Robert T. Cooke

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Robert Thomas Cooke was born in the gold mining town of Steiglitz in 1876 to Irish immigrants William (1824/31/34-1902) and Mary (nee Short) (1840-1918). He was the tenth of his parents' twelve children: Catherine, John, Eliza, William, Mary, Esther, George, Sarah, Samuel, Robert, Alice and Andrew. (William died when fifteen and George and Sarah in infancy.)[1]

Bob, as he was affectionately known in the family, attended Steiglitz State School, and on leaving school he worked carting logs to power the steam engines to the local goldmines. Bob was working in a mine at a time when mining in Steiglitz may have been somewhat insecure. (Newspaper reports demonstrated hope that the Kinglock mine was going to start operations again in 1914 and in 1915 the Carlton mine reopened.)

In 1913 Bob joined the Steiglitz Rifle Club, which had until 1912 been part of a huge Commonwealth funded movement designed to train a potential civilian guerrilla force to avert the feared invasion by Japanese from the north. Men wore uniform, were drilled and attained basic target shooting skills with the government providing staff, rifles and ammunition.[2]

According to a family story Bob moved suddenly to Cairns, Queensland, soon after the war ended when he failed to win the affection of Anne Friday, who married his brother Samuel instead. Some time later, Bob sent word that he was near Cairns. Ultimately he lived and worked at Killara, a Railway siding on the line between Cairns to Mareeba. He owned a small parcel of land at Killara, and worked cutting and selling wood. (Killara was flooded on the building of the Tinaroo Dam.)

Bob, a pensioner, was admitted to Atherton hospital in 1950 with pleurisy, from which he never recovered. He was buried 22nd November 1950, and lies in an unmarked grave in the Atherton Cemetery.

The family had rarely heard from Bob, although on his death he arranged for his belongings to be sent to his youngest sibling Jim, who lived in Meredith. Bob never married, but had many sincere workmates and friends in the area.[3]

Military Experience

Robert Cooke signed on for the AIF in September 1915, seven months short of his fortieth birthday. He was a big brown haired and blue-eyed man, almost six foot two tall and weighing 13 stone. He bore some scars on his hip and back but was declared fit for service and joined the 23rd battalion at Royal Park and within two months had joined the Miners Corps, 2nd Tunnelling Company.[4]

In May 1916 Robert disembarked in Marseille, France, then three days later arrived by train at Hazebrouck, Flanders). [5]

Seven months later in the winter, January 1917, Robert was admitted to hospital with bronchitis. By mid July 1917 he was readmitted twice to hospital then transported to a British hospital on July 17 with reported kidney stones. Ultimately Cooke was diagnosed as suffering from nephritis, kidney infection.[6]

In the Spring of 1915 a new World War One condition termed ‘Trench Nephritis’ spread among soldiers, creating 35,000 casualties among the British forces and hundreds of deaths. Symptoms of breathlessness, swelling, headaches and kidney stones were attributed to exposure and poor diet but are now, overwhelming, believed to have been infective.[7]

After being hospitalised in Canterbury and Weymouth hospitals in England, Cooke was evacuated in late June 1917, declared permanently unfit for service as a result of ‘strain’ in active service and returned home in Australia, via New Zealand in the Pakeha. In October 1917 the Austin General Hospital reported continued symptoms of nephritis as well as fibrosis and emphysema. He was declared 75% incapacitated.[8]

Awards and Honors

In September 1923 Cooke acknowledged receipt of three service medals he received for his army service (The 1914 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory medal).

See also

2nd Tunnelling Company

Awards & Honors


  1. Cemetery Records Steiglitz, Meredith, Victorian Births Deaths and Marriages, Reg 12465
  3. Personal communication March 2015: Fay McFarlane, Wendy Cooke.
  4. NAA B2455, Cooke R T
  5. NAA B2455, Cooke R T
  6. NAA B2455, Cooke R T
  7. Kidney International 2006 70(4) 635-40
  8. NAA B2455, Cooke R T

Other links

Enlistment -

--Janicenewton (talk) 11:49, 15 June 2015 (AEST)