Shots after breakfast

Kelly Drake
Monday, 5 June 2023

Riverton Station incident

In March 1923, a frightening shooting spree at Riverton Station in South Australia saw Russian migrant, Koorman Tomayeff, tried for murder.

At the scene of the crime, Tomayeff fired at least 40 shots into the crowd on the platform, as they prepared to board the Broken Hill Express after breakfast.

Two people were killed that morning. One of whom was a socialist member of parliament and great supporter of the Russian Revolution, Percy Brookfield. Percy was fatally shot while confronting the shooter. The second gentleman, William Crowhurst, sustained wounds that saw him die in hospital the following day.

It was said to be the country's first politically motivated murder. To this day, it is unknown whether the MP was an intended victim or just attempting to disarm the shooter when shots were fired up and down the platform that morning. During the panic on the station platform, Brookfield was heard to say,

I'm done, he has shot me.

Political motivations 

Tomayeff migrated to Australia in 1914 and was registered as an alien resident in the Commonwealth in 1916. He lived in Adelaide, and then travelled to Broken Hill to fulfil a short mining contract. He shared lodgings in Broken Hill with other Russian immigrants and known Bolshevik revolutionaries. Their political views were similar to those of Percy Brookfield, so Tomayeff's motivations for shooting him become hazy.

One newspaper of the time reported that Tomayeff had been paid 100 pounds to shoot the politician. In a conflicting story, another paper of the day remarked that acquaintances in Adelaide claimed Tomayeff to be a gentle person and incapable of such a crime.

Other sources suggest that Tomayeff was broken-hearted over the death of a female prostitute to whom he had become close. They claim the shooting to be a wild and emotional response to this loss.

Was it politically motivated or was Percy Brookfield simply in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Koorman Tomayeff was tried at the Supreme Court in Adelaide and found overwhelmingly by the jury to be insane.

A doctor's report later states:

he has delusions of persecution and believes his life is sought by enemies as he hears their voices calling him bad names and threatening him.

Bound for deportation

In response to the situation, the Commonwealth Customs Office compiled a file documenting the incident. In this instance, they could be required to deport such convicts under the Immigration Act.

 A careful watch was maintained to ensure that Koorman Tomayeff was not deemed sane and allowed back into the community. While being deemed insane and in an institution, there was no requirement to initiate deportation action.

Such commonwealth customs files hold many untold stories. These narratives appear both in the official government paperwork, and in newspaper articles of the day collected by the Customs and Excise Office. Many newspaper articles were compiled in response to incidents that may have required customs response and considered worthy of monitoring.

By the end of the customs file, compiled in 1933, there had been no requirement for the customs department to initiate proceedings for deportation. Tomayeff remained in Glenside Mental Hospital for over 10 years. When he died of heart failure in 1948, his body was used for medical research. 

Bullet holes are still visible in the outer walls of the railway refreshment rooms today.