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Irish in Australia: The Scattered Children of St Patrick

Dr Richard Reid and Brendon Kelson, National Museum of Australia, 15 March 2009

[Dr Peter Stanley introduced this talk, but it was not recorded. The following text reconstructs the introduction from his notes.]

PETER STANLEY: It’s my good fortune to run the Museum’s Centre for Historical Research and to chair this morning’s two-handed talk on ‘The Scattered Children of St Patrick’. The Museum is interested in the diverse origins and cultures of Australia. Indeed, in the new Australian Journeys gallery you will find a fine display of Irish dancing costumes that suggests we are already keen to explore and explain Irish culture in Australia. This talk on the Sunday before St Patrick’s Day continues that interest.

Your guides on this journey are two men that I’ve known for many years and for whom I have a great fondness and respect. They are an Irishman and a gentleman - the gentleman first. Brendon Kelson is well known for his contributions to Australian arts and museums over many years. He played a foundation role at the National Gallery of Australia and was formerly the Director of the Australian War Memorial. Brendon is also, as you will see, a photographer of sensitivity and distinction. The last time we three worked together was in November 1993, when the Unknown Australian Soldier was entombed at the Australian War Memorial, during Brendon’s time as Director. The project officer for that enterprise was Dr Richard Reid, which brings us to the Irishman.

Richard Reid is well known for his contributions to Australian military history and to the study of Irish Australian history. For some years a vigorous principal historian at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Richard completed many projects, including developing innovative websites that brought Australian military history into living rooms and classrooms. But he is perhaps even more famed as a leading scholar of the Irish in Australia. Richard is working at the National Museum of Australia to create an exhibition on Irish Australia, due to open here in 2011.

It is fitting that with St Patrick’s Day upon us on Tuesday, we should enjoy travelling around Australia with Brendon and Richard in search of St Patrick’s scattered children.

[Audio recording begins here]

RICHARD REID: The exhibition that the Museum is doing - Peter said it is about Irish places - is actually an exhibition about the Irish in Australia from 1788 to the present day so it does not just reflect places. But the project which Peter has introduced you to this morning is a project that Brendon and I have been working on for it seems like 50 years.

BRENDON KELSON: It does.

RICHARD REID: A project we started long ago to look at Irish places and objects around Australia, with the idea that the Irish in Australia are not just to be found in a museum collection or in an art gallery or somewhere like that but the stories about the Irish in Australia are out there all around the country. You can visit a site, you can visit a place where this story can become palpable to you, provided somebody is there - that is me and Brendon - to narrate it to you, to tell you about it. What we have come up with is 55 - don’t ask me why 55; everybody asks why just 55 - it is 55 places and objects right around Australia which reflect this Irish-Australian presence from 1788 to the present day.

It has been my job to write the stories, to research them in the National Library last year and to write them to a very strict deadline, about one a week of roughly 1500 words - and it was Brendon’s great joy to go around the country and photograph these places. I say that advisedly because I have known Brendon for a long time. Apart from the odd time he rang me and said, ‘Where the hell am I meant to be going and what am I meant to be looking at?’ I think he did get a great deal of interest and joy out of it. Before we start looking at some of the images, Brendon might like to say a couple of words about the photographic journey that we undertook.

BRENDON KELSON: Thank you, Richard. I belong to what’s generally called the documentary school of photography, and the idea in this school is that you intrude as little as possible on the actual things you are trying to photograph. You are trying to see them as if the photographer wasn’t there. So it is essentially non-intrusive. That is for the most part of the whole thing.

It’s the tradition in which the great war photographers, the recorders of social conditions, of peoples in the world at large have traditionally worked. We still remain largely black and white photographers rather than going into colour, although there has been a great tendency in more recent times to use colour. The reason for this is largely aesthetic. Black and white offers you the opportunity to present things in ways that colour - I use the term ‘corrupts’. I think colour is best used for holiday photographs and family photographs, but black and white allows you to emphasise the things that are of greatest importance to you.

I am particularly grateful to the Irish government and to our own Jim Murphy for the financial assistance to allow me to travel around the country to undertake this sort of work. Richard and I planned most of this stuff well in advance of my actually going into the field. But when you are actually in the field it is surprising how quickly things change. You see different aspects of the objects or the things you are looking for, you find different perspectives, you think some subjects don’t work so you drop them and we discuss it again, and we pick up on other subjects.

When you are in the field, as I was, you have only a limited amount of time and space to do the things and you have to work with the vagaries of the circumstances that you encounter. Sometimes the shade would be absolutely right for a particular picture. In one particular case I went back to a cathedral three times until I got the light that I particularly wanted. I had an odd Indiana Jones experience when I was swarmed by bees out in the bush and thought my life was severely endangered, and things of that nature.

One occasion when I was photographing a grave that I had to get, and we have been trying to be very careful to not to make this a grave view of history which would be very easy to do with the subject material which you are looking at, I was attacked by a mob of nesting plovers while I am trying to photograph this thing. Meanwhile my colleague is sitting in the air-conditioned circumstances of the Petherick Room at the National Library quite unaware of my many travails. That is a bit of background about undertaking the photography.

RICHARD REID: We should start looking at some of these images because the whole idea of the book is that it’s the images that drive it. In other words, you see the image and then you might become curious: what’s the story behind this particular thing or this particular place?

The book is called The Scattered Children of St Patrick: a journey through Irish Australia. A lot of people have been saying to me where is the quotation from - why the scattered children of St Patrick? Up there [slide shown] you will see the name of Mother Stanislaus Kenny who came from Ireland in the 1870s and died in Singleton in 1910. At her funeral the following words were actually written about her:

The claim that has often been made for Irish nuns, that they have been providentially inspired from on high with an apostolic zeal to follow up and devote their lives to the welfare of the children of St Patrick scattered through the wide spaces of the earth.

That’s a lovely quote. So the scattered children of St Patrick are the Irish in Australia, if you like, scattered right throughout the country.

I thought we had to start with St Patrick.

A statue of St Patrick. It is located in one corner of a church interior. The statue stands on a plinth, making it taller than an adult. St Patrick is depicted wearing a floor-length robe with a shorter knee-length garment over it. He holds a bible in his left hand at about hip height. His left arm cradles a long staff which is the same height as him. Its end rests near the front right corner of the plinth, as seen from the viewer’s perspective. His right hand holds a shamrock at about shoulder height. He is depicted with a beard and wears on his head a mitre, the pointed headwear sometimes worn by clergy. The statue is to the left in the image, close to a wall. To the right behind it is a low, small table upon which sits a large dark bowl. Behind the table is an alcove that has a statue of Christ in it. In front of the statue is a large floral arrangement. The floor in the image is polished floorboards.

This is in St Patrick’s Church in Church Hill in Sydney. I don’t know how many representations there are of St Patrick and, coming up to St Patrick’s Day, it is a good question to ask how many are there around the country. There are dozens of St Patrick’s churches. Some of you are probably far more familiar about that than I am. Certainly this representation of Patrick with the famous shamrock in his hand is in Church Hill. We are going to ask for this for the exhibition, because I think we have to have some kind of representation of St Patrick in Australia.

St Patrick in Ireland is just a vast kind of question. I was thinking the other day what is the most amusing little line I know about St Patrick. There was a joke that appeared in an Australian educational paper years ago drawn by a friend of mine which showed St Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland. There he was in the front seat of the car driving along and behind were all these little snake heads coming up, he’s looking very grim and they’re saying things like, ‘When will we get there? I need to go to the toilet. I have to stop,’ and things like that. That was St Patrick driving the snakes. We all know those kinds of stories.

We are coming up to St Patrick’s Day so it is probably useful to think how much that name has come into the country. I don’t know if Brendon has anything to say about that image.

BRENDON KELSON: No.

RICHARD REID: Does anybody else? It’s a good foretaste of the kind of things -

PETER STANLEY: For those who have just arrived, if you would like to say something just stick your hand up and wait for the microphone. This has the potential to be very interactive.

RICHARD REID: If you want to argue, too, you can argue back. I’m quite used to that and so is Brendon.

PETER STANLEY: It doesn’t do any good.

RICHARD REID: One last thing about St Patrick: I have just been down to Melbourne and of course it’s probably Melbourne that has the greatest representation of that in an ecclesiastical building at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne. The audience were quite stunned when I said to them that above the cathedral in Melbourne - and I am sure you all know it - at the very top of the great spire is a cross, a kind of Celtic cross. I called it the Republican Cross that dominates Melbourne.

It was actually given to Daniel Mannix, the Archbishop of Melbourne, in 1938 by the Irish government by De Valera. What is interesting about that is that Mannix and De Valera were great friends and Mannix was the only significant cleric in the Irish world in the 1920s who supported De Valera during a dreadful event in Ireland called the civil war. De Valera never forgot that. He didn’t hand out crosses to St Patrick’s churches all over the world, but here is the one that he gave to St Patrick’s in Melbourne. There is a Republican cross at the top of St Patrick’s.

A large, mostly rectangular stone, which has a plaque mounted on the side facing the viewer. The left side of the stone extends at an angle to the left, distorting the stone’s rectangular appearance. The top of the stone has a section missing, leaving a gap that curves down into the main part of the stone. Some light and dark areas at the top and left side suggest that layers of the stone have been removed or knocked off by weathering or accident. The stone stands in the ground close to the wall of a building. Some windows are visible in the right background. The stone is arranged so that its longer sides are vertical. The plaque is mounted in the upper half of the stone. The words ‘The Blarney Stone, Killarney, Victoria’ appear on the plaque. The ground around the plaque is dark; details in it are difficult to see.

I am going to let Brendon open up with this one.

BRENDON KELSON: Of course we know that the blarney stone is actually on an inner wall of the tower of Blarney Castle in Cork and it is supposed to endow anyone who kisses it with - quoting the Cork Historical and Archaeological Journal of 1912 - ‘sweet, persuasive, wheedling eloquence’. Queen Elizabeth I speaking of Cormac MacCarthy, once the owner of Blarney Castle, and his wheedling ways, is supposed to have remarked, ‘This is all blarney. What he says he never means.’

The village of Killarney in Victoria is in the Irish heartland of the western district, and the brogue of the settlers, I am told, can still be detected in the everyday speech of their descendants. It came to pass some 30 years ago that an enterprising gentleman came into the town of Killarney and decided he was going to make it a tourist destination and he would create here a Bunratty Castle of some kind or other and this would turn the whole place into a serious tourist destination. The locals decided he was a blow-in but, undeterred, he proceeded to redevelop the pub and procured a sizeable slab of bluestone - this is a basalt, an igneous rock, from this once volcanic region. He plonked it down fair and square in front of the pub and declared it to be the Blarney Stone Killarney. Nothing much came of this venture and in due course he “blowed out”, so to speak. The pub is now closed, but the stone remains and the occasional busload of tourists stop briefly to ponder this feature. There was a time when some approached still to kiss the stone until an old local said, ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you,’ and added, ‘a lot of long-legged dogs pass this way.’ There it is.

RICHARD REID: The blarney stone - the idea that the Irish are all full of blarney, garrulousness and so forth. It is amazing that it is actually there. Thank you, Brendon, for introducing that into the book. I didn’t know about that one until Brendon came back and showed me.

A statue depicting a large dog tied to a lead which is attached to a peg in the ground. A beer barrel lying upon its side and a street lamp on a post complete the statue. All of these elements are mounted upon a large concrete square, which projects a few centimetres out of the ground. The dog is at the front left corner of the statue. It is heavily built and leans away from the peg in the concrete behind it. The beer barrel is at the rear right hand corner of the installation. The lamp on the post is located in the middle of the right hand side of the concrete base. It appears to be modelled upon street lamps from the nineteenth century.  The entire installation is in an outdoor setting. Behind it is dense, low bush that extends away the horizon. The sky above is almost filled with clouds.

We get down now to the more serious business of the Irish presence and the Irish stories. Does anybody recognise that animal, just out of curiosity? One or two do. You might think what’s it got to do with the Irish - this mastiff, bloodhound chained up to this kennel of his. It is actually at Eaglehawk Neck in Tasmania. Eaglehawk Neck divides the Tasman Peninsula from the next peninsula, Forestier Peninsula, on this very narrow neck of land. That is one of the reasons Port Arthur, that brilliant place of secondary punishment, was built down there in the first place because it was very hard to escape from. You only had this narrow neck of land and beside it is this stretch of water which the guards down there used to say were full of sharks and things like that. What they did to make sure prisoners didn’t escape across the neck was to chain up this line of dogs whose noses supposedly would just touch. There is a lovely quote about them which I thought I would get out from a Hobart journalist in 1840:

Those out of the way pretenders to dogship were actually rationed and born on the government’s books and rejoiced in such sobriquets as Caesar, Pompeii, Ajax, Achilles, ugly mug, jouler, terr’m and muzzle especially. There were the black, the white, the brindle, the grey and the grizzly, the rough and the smooth, the crop-eared and the lop-eared, the gaunt and the grim. Every four-footed blackfound individual among them would have taken first prize in his own class for ugliness and ferocity at any show.

A rather brilliant quote. What does it have to do with the Irish? Well, supposedly only one group of prisoners has ever escaped from Port Arthur across Eaglehawk Neck and one of them was Martin Cash, the famous gentleman bushranger of Tasmania. Martin was born in Wexford in Ireland in 1806 and was transported in 1819. It is supposed that he was transported because he shot at a lover or somebody who had taken his girlfriend, but he was actually transported for house breaking - you can’t have an Irish story unless it has a good romantic background to it. He ends up in Tasmania in 1837 in secondary punishment. He was re-transported from New South Wales and ended up at Port Arthur. At Port Arthur he was given a pretty grim time as a secondary transported convict in the chaingang and various things like that.

So he and two colleagues escaped and did actually swim across Eaglehawk Neck. He actually escaped first at one time on his own but then got recaptured - he didn’t have enough food. The second time he escaped they all actually lost their clothing swimming across Eaglehawk Neck. I imagine these three ferocious characters led by Martin going through the bush in the nude when they found an overseer’s cottage and then got some clothing and escaped and became one of the most notorious bushranging gangs in Tasmania. All of this got written down much later in the century by a guy called Lester Burke, who then wrote a book called Martin Cash: The Bushranger of Van Diemen’s Land in 1843-4: A Personal Narrative of His Exploits in the Bush and His Experiences at Port Arthur and Norfolk Island - a brilliantly long title.

It is one of the stories that we have in there about convicts. There are four of them. A couple of them about Port Arthur, and Martin’s is certainly one of the more romantic tales of all that. He died in 1877. There’s a lovely photograph Brendon has taken of his grave down in Cornelian Bay in Hobart where later on his friends came along and gave it a lovely epitaph: ‘Martin Cash that unfortunate Irishman’. I tend to go to somewhere like that and say that the story is Martin Cash, and the dogs and Cash have a link to each other. Do you want to add anything?

BRENDON KELSON: This was actually put up around 1999. Interestingly enough, as Richard has pointed out, about the character and nature of the dogs, some people tried to put the view to me that they were mastiffs. No, they weren’t mastiffs; they were just plain mongrels. That’s the only way to describe them. They were chosen for their weight, their build and their ferociousness. In fact, it was often said that they were better fed than the convicts at Port Arthur itself.

The two people that were responsible for this were Ruth Waterhouse and Curtis Hore who lived down at a place called Kingston, just south of Hobart. They researched this subject very thoroughly. They went back through the records and they looked at all the details. They did actually consult people who breed mastiffs in Tasmania to try to get the feel of the thing right. The details about the collar, the barrel, the lamp - all these things - were either taken from contemporaneous images held in Tasmanian museums and libraries or from actual objects held down there in the museums. So it was very carefully constructed with attention to great detail.

The area itself is a protected area in terms of Indigenous history, so the cockle shells and things that spread across this strip of land where the dog line existed had to be imported, in consultation with the Indigenous community, from other beaches where they thought it was appropriate to bring them from.

The idea of the dog line: it appears that someone picked it up from a Spanish gentleman in Sydney who actually protected his property by doing the same sort of thing, having a line of dogs around the property.

RICHARD REID: Any comments or questions? They are frightening, aren’t they?

We move on from convicts into emigrant stories. One of my real passions about the Irish in Australia is the actual journey that the Irish make here in the nineteenth century by ship. My actual PhD topic years ago was about assisted migration to Sydney between 1848 and 1870. I got interested in the whole way in which the assisted passage was a very different thing for the Irish coming here to the Irish going across the North Atlantic to New York, Boston and places like that because it was actually very well organised and very few of them died on it. All of these stories in Australian-Irish psyche and in the Irish psyche about terrible famine, coffin ships and so on just don’t apply in relation to the Irish coming here.

The supervisor for my PhD, Oliver MacDonagh, always claimed this was one of the things that set the Irish apart in Australia, the fact that they actually had a moderately good experience in coming out, as had the English, as had the Scots. They were all just together as assisted emigrants and looked after in the same way, so you can’t run these horror stories about the shipping. You couldn’t because over three months you had to look after people. You couldn’t just leave them to their own devices on ships. They had to be looked after.

When it came to looking at some of the places to go and think about the Irish journey here, one of them that we came up was the Loch Ard Gorge on the south coast of Victoria on that famous Great Ocean Road near the 12 Apostles.

A photograph taken from a beach, looking out toward a narrow inlet between two cliffs. The cliffs extend back toward the beach on either side. They are heavily weathered and have many horizontal layers of rock in them. Each appears to have trees and bushes on its top. The water in the image foreground is gently breaking upon the beach. In the middle distance the water is rougher as waves come in through the narrow inlet and break upon the base of each cliff. A glimpse of the far horizon can be seen just above a wave breaking in the inlet. The sky above appears to be overcast. The cliff face on the right hand side is in more shadow due to having more of an overhang than the other cliff. The light and dark areas of each cliff are reflected upon the water’s surface.

The last story we did about this but it has a very moving Irish tale to tell. For those of you who know it, and I am sure some of you know it better than I do, the Loch Ard foundered there on 1 June 1878. It was a clipper ship out of London, not a particularly Irish ship in the sense of the passengers or anything else on board but there was a family of Irish people called the Carmichaels on it, eight of them, and only one of them survived. All the others - the father, the mother and the rest of the children - all perished in this Loch Ard disaster. Only one, Eva Carmichael, came up from her cabin and heard what was going on when the ship foundered and struck. When she came up she saw the captain saying, ‘Tell my wife that I died bravely,’ and so on. She threw herself overboard and managed to cling onto a spar, which was then washed through this gorge by the seas. In there apparently the nightdress she was wearing was caught by a rock and she was caught on that, and she saw somebody else on the shore already. This was Tom Pearce who was an apprentice or a sort of cabin boy on the boat. He rescued her, dragged her up on shore and found some brandy from somewhere to administer to her. And then later on when people came around looking for them they rescued them. They spent some time at the Glenample station which is just behind the Loch Ard Gorge.

Up at the top there is a little graveyard, and two of the Carmichaels are actually buried. The mother is buried there, Mrs Evory Carmichael and Raby, one of the sisters, as well. Eva and Tom became very famous. Tom received a medal from the Royal Humane Society - I have been trying to track that medal down. If anybody knows where Tom Pearce’s medal is, I would be interested in knowing. They became famous, photographed, endless journalistic articles written about them, lots in the newspapers and things like that.

One of the most famous pieces from the ship is the famous pheasant, the great tall glass pheasant that is now in the Warrnambool museum. It’s a lovely piece that I hope to perhaps get into the exhibition plus other things about them. Eva eventually went back to Ireland but not on a sailing ship. This is one of the last great sailing ship disasters, one of the things that makes it really significant. After that it is really all steam that comes out to Australia. She went back on a steamer and never came back to Australia. The Warrnambool museum tried to get her to write her reminiscences of the whole event and send it out to them, but she found the whole thing too painful to actually do.

I suppose in terms of an Irish story it’s very Irish. Tom Pearce’s father was also Irish and he actually died in Ireland in the early twentieth century. There’s a big Irish connection with the Loch Ard disaster, but again one of Brendon’s more stunning images. Would you like to comment?

BRENDON KELSON: Tom Pearce incidentally lost his own son at sea and he was involved in two more shipwrecks before he finally retired from the sea, dying in 1909, as I recall. Matthew Flinders said at one stage, ‘I have seldom seen a more fearful section of coastline.’ It is - not constantly but very frequently - shrouded in deep, thick fog and very rough seas. It’s not as rough on that particular day when I was down there as I had hoped.

But when I was photographing the Cape Otway lighthouse, it was a perfectly clear day and in a matter of about 15 minutes fog rolled in over the whole bright sunny morning. Richard’s quite right that this decorative porcelain peacock which was made by Minton - God knows how it survived - was in its case and survived totally intact. It sits down there with other relics in the Warrnambool Maritime Museum.

Interestingly, on that whole stretch of coast there are some 50 wrecks marked along it on the way up to Cape Otway so you can actually follow a shipwreck trail. It was the disaster of the Neva which was carrying convicts in 1835 and then later the Cataraqui, both wrecked off King Island - the latter one was carrying emigrants - and I must add though the bushfires in Victoria were disastrous and tragic, it was the Cataraqui that remains our largest and most significant civil disaster in Australian history - of 409 people on board, nine survived, and the Neva wasn’t much better. That led to the establishment of the Cape Otway lighthouse in 1848.

A statue depicting four geese in flight. One goose takes the uppermost position while the other three are lower down. All face to the right and have their long necks extended, giving a strong sense of flight in that direction. The uppermost bird has its wings in a raised position, as if it’s about to flap downwardly. The two birds directly underneath it have one wing up and one down. The fourth bird, which is slightly out to the left of the other three, has both wings down at the bottom of a flapping stroke. The birds are mounted upon a thick base which is visible at the very bottom of the photograph. The statue is in an outdoor setting. A clear sky can be seen behind the statue and the top of what may be a pine tree is visible in the bottom right hand corner of the photograph.

RICHARD REID: This is one that Brendon took much later on. We actually had another photograph of this. One of our big themes in the book, as you would imagine, is Irish nationalism in Australia: the various ways from the 1804 rebellion in Sydney, the famous Castle Hill rebellion, right through to Daniel Mannix in the period 1916 to 1921, the support of rebellion, and even through into more modern times with the gathering of money in Sydney and Melbourne and other places just to support activities in Belfast. There has been a continuing engagement between the Irish-descended people here and Irish in Ireland in relation to nationalistic events within Ireland itself. This particular statue - it’s not a statue -

BRENDON KELSON: It’s a monument.

RICHARD REID: It’s a monument to the Catalpa. It’s a representation of what’s known in Irish history as ‘the wild geese’, the flight after 1691 and the Treaty of Limerick - the Irish know history backwards - the treaty of Limerick of Irish soldiers who refused to serve with English armies or to disband and went off to the continent of Europe to fight in the armies of France and Spain throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. There’s a big Irish story behind this, but it is meant to represent the saving of the Fenians in 1876.

The very last convict ship to come to Australia in 1868 brought Fenians. These were men who had been tried in England and in Ireland for rebellion against the British crown for wanting to rebel and set up an Irish republic within Ireland. It’s a complicated story. But on that particular ship on the Hougoumont there were two kinds of Fenians: there were the ordinary civilian ones who had been tried in civil courts; and there were also military Fenians who had been drummed out of their regiments, some of them even as deserters and had the famous ‘D’ drilled into their breasts almost. Anyway, by about 1874 most of the Fenians had actually been released in various government amnesties from Britain, but there were still a number of military ones confined in the jail in Fremantle. One of them wrote to John Devoy, who was a Fenian in the United States, a very moving letter in which he said this:

Now dear friend, remember this is a voice from the tomb. We have been nearly nine years in this living tomb. It is impossible for mind or body to withstand the continual strain. One or the other must give way.

In other words, these military Fenians thought they would be there for life and would never get out, that the army in Britain would insist that they be incarcerated forever having been deserters, rebels and so on.

So the Irish in America raised money to hire this whale, the famous whale ship Catalpa which in 1876 sailed out to the Western Australian coast, stationed itself off the coast and sent a little boat onshore. Then the military Fenians, six of them, as they were working outside the jail on the morning of Easter Monday 1876 were taken in these little dog carts by the Irishman John Breslin, who was the man who had come from the United States to organise this, down to Rockingham and then off to this whale boat and out to the Catalpa. It wasn’t quite as simple as that. They couldn’t get on to the Catalpa instantly. There was a bit of fracas at sea where a small steamer called the Georgette - again captained by an Irishman and with pensioner military guards, most of them also Irishmen - tried to stop these Fenians escaping from Western Australia.

The governor of Western Australia at the time was an Irishman, William Cleaver Robinson, so it was a very Irish kind of affair. But the Catalpa was encountered on the high seas and they actually shot a shot across her bows to make her stop. Breslin, who was coaxing the captain at the time, said ‘Point to the flag, the flag of the United States. We’re on the high seas. They can’t arrest us now.’ Cleaver Robinson, the governor, had said, ‘If they won’t give up and they are on the high seas, don’t arrest them because it might create an international incident.’ So these famous military Fenians were rescued and taken back to the United States. Brendon might like to speak to quickly about the monument.

BRENDON KELSON: It’s an arresting story. The ABC put on a documentary about it, in conjunction with Irish television, a couple of years ago and was re-run just recently in the last couple of months, as I recall. If you ever see it, it’s very close to the story. It is well documented and well put together. Look out for it, if you are interested.

You can’t quite see but there are six geese there representing the six that were actually taken on to the Catalpa, and that is about the best aspect I could get. Old story: the photographer walked right around the whole subject and tries to find the best angle to shoot it from, and that was the best, but it did mean that one of the geese is slightly obscured.

The other thing is interestingly the Fenians themselves on their way out on the Hougoumont dubbed themselves the wild geese, paying respect and homage to that particular tradition. So in the same way as the Irish aristocrats and young Catholic males from getting across to Europe to serve in the French and Spanish armies to escape the English, so these were escaping their colonial British jailers.

RICHARD REID: We have a huge section of the book which deals with public life, with famous Irish figures like Governor Richard Bourke in the 1830s, a whole range of these people. One of the most fascinating and forgotten stories is this one, a lady called Mary Lee.

A statue of a woman, showing her head, neck and the upper parts of her shoulders. The statue is mounted on a tall plinth that has two plaques its front face. The woman is depicted wearing a small brimless hat tied to her head. The lower part of her shows a collar and the representation of part of her dress. Her expression is one of strength and courage and her gaze is fixed at the horizon. The upper plaque on the plinth front face is round while the lower one is rectangular, with its longer sides being vertical. The statue is in an outdoor setting. A well-maintained lawn is visible behind the statue and some garden bushes are behind the lawn. Glimpses of sky can be seen through the bushes and trees beyond the boundary of the area in which the statue is located.

Mary didn’t actually come to Australia until she was 58. She was born in 1821 in county Monaghan but in the time that she spent here between the ages of 58 and when she died in 1909, she became undoubtedly one of the most famous women in South Australia. She is the one behind votes for women in that colony.

I just thought I would read you something amusing about this. In 1898 when the federal conventions were meeting and they were developing the Australian constitution conventions in Adelaide, Melbourne and so on, when they came to vote on the constitution, as you probably know, each colony had to vote on it and had to pass a certain majority. The only colony where women voted in relation to the constitution bill was in South Australia. I remember years ago when I did an exhibition for the Senate on Federation - I went and looked at the Adelaide newspapers at the time to see whether there were any comments from people as they were voting. Fortunately, the Advertiser had these wonderful stories from each of the polling booths about people voting. They had this one about an Irish woman so let me just read it:

She came out of the booth and said this, ‘There I trust God will put them all in the sea and there’ll all be drowned’, ejaculated an old Irish lady as she recorded her vote in the Port Town Hall presumably against the bill. ‘Who’ asked an official and the votress replied, ‘They philistines that’s doing this here work.’ She afterwards spoke against Federation to her fellow electors as though the statement applied to those who favoured the measure.

So clearly she didn’t approve of the whole bill. Very quickly to relate Mary Lee’s story in all this: she came out to Adelaide in 1879 aged 58. She was then made the secretary of the Australian Women’s Suffrage League in 1888 aged 68. So at 68 she is taking up this huge task to try to get a bill through the colonial parliament to give votes to women.

BRENDON KELSON: This is all voluntary effort.

RICHARD REID: Absolutely, not paid at all. That bill was finally passed on 18 December 1894. Mary was certainly lauded by the likes of Cameron Kingston and others as the single driving force behind getting this bill to happen. One of the big things she did was that she got up a petition on which there were 11,000 signatures, which was then presented to the parliament in Adelaide asking for votes for women. That petition is still there in great sheets with Mary Lee’s name virtually at the top of it. She doesn’t appear in any of the history books of the Irish in Australia. In Patrick O’Farrell’s The Irish in Australia she doesn’t get a mention. PS Cleary’s Australia’s Debt to Irish Nation-Builders which was produced in the 1930s and has a great long list of all those Irish men and women who contributed to various things in Australia, again, it’s ignorant of Mary Lee. She is one of the great forgotten Irish stories. I like to bring her in, particularly in relation to South Australia where they think there aren’t any Irish.

BRENDON KELSON: I said to Richard at one stage in this project, ‘There aren’t enough women in this, Richard,’ and we then started to think very seriously. It is very easy, if you think about it, you can virtually tell the Irish-Australian story just down the east coast and you can virtually tell it as a male story. We were very consciously working to try to make sure it was national and that it embraced men and women of all colours and persuasions. So we worked on that one.

When I went over to Adelaide I thought about this for some time. She died in 1909 in abject poverty. And she’s just forgotten, as Richard says, until 18 December 1994, the centenary of the passage of the Constitution Amendment Bill in South Australia which brought in the vote for women and their right to sit in parliament. I looked at one stage at her grave in the little Wesleyan cemetery in Walkerville, an inner Adelaide suburb, and it is very ordinary. The only thing it says on this all-white marble scroll is ‘late honorary secretary Women’s Suffrage League of South Australia’. I thought this was really rather sad. This was the only thing around until this came up and I thought ‘There is no option here. I have to photograph this bust. I am not going to have this woman who did so much just as a little scroll.’ It sits just across the road from the Adelaide Club, which is the centre of Adelaide conservatism and everything that was opposed to the things that Mary Lee was about and right along from the parliamentary buildings and all the major public institutions in South Australia so I said, ‘That’s it.’

RICHARD REID: I think of all the objects that we went and had a look at, this is perhaps my favourite.

A church interior, featuring its organ. The organ sits in a large alcove in the centre of the image. Its pipes tower vertically in three sections. Each section has the tallest pipe in the middle. The keyboards beneath the pipes are hidden by ornate wood panelling. In the foreground can be seen the upper parts of rows of pews and a low wood panel wall separating the pews from the organ. Text can be seen on the wall at either side of the organ. At the left is ‘Jesus is Lord’ and at the right is ‘God is Love’. A globe light fitting hangs in front of the central set of organ pipes.

Brendon is chuckling away. It’s my favourite because you ask yourself: what could this possibly represent? This is the organ in the Wesley Uniting Church in Box Hill. A sacred religious functioning thing in a modern church. The organ actually comes from the house of a man called Henry Miller who had this huge great mansion at Findon in Kew in Melbourne in which he had a ballroom constructed, and in the ballroom there was the organ at the end of it. I wondered what did they use the organ for, for dancing, for holding church services, what did they get up to with this particular organ? There is a lovely etching of it in one of the illustrated papers of the period showing Henry Miller’s ballroom and the organ. There was about 20-odd of these organs brought into very wealthy homes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. This one has ended up in the Box Hill Uniting Church. But that’s not really the end of it.

The interesting thing you ask yourself is: who is Henry Miller? He was known as Henry ‘Money’ Miller. When he died in 1888 he left £1,400,000 so he was a very wealthy man indeed.

BRENDON KELSON: That was in Victoria. There was about another £800,000 in New South Wales.

RICHARD REID: That’s right, I forgot about the New South Wales. Well, £1,400,000 sounded large enough in Victoria on its own, but he was also known for his meanness. I hasten to say he was an Irish Presbyterian from Derry in the northern part of Ireland, in Ulster, who arrived in the 1840s in the then colony of Victoria. He gradually did a whole lot of things but became one of the directors of the Bank of Victoria. But he made his money by founding a mortgage society to help selectors who had selected land to pay for that land, give them a loan and so on. But if they defaulted even over six months the loan would be called in or if it got over six pounds it would be called in. That is where he made his big money.

But at the end of the day when he was an old man, a guy called George Meudell who wrote a book about the crash in Victoria of the 1890s - containing all sorts of scurrilous stories about various financiers in Victoria at the time - went to visit ‘Money’ Miller. This is very close to when he died. He found him in his billiard room in Findon in Kew and described him in this way:

He found Miller sitting at a green baize table playing with 25 new golden sovereigns. What a lovely dotage to be in just to do nothing but sit all day playing with new yellow jimmy goblins to absorb their glitter and harken to their click and clink, to spend a long life gathering money, piling it up, seeing it grow without spending more than keeps one alive, indulging one’s ruling passion to the utmost right up to the door of death.

Murtle thought Miller a curious case of putrefaction of the soul. So there it is. Nowadays, to the tunes of Mozart, Buxtehude and hymn singing, money miller’s organ survives in the Box Hill Wesley Uniting Church. That was one of our objects and one of our stories.

BRENDON KELSON: Any photographer worth his salt will go out and try and be well informed about his subject and what he is trying to do and approach it in a balanced sort of way. Now that doesn’t mean you are neutral about the subject, and I certainly wasn’t feeling very neutral about this chap. I have felt great affinity and great affection for some; I have felt compassion for others; respect and honour for some; and total disdain for ‘Money’ Miller. That about sums up what I felt about him. The interesting thing is he was shady in his practices but he kept on the right side of the law. This is a quote I love:

It was truly said of him his counting house is his church, his ledger is his Bible and his money is his god.

So I thought it would be a nice touch when I looked for this image that the organ should be plonked between ‘Jesus is Lord’ and ‘God is love’. I thought this was a nice little touch.

RICHARD REID: A nice epitaph for ‘Money’ Miller.

QUESTION: How did the organ make it to the church?

BRENDON KELSON: I can’t remember - probably when Findon was up for grabs the Wesleyan church bought it in about 1924, so it’s been in the church since then.

RICHARD REID: We have in the book a large section on the Irish and religion in Australia. Clearly most of the stories deal with the Catholic Church and with all sorts of aspects of the Catholic Church. But there is one story that I knew I had to get in, and I knew I would never be able to put my nose inside St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney again if I got this story in. This is the reredos in St Andrew’s Cathedral.

A five-panelled, free-standing structure that features intricate carvings depicting biblical scenes. The structure is in a church. The three centre panels are the same size and have a number of people in each scene. The two outer panels are smaller and are set slightly higher up than the middle panels. These two panels depict a single figure. Between all five panels are half columns that act as borders for each panel. The upper parts of seven stained glass windows can be seen in the background of the photograph. The area around these windows is quite dark, suggesting that there is little light in that part of the church.

I don’t know if any of you have seen this object before. St Andrews is what would be called in Ireland, England and here a low church. That is to say, there is no altar, no crucifix on an altar or anything of that nature. I don’t want to get into the theology of all this which is quite complicated.

In the 1880s the church brought out a reredos to put behind the bishop’s throne. When the reredos came out the central panel of it was the crucifixion, as you might imagine. Given all the kind of arguments that used to go on, we call them sectarian arguments but they are not just that: they are a bit more than that, they are arguments between Protestants and Catholics over the whole nature of religious belief. One of the ways in which in Ireland there were objections to the Catholic belief came up through people like the Orange Order and the idea that Protestantism is at the heart of individual freedom, that the revolution that occurred in England under Henry VIII and Elizabeth and so on guaranteed individual liberty or their personal use of the Bible - you have probably all come across these things in the past.

These attitudes are transmitted out to Australia as well as Catholic attitudes about things. When this reredos appeared with the crucifixion scene, certain extreme Protestants in Sydney and among them a gentleman called Justice John Forster who was a very famous judge in Sydney - he’d been the judge for Henry Parkes in the Licensing Court in Sydney where he had applied the strictures of the Licensing Act so carefully and everything else he became known as ‘water jug’ Forster.

BRENDON KELSON: It was also because he was a leader in the temperance movement.

RICHARD REID: He was in the temperance movement as well but it was the Licensing Court, but you are right. Anyway, when this arrived out he led the charge against having this crucifixion. The upshot was that in 1887 the poor bishop who found all these extreme Orange men and Englishmen as well - it wasn’t just Irish Protestants but English Protestants as well - attacking him over this thing, they removed the offending panel of the crucifixion and put up the transfiguration instead, which is what you can see in the panel today. I like to think that in St Andrew’s Cathedral there is little representation of the extremes of Orangism and its beliefs in Australia.

The Bulletin did a lovely cartoon called ‘The water jug and the reredos’ where they showed Justice Forster with a hammer and chisel taking out the crucifixion scene in the middle of it. Brendon, any comments on this one?

BRENDON KELSON: I presume everyone knows what a reredos actually is. It’s a twelfth-century Anglo-French term which is applied to a decorative wall or screen, floor to ceiling type of thing, that sits behind the altar of a Christian church and it usually has things of this nature. But characteristically in the Middle Ages and probably why it came out with the crucifix on it in the late nineteenth century was to do with the Oxford movement, Christian revival and ritualism in the Anglican Church in the United Kingdom. It would have been quite natural. So that is that part of it.

Some of the great painters of Europe, sculptors and tapestry makers produced some great works of art. If you go through the churches and cathedrals of the United Kingdom, France or Germany, you will see these glorious pieces of work.

I went to great pains to photograph this piece, and it took me three goes to get it just a matter of curiosity. The first time I went to St Andrew’s cathedral the cathedral was shut, locked, barred, no-one goes in. That’s the first thing. I went back a second time in the middle of the week when I thought it would be open, but no, it’s lock and barred again. But with much hammering on the doors like Luther or someone else, I finally got a lady to come to the door and said, ‘Is there any reason why I can’t get into the cathedral?’ She said, ‘Yes, we are playing Godspell this week.’ So that was that.

The third time Richard and I were in Sydney together and I said, ‘It’s 2 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon there is nothing going to stop us getting this photograph today.’ So I finally went in the side entrance and you bet there is a Filipina rock group performing there to an audience in the church. I finally did get a picture by being very civil and polite and walking around the people doing the sound recording and finally got the image that we wanted. So much for the reredos.

RICHARD REID: We must rattle through these next ones because I know Dr Stanley will stop us. I said the organ was my favourite but this one, too, has a very special place in my heart. This is the ruins of Ellen Kelly’s house at Greta, the house that was built for her by her more famous son Ned Kelly.

Two brick chimneys standing on open ground. The chimney closer to the viewer is the taller of the two and retains its top which is decorated with horizontal brick bands. The shorter chimney appears to have lost part of its top. It leans at a slight angle away from the taller chimney. The remains of a horse-drawn buggy are in front of the chimneys. The wheels and axle are in front of the shorter chimney while the bridle rests against the taller chimney. Grass tussocks grow around both chimneys. Four fence posts can be seen just behind the chimneys. Open ground stretches away in the distance. A low hill can be seen in the background. Scattered dead trees are visible in the right hand side of the photograph. The sky appears to be partly overcast and shadows on the ground suggest that the sun is relatively low in the sky.

When it came to looking at famous Irish legendary stories or heroic stories in Australia, we settled down initially for three - Ned Kelly, Peter Lalor and Burke of Burke and Wills. We have now added to that with Les Darcy and Martin O’Meara, the VC awardee of the First World War. So there are five legendary stories.

But looking at this what I got struck by was not so much about the story of Ned Kelly. The story of Ned Kelly is so famous and so well known to just about anybody in this country, even overseas. The one name in Ireland I heard of when I came out to Australia was the story of Ned Kelly.

Ellen Kelly’s story, the mother, is actually every bit as dramatic and every bit as interesting. She comes out in 1841 as a young girl in a family from Antrim. Ellen Quinn is her name. She marries Red Kelly from Clonbrogan in Tipperary. One of the things I want to bring out for the exhibition is the parish register at Clonbrogan which shows the entry for John Kelly back in 1820.

The more amazing thing is what happens to her after Ned Kelly’s death when she returns back to Greta and remains in that district virtually for the rest of her life. She didn’t die until 1923 aged 93. In 1911 a Sydney journalist, a man called Cookson, came down into this area looking supposedly for Dan Kelly. Some people had heard a rumour that Dan Kelly was still alive and hadn’t been killed at the shootout at Glenrowan. On this stormy night he goes along to some house around Greta and they say, ‘No we don’t know anything about that,’ and then he sees this other little house further on up. He goes up there and these two young children come to the door and say, ‘Come in and sit by the fire,’ and so on. Then this elderly woman came into the room and he describes her in an article he wrote:

Then another entered the room, an ancient woman of aspect so forlorn as to suggest most strongly a life not only devoid of hope for the future but weighed down with some great overpowering sorrow of the past. Her frame was spare and poorly clad. The wrists and hands were as scant of flesh as the talons of an eagle. The thin shoulders, stooping with the weight of years of lifelong tragedy, giving but feeble support to the head upon which the freckled skin was drawn as tightly as parchment upon a drum.

This was Ellen Kelly. He was absolutely stunned when he said what he was doing that he was looking to follow up this rumour that Dan Kelly might still be alive, and she said, ‘Well I would know, I’m his mother.’ Out of that came this whole series of interviews with her and about getting her view of what had happened at Glenrowen and what happened before that that had led to the Kelly outbreak and all these kind of things.

She became a very respected woman in the area apparently. One of the stories that is told is when the Kelly film came out in 1906 The Story of the Kelly Gang, supposedly the first feature film ever produced in the world, that the police went to the magistrate in Benalla and asked the film not be shown in Benalla in respect of Mrs Kelly because Mrs Kelly had become somebody who delivered people’s children, who was a great stalwart lady in the community. That just gives you another kind of angle on Ellen and her story. It is one I would like to bring out, if I can, in the exhibition a bit more about Ellen. Brendon might have something to say about that.

BRENDON KELSON: She is really the rock on which the whole family survives. Ned was totally devoted to her and built this house. What you see there are some of the extensions that were created later. She lived there for many, many years. Ned’s younger brother Jim cared for his mother and put her later into another smaller place. He lived on here until 1946. He died at the age of 89. He was one of the great sources of information for Max Brown when he did the first modern biography of Ned Kelly.

It is still on private land which is owned by descendants of the family. It has been regularly pillaged over the years, unfortunately, but it is so central to the whole Kelly story because it is here where Constable Fitzpatrick engages in a confrontation with the family, which ends up in Ellen going to jail for three years hard labour and two other associates getting six years hard labour, which even the commissioner of police and others said was totally out of proportion to the event. And then Dan and Ned go into the Wombat Ranges and following from that is the killing at Stringy Bark Creek. This is the key to the whole beginning of the Kelly outbreak.

RICHARD REID: Almost full circle, back to Koroit where we started with Kilarney. This is the signpost outside Mickey Burke’s pub in Koroit.

A signpost with multiple signs on it, standing outside a hotel. The signs point in a number of directions and have place names on them. In the foreground is a short metal post, which stands in front of two low hedges. In the background the front of the two-storey hotel shows an archway and the railing of the first-floor balcony. The range of tones in the black and white photograph suggests that the hotel has been painted in bright colours.

I don’t know how familiar any of you are with that part of the western districts of Victoria but they claim down there that they are the most Irish place in Australia almost. They have an Irish Festival every year around the Anzac Day period in Koroit. As you drive in, even the school has a shamrock on its billboard and things of this nature. The Irish festival has things like a Danny boy championship where you sit in the theatre and you hear umpteen people singing ‘Danny boy’ one after the other. I actually like ‘Danny boy’ as a song but I suppose once you have listened to it the tenth time, you sort of wonder.

There is also a spud picking championship. I don’t know if they were having a go at us down in Koroit about this. Koroit became one of the areas that was famous for its potato growing culture - that was no joke. In the 1840s a man called ‘Terrible’ Billy Rutledge from County Cavan developed this land. He had been granted land called the Farnham survey on which, after they realised they couldn’t grow wheat there, they began to grow potatoes and they began to realise this was very rich soil indeed. Lots of Irish people came into that region and took on small leaseholds. They actually ran a system called conacre farming where the owner of the land would lease it out for a year and you simply speculated that you were going to get a good crop out of it. Back in Ireland that was disastrous for small holders. In this part of Victoria where you could get a really crop out and the emerging markets in Ballarat, Melbourne and so on were actually thriving for agricultural produce, the small Irish proprietors did very well and ended up actually buying their land.

There is a famous story told about the auctions there and when these farms were eventually sold off that people wouldn’t come up and take them on a mortgage, they would come up and bring out great wads of filthy notes in their hands and put the money down and pay for the whole thing. They had made enough over the years to do this. So if you are looking for an area where the Irish have escaped from the worst aspects of landlordism in Ireland, you find it in this area where they can get on the land and get small holdings but small holdings that work and actually pay them. Koroit certainly became a great stronghold of all this. In fact it had an Irish mayor for 40 years and longest serving Irish mayors and town clerks and St Patrick’s Day races. You name it, Koroit was in the centre.

I just love the sign outside the pub today because it says Dublin, Cork and the distance and so on. At the back it has got Killarney 10 kilometres and then it has 13 paces to Mickey Burke’s pub. Any comments?

BRENDON KELSON: I just couldn’t resist this. It smacked of stage Irishness and all that sort of business - hard drinking, outrageous brogues mixed with charm and wit. They actually have a leprechaun competition each Koroit Festival. While I was there on this occasion the person who had been leprechaun for the previous three years and worked in every pub in Koroit was sitting there with his little cap, which had on it ‘to be sure to be sure’ with a feather sticking out of the back of it. He looked like a Barry Fitzgerald character that had walked out of Going my Way with Bing Crosby or something like this. And up on a board on the wall was chalked just by way of example:

Dad: Mickey, will you go outside and see if it’s raining.
Son: Oh Dad, why can’t you call the dog in and see if he’s wet.

RICHARD REID: We have two more to go. This is in a section which is about Irish places in Australia. We have Galong quite close here to Canberra, Ned Ryan’s house, Clare in South Australia, Koroit and Kiama on the coast. Kiama and Boorowa were the two largest areas of Irish settlement in New South Wales in the nineteenth century. This is getting to grips with the idea where are there places in which you can still find a redolence of the Irish presence in the nineteenth century.

One of the forgotten stories of the Irish is one that I am sure those of you who are brought up in this country will remember very well is the Around the Boree Log poems. It seems to me Patrick Hartigan ‘John O’Brien’ has fallen off the radar over the last 20 or 30 years. Back in the 1920s when the famous book Around the Boree Log of his poetry was published, he sold something like 500,000 copies in reprints and became one of the best-selling authors in Australia by far. Manning Clark who set out to write about the various themes, one of which was the bringing of Catholicism to Australia and things like that, doesn’t even mention him in the last volume. People like Patrick O’Farrell are a bit disparaging about him and think he’s over-sentimentalised and nostalgic.

But I think John O’Brien captures the whole ethos of the rural Irish Catholics in New South Wales, Victoria and other places in the 1890s through to the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. Of course you would all know the famous lines [from ‘Said Hanrahan’]:

‘We’ll all be rooned,’ said Hanrahan,
In accents most forlorn,
Outside the church, ere Mass began,
One frosty Sunday morn.

The congregation stood about,
Coat-collars to the ears,
And talked of stock, and crops, and drought,
As it had done for years.

‘It’s looking crook,’ said Daniel Croke;
’Bedad, it’s croke, me lad,
For never since the banks went broke
Has seasons been so bad.’

I think Hartigan is due - and certainly for our exhibition here and in the book he gets a guernsey - because he is the man who reflects well this kind of Irish rural Catholic society. John O’Brien - the title he gave himself is interesting. He never said he was a poet. He always claimed that he wasn’t up there with the Christopher Brennans, WB Yeats and all the rest of it. When asked about this he said, ‘I took the title John O’Brien from a dairyman out in one of these small towns in New South Wales near Narrandera that I knew well who used to be known for his adulterated milk. Well that’s me, an adulterated poet, so I’m John O’Brien.’ I rather like that kind of modesty on his behalf. He knew that he was not a great poet but he was a great versifier and a great bringer of all sorts of themes and feelings about these small rural Irish communities. And that is the house he was born in.

A wooden cottage behind an uneven wooden fence. The fence palings are of different lengths, giving the fence its uneven appearance. A rough gate is to the left hand side of the fence. The cottage is made from horizontal weatherboard planks. It has a corrugated iron roof and a chimney at each end. A climbing plant is well established on the front of the cottage. This plant runs the full length of the overhanging roof. The front of the cottage under the overhang is obscured by dark shadows. In the foreground, the ground is covered in partial shadow that is broken up here and there by dappled sunlight. The sky in the background is free of cloud. The top of a tree can be seen over the right hand end of the cottage roof.

BRENDON KELSON: That’s his birthplace in Yass. There’s a heritage listing on it. It is not very far off the main street. If you ever go up that way to find it it’s very easy.

RICHARD REID: The boree log cottage. Our last one is one that’s really very cheeky and deliberately so.

A statue of Queen Victoria, mounted on a large plinth. The statue is in an exterior position, in front of a building. Queen Victoria is in a seated position. The many folds of her clothing have been accurately recreated. She sits in an upright pose, facing to the right of the image. The large plinth under her has a curved section supported by a block carved to represent half columns. The bottom of the plinth is a very thick block, giving the entire sculpture a feeling of being monumental. A single pedestrian can be seen in the far right background. The building behind the statue appears to be made from sandstone. It has a classically decorate façade, with half columns and tall, narrow, arch-topped windows.

As someone who is an Irishman who has been in this country since 1972, so I can certainly now claim to be an Australian as well as being Irish - in fact, I’m completely confused and mixed up about what the heck I am at the end of the day. To me this is one of the most teasing images about the Irish in Australia you can find. It’s the statue of Queen Victoria outside the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney. Those of you who know it, it lies between the Town Hall on one side and the Queen Victoria Building on the other.

If you ask yourself about Irish identity in Australia in the nineteenth century and right through to the First World War, up until that great crisis of Mannix, conscription, the Irish war of independence and so on, where did the Catholic Irish owe their allegiance in relation to their attitudes in Australia? Let me give you one simple story that I think illustrates that very well.

In 1901 when Queen Victoria died, the next St Patrick’s Day after that, which wasn’t too long after her death, Cardinal Patrick Francis Moran who undoubtedly is one of the great Irish leaders in Australia - supporter of home rule for Ireland and re-establishment of an Irish parliament and everything else - gets up at a St Patrick’s dinner and his first toast is to the late Queen, to Queen Victoria, not to some Irish republic, not to some home rule parliament in Dublin which comes later on in his speech but he toasts the Queen under whom we in Australia as Irish men and women have flourished within the British Empire, which guarantees our liberties, freedoms and a whole range of things. It wasn’t that he was against the idea of a more independent Ireland but he was certainly propounding the idea that we are all part of this empire in which we partake of all sorts of benefits and everything else.

You can’t read the nineteenth and early twentieth century Ireland through the haze of the flag of the republic of Ireland today. It doesn’t work like that. Things changed in the 1920s. This statue exemplifies it, because most of the Irish who came to Australia, and now people who are descended from them who number in the millions, came in the nineteenth century under the reign of Queen Victoria 1837 to 1901.

This is actually a statue from Dublin and was not made here in Australia. It used to stand outside the Dáil in Dublin, Leinster House, the parliament of an independent Ireland. In 1947 when Ireland became a republic and de Valera wasn’t there to do it - he wasn’t the one who brought Ireland into being a republic - the statue was removed from the front of Leinster house. They wanted to build a car park for the Dáil deputies.

There’s a photograph of it being lifted off. Apparently when this crane lifted it and couldn’t get it out of the gate so they had put the Queen on her side and shift her out that way. She was then ignominiously dumped into an Office of Public Works store in County Offaly in Ireland where she sat right up until the mid-1980s when a man named Neil Glasser who is a Sydney Jew - who I have met; a lovely man - was trying to find a suitable theme to put outside the refurbished Queen Victoria Building. The reason he was doing this is that he had met a man on an airplane. He’s a rich man and he’d been in first class travelling off to San Francisco. He had met a man who was in charge of IPOH Holdings who was the Malaysian company actually redoing the Queen Victoria Building. The man said, ‘I don’t know what I am going to do about the top floor. How are we going to get people to the top floor?’ Neil said, Leave it to me. I will devise things up there that will bring people into the top floor.’ But I also need a signature for the building. I must find a statue of Queen Victoria. So he wrote to Aden, he wrote to India and he wrote to all the various ex-colonies of the British Empire asking for statues that they might have of Queen Victoria. All of them turned him down saying, ‘No, we’ve got one but she’s part of our history, fabric and everything else. No, she stays. I’m sorry, she’s not going to Sydney.’

Then one night Neil Glasser was at a reception with the Irish ambassador Joe Small and happened to casually mention his search for a statue of Queen Victoria. Joe Small said to him, ‘I think we might have a spare one in Ireland.’ So he wrote to Ireland to the Office of Public Works and was duly told ‘Yes there is one in Ireland.’ So he flew straight off to Dublin and went out to Offaly, which is the centre of Ireland to this store for the Office of Public Works, and he said, ‘I turned a corner and there she was sitting there with birds on her hands and droppings of the ages and God knows what else.’ I said ‘she’s for me.’

So duly Queen Victoria was given by the government and people of Ireland to the city of Sydney in 1987. The statue was unveiled in December 1987. The Irish government had given instructions that it had to be unveiled before the bicentenary year 1988. It wasn’t to be seen as a bicentennial gift. It was fine that it was a gift to the city of Sydney from the people and government of Ireland. That’s on a plaque up there that it’s a gift, but it had to be unveiled before the bicentenary actually started.

It is interesting - I knew the then ambassador at that time, I think it was Jim Sharky - that he didn’t show up, was undisposed or not available. So the poor first secretary of the embassy had to go down and be there for the handing over of the statue. So I thought there was a bit of distancing going on. The Irish ambassador is not here today so I can say that I have seen a secret file at the embassy which actually shows that at the time there was a bit of querying about whether this should have been let go from Ireland. It wouldn’t happen now. It really would not. If someone like Neil Glasser showed up today and asked for a statue of Queen Victoria, I doubt they would give it to him.

QUESTION: There was a statue in Dublin, is this the same one that presented Queen Victoria with a scowl on her face and was called ‘Ireland’s revenge’?

RICHARD REID: The famine queen, yes, it is indeed the one. There is a lot more about this statue we could talk about that I can’t remark on here - I haven’t got the time. The interesting thing is she was the last survivor of a British monarch’s statue in Dublin. All the others had gone: King William - King Billy of the Boyne - had gone in front of the Bank of Ireland; George I had gone; George II was blown up in 1928 in Stephen’s Green; and Queen Victoria was the last survivor of a royal statue. She now is with us forever presumably in Sydney.

The last thing to ask, and maybe Brendon will do this: how do we know she is Irish?

BRENDON KELSON: A very good point. I will preface it with one thing. One of the things that Richard uses as a title to this section on Queen Victoria was ‘nesting place for the local birds’. It’s a quote from a piece:

For 40 years she had served as a favourite perch and nesting place for the local birds.

So when I came to photograph her, I waited until there was a seagull perched on her head. I thought it was most appropriate that we should continue this tradition.

But the point about her being Irish, you can walk around it and you might very well wonder until you get up close - there are two photographs of her that will be used. One is a detail that shows the upper part of her body and you will see across it the sash of the Order of St Patrick and sitting right on her left breast is a shamrock.

RICHARD REID: And there it is.

A close-up of the statue of Queen Victoria. The photograph has been taken standing close to the statue, looking up at her likeness. Her head, neck, shoulders, chest, left hand and left knee are visible. Part of the crown on her head can be seen. Her left hand rests upon part of the throne upon which she sits. Her hand is holding an orb with a cross on its top. The front of her decorated bodice can be seen. The expression on her face is one of resolve, strength and courage. The sculpting of her face, torso and clothing creates strong areas of shadow. The sky beyond the statue appears to be clear, although it is difficult to be sure.

QUESTION: One more question: King Billy, King William whose famous statue sat outside the parliament building in Dublin which became the Bank of Ireland - whatever happened to King Billy?

RICHARD REID: Yes, that’s a good question. In the 1920s there was some demonstration - I think it was on one of the celebrations of Armistice Day - the pedestal got damaged. Then a bomb was also attached to it at some point, so the Dublin Corporation took it away. It’s a good question. I don’t actually know. The article that I read about this didn’t say what its ultimate fate was. It talked about the fate of the other statues of George I and George II but not about that one. So whether that’s lurking somewhere in the Dublin Corporation - we should bring it out for the exhibition and have King Billy there as well. I like the idea.

Anyway I hope that’s given you a sense of the sweep of this book and the way we are trying to get to grips with interpreting the environment out there. One of my favourite quotes from an historian is from a gentleman called Professor Henry Glassie who wrote a major book called Passing the Time in Ballymenone, which is a little townland [small division of a parish] in Fermanagh in the west of the province of Ulster. He just looks at two families and what’s in their head about history. He has a lovely quote:

History is not the past but a map of the past designed to be of use to the modern traveller.

I think that’s what Brendon and I have tried to do in this book: to devise a map of Australia from an Irish point of view designed to be useful to those of you who hopefully will travel and will look at some of these things that we have certainly discovered in the course of writing the book.

BRENDON KELSON: If I might add one small point: we were trying to provide a sense of looking at Australian-Irish history in an open museum-type of context, looking at where you find these things in the landscape. I suspect that a lot of people picking this book up, when it does come out, will find things there they had no idea had any Irish connections.

PETER STANLEY: You two, Brendon and Richard, have been splendid guides to that country. Thank you very much.

RICHARD REID: Yes, I did. If I don’t do this one I will be shot by Connor Bradley from the Friends of Ireland, which is an organisation that supports all sorts of talks and activities relating to the Irish in Canberra. At 12 noon tomorrow [16 April] in the Australian Centre for Christianity in Barton there is an ecumenical service for St Patrick’s Day with a lot of music and poetry attached. You are all very welcome to come to that. Reverend Ian Paisley is flying out especially to attend - Australian Centre for Christianity, 12 noon in Barton. The gentleman who runs that, James Hare, is from Ballamina, a tremendous man.

BRENDON KELSON: As a matter of passing interest to close on St Patrick’s Day, our good Prime Minister will be doing a St Patrick’s Day address to the Queensland-Irish Association tomorrow night. He will be talking about - I know because I have had a little something to do with the speech - all things Irish-Australian.

PETER STANLEY: That’s a very ecumenical note to end on. Ladies and gentlemen, can I thank several people for their participation. Can I thank everybody for their participation, you for your patience in listening and I am sure you gathered a great deal from it, as I did. One of the wonderful things about working in this place is that you learn things you had no idea existed. I am very taken with the stories you have told. I have known about your project for a long time and have been a notional supervisor but had no idea of the richness and the power of the stories that you have told. We are all grateful to both of you for that. Can I also thank Pete and Sean for the sound and vision and to Leanne for organising this event. Thank you all, but thank you two gentlemen especially for your contribution this morning.

Date published: 18 August 2009