This striking photo shows the rain-dampened opening of the Blackall train line in 1908. The gathered crowd, band and dignitaries were in full celebration as feet stomped across the mud. Speeches were given, the music played. And then a moment of strangeness took centre stage.
The Queenslander, covering the speeches on 23 May 1908, reported that a speech was delivered by a Mr A. D. Murphy, the president of the ‘Midnight Runners’, who ‘called on his men to give a silent cheer’ to the railway line. As The Queenslander continued to report, they did so ‘in the weird and mysterious manner characteristic of that order.’
But who were the mysterious Midnight Runners?
In 1908, The Brisbane Courier claimed that the Midnight Runners were originally from Blackall, had formed in 1906 and had ‘spread through the bloods of the West, while branches had been established even so far away as London.’ The only notable feature of the brotherhood, aside from silent cheers, was the recruitment of new members. As The Brisbane Courier noted, a recruit would be identified and the cry of ‘Scouts, do your duty’ would herald the most elaborate of recruitment processes. Midnight Runners were to abandon whatever activity they were engaged in, ‘even cease their love-making’, to bring the recruit to the meeting house by physical force. ‘He was carried to the altar and inducted with all ceremony – and some pain both to the spirit and the flesh,’ The Brisbane Courier detailed.
It seemed no one was safe from the Runners’ plans, for kidnappings occurred during bridge games and even when the unsuspecting victim was engaged in mundane paperwork.
A final clue to the Midnight Runners was presented in The Queenslander on 13 June 1908 in which they described the enthusiastic send-off of one of the paper’s reporters from Blackall. ‘At the Blackall Club the Midnight Runners had assembled to bid bon voyage in champagne.’ But there the investigative trail runs cold. Aside from these three articles from 1908, little record can be found of the mysterious brotherhood of the Midnight Runners.
Hopefully, they are still out there somewhere. Raising a very silent cheer.