioned all blame to Plummer.

“The dirty bugger. I never saw a white man do what he did. I knocked him. He wanted my mate to fck him.”

Mounce originally directed the bigoted, ignorant and somewhat curious line — ‘White men don’t do that sort of thing’ — at Wallis. However, once convinced of his mate’s innocence, he pivoted to Plummer.


In the Broken Hill magistrate’s court, the charge against Pedersen was dismissed. Fair enough. He took no part in the assault. However, the magistrate also discharged Mounce, despite his open admissions of physical violence.

“Mounce may have assaulted Plummer, but he was justified owing to the attitude in which he found Wallis and Plummer.”

That magistrate is now dead and can no longer bring charges of contempt of court, so, ‘Fck you, Your Honour!’

What happened to magistrates railing about the rule of law and unambiguously condemning mob justice? Nah. Instead, this buffoon publicly sanctioned the violent vigilantism of a drunken twerp.

However, Magistrate Stevenson did commit Norman Thomas James Wallis for trial. The defendant, he found, “assaulted Joseph Edward Plummer with intent, wickedly and against the order of nature, to commit the abominable crime of buggery.”

(Plummer went by Edward rather than Joseph.)

In the Circuit Court, Wallis’s lawyer appeared to not like his client’s chances. He counselled the jury that even if his client committed buggery, Plummer was a consenting party. Justice Gordon interjected to clarify that consent would not absolve Wallis. Buggery remained a crime when consensual and whether committed with man, woman, or fowl.

The jury retired for ten to fifteen minutes. That negates any possibility they engaged in a meaningful evaluation of the contradictory evidence. They returned a verdict of Not Guilty.

Fck or fight

So, what can we bush lawyers make of this case in an era that allows open, and even occasionally, rational ponderings on sexual matters?

Certainly, Wallis has little credibility.

All of the agreed evidence indicates he courted Edward Plummer’s companionship.

Crucially, the only evidence contradicting Plummer emanated from Wallis. Pedersen saw nothing of the goings-on in the humpy. Mounce’s observations matched Plummer’s almost word-for-word.

Wallis initially stated that he was about to hit Plummer for making an offensive suggestion but that Mounce’s abrupt entrance stopped him. He never mentioned Plummer’s nudity or sexually submissive posture until the police told him what Mounce saw.

Crazily, no one ever queried Wallis’s repeated ‘fck him or knock him’ dialogue. It evokes the ‘fck or fight’ slogan of future generations of yobos, signalling their preferred options for the climax of a night on the turps.

It would seem one of two things happened on the morning of Easter Monday 1923.

Either, as Edward Plummer consistently attested, Norman Wallis attempted to rape him. Or, the pair engaged in consensual sex, as Mounce initially assumed. But, when caught, Wallis capitalised on his mateship with the witnesses to cast Plummer as the villain.

We will never know.

The most extraordinary takeaway is how readily and naturally Wallis and Plummer talked about male anal sex. Only Mounce, who had a history of being an annoying little shit, seemed genuinely outraged.

edward plummer
The Plummer family home stood just to the left of the crumbling brick foundation in Broken Hill South.

Edward Plummer

Like his father, Edward volunteered for community organisations throughout his life. During the Great Depression, he joined a protest when the NSW government cut relief payments for the unemployed. Over 2000 men, women and children attended a meeting in front of the Broken Hill Town Hall, followed by a march through town. Edward joined 35 other men who commandeered a railway carriage. Following their arrests, the entire group refused to enter into good behaviour bonds. Edward and his mates spent ten days in the cells and were feted as local heroes.

His only other run-in with the police was in 1951 when he bought some wine for an Aboriginal mate. It was illegal for First Nations people to purchase alcohol or for anyone to buy it on their behalf.

Edward never married. He died in 1961 after almost seventy years in the house he was born in. The house is gone now. In fact, only a few structures remain in the neighbourhood of predominantly scorched earth, spindly shrubs, and scattered debris from forgotten homes. There’s the odd concrete slab, some front stairs leading to nowhere and occasional clumps of the once-ubiquitous mother-in-law’s tongue. Towering over all, the mountain of rubble encasing the hill the town takes its name from.

broken hill
Men diving at Broken Hill Baths. Image: State Library of South Australia

William Johns discovered the risk of rough trade in 1906 Brisbane.

The Cooyar Tragedy, Vintage 1921 Gay Panic Defence.

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